Poland and France Move Toward a Europe Less Dependent on U.S.

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BRUSSELS -- When the former U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld referred in 2003 to France and Germany as "old Europe" and to the East Europeans as "new Europe," he sparked off a debate about the trans-Atlantic relationships.

According to Mr. Rumsfeld, the new members of the European Union, especially Poland, supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq because they shared the American belief in freedom. They were also committed Atlanticists.

Several of the older member states, Mr. Rumsfeld implied, were more interested in driving a wedge between Europe and the United States, even wanting to establish European defense structures independent of NATO.

Now, 10 years after his memorable speech, the trans-Atlantic relationship has changed fundamentally on two counts.

One is America's shift to the Asia-Pacific region. The other is the realignment that is taking place inside the European Union, blurring the distinction between Old and New Europe. Poland is one of the countries that are crucial to the Union's changing contours.

"Poland is one of the few E.U. member states that understands the implications the U.S. shift has for Europe," said Tomas Valasek, president of the Central European Policy Institute in Bratislava, Slovakia. "It has been pushing the E.U. to respond strategically."

When Poland's center-right government under Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski came to power in 2007, it moved from being staunchly Atlanticist to strong advocacy of an integrated Europe.

This was especially clear last month when Mr. Tusk played host to two summit meetings in Warsaw on the same day. One was the Weimar Triangle, which consists of France, Germany and Poland. The other was the Visegrad summit of Czech, Hungarian, Slovak and Polish leaders. All six leaders then held a joint summit meeting, the first ever by these two regional groupings.

That meeting went beyond symbolism. "This was about Poland showing that it did not want a two-speed Europe that would exclude noneuro-zone countries," said Marcin Zaborowski, director of the Polish Institute of International Relations.

Poland fears it would be marginalized because it has not yet adopted the euro. "During the talks in Warsaw, Chancellor Angela Merkel went out of her way to reassure Poland that its voice would be heard," he added.

The presence in Warsaw of François Hollande, the French president, was important, too, for Poland.

Nicolas Sarkozy, his predecessor, had paid only lip service to relations with Poland. Mr. Hollande, in contrast, was making his second visit to the country since taking office a year ago.

"His visits would have been unthinkable under Sarkozy," said Aleksander Smolar, president of the Stefan Batory Foundation in Warsaw.

On economic issues, France and Poland are still far apart. Warsaw is much closer to Germany and other North European countries. Unlike France, these countries support structural reforms in order to bolster Europe's competitiveness.

In the political realm, though, Mr. Hollande expects substantial gains from closer ties to Poland. The Tusk government shares France's interest in developing a strong European security and defense policy. Both countries recognize that Europe is no longer a strategic priority for the United States.

Warsaw needs France's support to force the issue onto the E.U. agenda. The main reason is that Poland is not yet a member of the euro zone, which constitutes the heart of power in Europe these days. Nor do its Visegrad allies help much. Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are either too inward-looking or too euro-skeptic to give Warsaw much support, according to Mr. Valasek.

What is true of Visegrad is true for most other E.U. countries, too. The realities of a new U.S. defense policy that is suddenly placed under radical budget constraints have not yet sunk in, say analysts.

This was reaffirmed last Friday when Chuck Hagel, the new U.S. defense secretary, announced that the Pentagon would reduce its missile defense plans for Europe. Instead, it would put those resources toward a missile shield planned in Alaska that could protect the United States against any attack from North Korea.

The onus, meanwhile, is increasingly being placed on Europe to strengthen its own defense capabilities.

What a change from 10 years ago when Mr. Rumsfeld did his best to discourage any initiative within the European Union to build an independent European defense policy.

Today, the Obama administration would like nothing better than a Europe strong enough to take care of its own defense and security, say analysts. But apart from France and Poland, analysts say that most European leaders simply have not yet understood how much the trans-Atlantic relationship is changing in front of their eyes.

Judy Dempsey is editor in chief of Strategic Europe at Carnegie Europe. (www.carnegieeurope.eu)

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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