Poland's Balancing Act

European Union Update

Over the last few years we have watched closely as the European Union has emerged as a growing world power. The value of the Euro has surpassed that of the dollar, and in May the EU will welcome 10 new members, increasing its influence in the UN and expanding its potential for growth.

Because of its political and Biblical relevance we have decided to take a closer look at one of the issues concerning EU expansion.

The Balance of Power in Europe

The bitter debate over Iraq between the United States, Germany, and France has been seen by many as a foreshadow of what is to come - a battle in which the EU, led by France and Germany, is positioning itself to surpass the United States as the dominant world power.

However, the debate over Iraq has also revealed some very interesting things about the balance of power within Europe itself.

Germany and France have been called the engine of Europe - they are the driving force behind EU expansion and are among the most powerful of European nations. But at the height of the controversy over Iraq, Poland and several other European countries invoked the wrath of Germany and France by stepping out in support of the United States.

Poland, which is among those slated to join the EU in May, topped the list of 13 European countries which signed a letter backing Washington's Iraq policy. The decision to support the U.S. infuriated French President Jacques Chirac, who reprimanded them to "keep quiet."

The Issue of Trust

The French response did not sit well with Polish leaders, whose main concern regarding entry into the European Union is the loss of sovereignty.

"The debate over the war made us wonder whether anyone had our interests in mind," said Janusz Reiter, a former Polish ambassador to Germany. "We were expected to take our directions from the Germans and the French, to 'be quiet.' But the French and Germans are surrounded by democracies. On our borders are Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. It's a very different neighborhood. The way we were treated really raised the issue of trust."

Poland has continued to assert their independence by becoming the third nation after the U.S. and Britain to accept official responsibility as an occupying force in control of a large portion of Iraqi territory and also by agreeing to purchase 48 U.S.-manufactured F-16 fighter aircraft to rebuild its air force. Within the EU, which is supposed to have a common foreign policy, these decisions have caused no small amount of division.

"If you make people in Poland choose between the U.S. and Europe in the security field, they will choose the U.S.," says Reiter, who now heads Warsaw's Center for International Relations. "Why? Because of history, but also the feeling that in security policy, Europe still is a promise. The U.S. is reality."

Voting Rights

The latest and more serious manifestation of this fissure appeared in December at the European Union's semiannual summit in Brussels. Poland and another mid-sized Europower, Spain, refused to buckle under German and French pressure to cede some voting rights back to the larger states before the EU adopts a new EU constitution. The constitution is the linchpin European federalists need to turn the loosely constructed trade and political union into a true superstate, complete with its own military and foreign policy arms.

But the summit in Brussels, heralded beforehand as the European equivalent of the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787, collapsed in a dispute over how to apportion votes out to member states. The draft constitution would give each country a certain number of votes according to population. But Spain and Poland, which had been promised near equality with Germany and France in the Treaty of Nice in 2001, refused to go along. They saw no reason to water down the Nice system, under which Germany and France, along with Italy and the UK, would get 29 votes in EU issues, with Spain and Poland receiving 27.

As Kai Olaf Lang, a specialist on Central and Eastern Europe at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs observed:

The Polish political class sees the country's future as resting on two pillars: on a close relationship with the U.S. and the [EU's] Nice treaty, which guarantees Poland almost the same voice in European affairs as France or Germany. Poles view the U.S. as the only realistic guarantee against something going wrong in Russia. The Nice treaty, on the other hand, was their way of preventing Germany and France from controlling Europe.

Poland's History of Betrayal and Destruction

Poland is neither a small nor a politically insignificant country - its 38 million people would rank it sixth of 25 nations in the expanded EU, just behind Spain. It is the largest country in the former Soviet Bloc, and its history plays a large part in its hesitance to concede power to the French and Germans.

Poland is a new democracy that still carries the vivid memory of two World Wars and decades of Communist rule. Their land has been repeatedly cut up and divided among their enemies, and during World War II it was the site of unprecedented atrocities, with mass graves filled with the bodies of Polish soldiers and concentration camps full of Jewish and political prisoners scattered throughout the country.

The total civilian casualties numbered more than 5 million, military losses numbered 600,000, and the material losses were similarly enormous. In looking at the betrayal and destruction of their past it is easy to see why they might be hesitant to trust the promises of their western European neighbors and why they are making efforts to maintain a good relationship with the United States while other European nations seem to be decidedly anti-American - this sentiment being something many Polish citizens equate negatively with Soviet rule.

"For western European intellectuals, anti-Americanism is like rebelling against one's parents - a desire for emancipation," Reiter says. "In Poland, anti-Americanism was a tool of Communist rule and it leaves a very bad taste. People forget how differently these issues look from eastern Europe."

The fight for power within the European Union, and the EU's battle for power on the international level will continue to be major factors in world politics. Says Lang, the German analyst:

What all the players need to understand, and that includes Washington, is that the "new Europe" won't be a place where a permanent alliance exists on all issues. On security, the British, the Polish and the Spanish may lead, with France and Germany taking part sometimes. On integration, the French and Germans may lead. And Poland, certainly, is trying to become the kind of standard bearer for the new central and eastern European states. It is all very fluid now, so even with Poland's historical worries, they will have to be more flexible in the future to really influence things. And that, and not geography, is what separates "old" from "new" Europe.

There are still many obstacles the European Union must face on the road to solidarity, but in the eyes of some they have already accomplished the impossible.

For the first time since the days of the Roman Empire Europe has a common currency, and the once impenetrable wall between East and West, Communist and free, is now gone, and in its place is a growing economic and political force.