Not surprisingly, the
remarkable speech of the Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski in Berlin in
November 2011 has drawn considerable attention not only from the domestic but
also the international public. The most controversial part of his speech
referred to the point that Poland is not only determined to support a federal
Europe but also German leadership of it. "I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity and
strengthening of EU institutions as a threat for Polish sovereignty," Sikorski said.
The Polish main opposition party, Law and Justice (PiS), accused its political rival of acting against Polish national interests. According to the PiS leaders, Sikorski advocated "Fourth Reich and German hegemony" (J. Brudzinski), and supported a model of the European Union that would make the Polish people live like Indians in a highly protected reserve (A. Hofman).
contrast, international comments on the Sikorski speech in Berlin were focused mostly
on the new quality of the Polish-German relationship. Because of the
geopolitical position of Poland squeezed between two regional powers as well as
the dark history of Polish-German relations, many observers seemed to be astonished
by Warsaw's support for its powerful Western neighbor interpreting it as a newly
emerged trust for the country that invaded Poland in 1939.
However, both domestic and international comments miss the essence of Sikorski's message, as it seems that neither did he show trust for the Germans nor did his ideas expose Poland to a greater threat. Rather, Sikorski based his vision of saving the European project on a careful calculation of costs and benefits for Polish security from supporting German leadership.
The conclusion can be that as maintaining the EU largely depends on a German lead, strengthening Berlin's position in the EU would be less dangerous than dissolving the eurozone, and then, not unlikely, the whole European framework. In fact, history teaches that a disordered Europe consisting of loosely tied nation-states can end tragically for Poland. Today, Polish consternation about the dissolution of European structures is additionally enhanced by another aspect: The rising power of its Western neighbor.
The fact that German foreign policy since unification has changed, becoming more assertive, is without question. But if Germany fell out of love with Europe, was going to deepen the re-emerged economic nationalism, and finally departed the eurozone, the EU as a political and security project would stagnate, erode and eventually cease to exist.
Now, what can Poland do in terms of maintaining its security when facing
the increasing power of its Western neighbor as well as the worrying state of
European integration? Let's agree on two statements:First, saving the eurozone
requires considerable support from Berlin. Second, the times when Germany
supported European integration without openly expecting more control and
influence over EU rules and politics in return are over. In this situation, the
current Polish political establishment points out two different key threats to
Polish security: For the main opposition party the primary threat is clearly
rising German influence in the EU. By contrast, the current government appears
more worried about dissolving European structures than Berlin's increased
control of them. There is agreement that as long as Berlin's intentions are
not perceived as threatening Polish security, any collapse of the EU can be
prevented under one crucial condition: The acceptance of Germany as a
hegemonial power by its European partners.
In summary, in confronting the eurozone crisis, Poland finds itself in a geopolitically difficult situation. The current Polish government appears to believe that supporting Germany in getting more control over the EU may keep the rising power of its neighbor at bay. But if some political realists are right, power can be constrained only by power. If Germany, accompanied by the acceptance and even encouragement of other European states, will continue its path of gaining a position of regional hegemon, the crucial question of who will be able to balance it in the future should be asked already today. The question remains, whether blocking Germany from getting a hegemonial status and, therefore, contributing to a loosening and weakening of European integration, would be a safer option for Poland.
Dr. Daria W. Dylla is a senior researcher and a teacher at the Institute for International Politics and Foreign Policy at the University of Cologne. She specializes in the European Foreign and Security Policy, transatlantic relations, and theories of International Relations.