The full-scale war in Ukraine might not break the current world order, but it has transformed the system of international relations.

The European Union has been the most affected. There have been changes in trade and energy, as European states have cut off most of their contacts with Russia in these sectors. Along with the EU’s economy, the Union has also changed structurally. While there have been no reforms of EU institutions, the roles played by the member states have changed. Poland, one of the “new” members of the EU, has come to the fore alongside Germany and France.

How the European Family got along earlier

France and Germany were the traditional core of the European Commonwealth, because the initial idea of creating an economic and, later, political alliance stemmed from the need to avoid a new conflict between Berlin and Paris, which had been the driver of Western Europe’s history from the Middle Ages to the end of World War II.

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Since the 1950s, the states have existed within the Union, which became a magnet for other countries. The role of Berlin and Paris increased dramatically after the fall of the communist system when the states of Central and Eastern Europe joined the Union in the 1990s and 2000s. At the beginning of the 21st century, the European Family consisted of four parts.

  • The biggest economies of the EU – Germany, the United Kingdom, and France. Their leaders dictated the terms upon which the Union must exist.
  • Other developed economies – mainly in Western Europe, inextricably linked with the core of the Union economically and politically.
  • Countries of Southern Europe – Greece, Cyprus and Malta. They are not significantly connected with the other member states and remain the outpost of the EU in the Mediterranean region connecting Europe with the Middle East and Northern Africa.
  • Post-socialist, “new” members of the Union. Poland and the countries of the Baltics are on this list. These countries aspire to construct a regional space that could become the counterweight to the western part of the EU.

Between 2010 and 2022, the system, which had gained stability several years earlier, began transforming. In the course of 12 years, 5 crises occurred. Each of them obliged almost all the countries of the Union give up their positions in the European arena. Nearly all the countries were affected. But not the post-socialist ones.

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The first episode of turmoil was the economic crisis that weakened the countries of Southern Europe and showed the inability of the European core to come to an agreement on a plan of action to stabilize the economy of the Union. The economic crisis preceded the political instability in Ukraine along with the subsequent aggression of the Russian Federation and the crisis of migrants from the Middle East and Africa. These events showed that Berlin and Paris are quite weak when it comes to protecting themselves and their European partners in the confrontation with authoritarian regimes. Moreover, EU members couldn’t agree on who was to take the burden of refugees, questioning their ability to cooperate in principle.

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The turmoil came to a head with Brexit, as only two components of the European core remained in the Union. The outbreak of the Rule of Law Crisis between Brussels and Warsaw showed that the latter might also prove to be a stumbling block.

What Warsaw wants

Poland, one of the biggest states of Central-Eastern Europe, has always been striving to get key positions on the European continent. Warsaw’s last project was Intermarium, an alliance of states headed by Poland.

After 45 years in Moscow’s orbit Poland realizes that a defeated Ukraine will pose a direct threat to their security, especially as it has a border with Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast.

As such, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has opened a window of opportunity for Poland to show that it can protect itself, help other states in its neighborhood and thus become one of the centers of the EU along with Germany and France.

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 How the three countries show their leadership

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Warsaw has become one of the leaders of the coalition supporting Kyiv in this confrontation. Unlike the old major powers of the EU, Poland allocated $1.8 billion in military aid to Ukraine between February and July 2022. This and political support expressed by the Polish president and government have influenced the image of Warsaw as a champion of democracy in the confrontation with authoritarian regimes, allowing it to vie for a position of leadership within the Union.

At the same time, Germany is not that eager to help Ukraine. Berlin’s military aid was six times less than that provided by Warsaw. The lack of understanding of the threat Moscow poses to Ukraine and members of the EU undermines the image of the German government as the power uniting Europe. This, in turn, instills despair in German politicians, above all Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as well as in the German people.

France has given military aid to Ukraine amounting to $160 million – ten times less than Poland. Such an amount testifies to how Paris, like Berlin, has a lack of awareness and understanding about the security threats to Europe that the defeat of Ukraine could trigger, and of the opportunity for France to amplify its role on the continent, as has long been Emmanuel Macron’s stated intention.

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Clearly, Warsaw is trying to broaden its influence in the European community and gain more power in its home region. The major powers of the EU have missed their chance to demonstrate themselves as truly powerful governments leading the European Family. Instead, they are behaving as fallen hegemons of the past, with their only option being to watch authoritarian regimes tear democratic countries to shreds.

Bohdan Kovalenko is an analyst at ADASTRA Think Tank

ADASTRA is an independent Ukrainian think tank specializing in international relations, law, economics, and communications. It  explores all topics related to the international political environment. ADASTRA is ranked as the best new think tank by the «2020 Global Go To Think Tank Index»

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Kyiv Post.

 

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