by Ralph Schoellhammer
Friday, 25
November 2022
Analysis
15:21

Europe’s centre of power is moving east

Poland is militarising as Germany and France falter
by Ralph Schoellhammer
Yesterday’s men? Credit: Getty.

Europe increasingly finds itself in a tough spot, one that will make it harder to chart the coming geopolitical turmoil. The pressure on the old continent is building from both outside and within, with global insecurity as well as internal divisions on the rise. Some of these developments are taking place under the radar of public perception, but they will have significant consequences in the years to come.

A lot of it has to do with the misguided policies of the EU leadership, which set priorities according to postmodern sentiments instead of geopolitical realities. The extensively discussed dependency on Russian energy is not the bloc’s only mistake. With rising tensions between the US and China, there is a significant risk that Europe will be caught in between. The key to overcoming reliance on Russian gas has thus far been American-imported liquefied natural gas (LNG), reaching record highs in 2022, a trend that will continue well into 2023.


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At the same time, however, EU lawmakers decided to phase out internal combustion engine cars by 2035, switching as much as possible of its transportation infrastructure to electric vehicles. Yet the batteries for these cars will come primarily from China, which controls over a third of the market, with all top ten battery producers located in Asia. Should the conflict between Beijing and Washington intensify, Brussels should not be surprised if both sides will use their leverage in fossil fuels (the US) or the production of renewables (China) to extract concessions from Europe. 

It is therefore no coincidence that just a few days ago Emmanuel Macron was calling for “a single global order” without taking the side of either the US or China who, according to the French President, act like “two big elephants, trying to become more and more nervous.”

The global divisions that broke into the open with the war in Ukraine also have repercussions for the internal workings of the EU — a project that is not only supposed to maintain peace but which itself depends on peace beyond the continent. In a recent interview with CNN, former UK prime minister Boris Johnson claimed that Germany encouraged Ukraine to fold to Russia early on, rather than get entangled in a long conflict. Although the German government denies Johnson’s claims, their behaviour in the first months of the war give his statements some credibility, particularly since the former Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, is backing up this version of the events. 

In many ways, Berlin is still playing for time, protracting the stationing of a brigade in Lithuania, and also going back on promises made regarding investments in its armed forces. The world is noticing Germany’s unreliability as a partner, and that there are other options. In security matters, the US openly admits that Poland is seen as more important among European allies, and Warsaw shows no intention of diverting from its aim of becoming Europe’s most formidable military power. 

The Polish armed forces are already equipped with more tanks and howitzers than Germany, and its troops are on course to double in number by 2035, from 150,000 to a projected 300,000. Germany’s army is currently 170,000-strong. This expansion of the military also has political ramifications. Frustrated with constant quarrels over EU funding, the Polish government has been primarily signing agreements with South Korean arms manufacturers, and a new deal for the expansion of nuclear power was given to South Korean and American companies.

Having the EU split around an economically strong western part under German leadership and a militarily strong eastern faction, led by an increasingly self-confident Poland, is not a recipe for stability in the coming years. Unless these issues are resolved, the EU might find itself in an existential crisis sooner than we think.

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Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
12 days ago

Unless these issues are resolved, the EU might find itself in an existential crisis sooner than we think. So, it’s possible that leaving the EU befor the ‘$hit hits the fan’ will turn out to be the wisest possible course of action.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
12 days ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

It’s possible, through the employment of various Ponzi-style economic policies, to go on for quite a long time consuming more than you produce. But the longer you do that the more painful the inevitable unraveling will be. In that respect the Europeans are no different from us. However, we can fix the problem, they can’t. As William Hague said, the burning building has no exits.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
12 days ago

This will only end when America decides to stop backstopping Europe’s defense. This should have occurred as a managed transition over a decade or more starting in about 1992. But it did not. Now it may well be too late to avoid the alternative, a sudden and unmanaged adjustment to the obvious reality that America lacks both the productive capacity and political will to live up to its commitments.
Macron’s EU common defense plan (essentially moving the center of NATO to Brussels) is a good one. But it’s DOA. Social programs buy more votes than tanks, and as America provides a fig leaf, EU leaders will continue to scrimp on their domestic military expenditures.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
10 days ago

The caption above should read: “The toxic twins”. What a dreadful pair.
As for Germany quietly wishing for Ukraine to fold – you don’t need privileged access to top intelligence to find that plausible. It was completely obvious to any bystander (I will just say: 5,000 helmets…). Going from the comments across the board of German news sites (from Spiegel to Welt), most people are astounded to find themselves believing Boris. If that isn’t a turn up for the books!
Most people I spoke to in Austria felt similar – everything subordinated to their own economic comfort, no understanding of how certain principles are worth sacrificing a bit of economic comfort for, no understanding of how your own comfort and stability depends on, you know, not giving anything away to vicious tyrants who will not hesitate to come back for more. Very selfish and short-sighted. And this is the so-called EU, the great “Werteordnung” (system of values), beacon of hope for the entire world. What a joke.

Last edited 10 days ago by Katharine Eyre
David D'Andrea
David D'Andrea
10 days ago

German ambivalence can be understood if it is true that the Americans destroyed the Nordstream pipeline. American hostility to the German-Russian partnership has the effect of badly damaging the German economy and leaving them in a very bad spot

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
12 days ago

Lots of speculation here. Germany may well be accessing its changed role in light of radically changed circumstances, but it’s far too early to be coming to premature conclusions, as this article does.