The New Europe: A Wobbly France Is Rebalanced by a Strong Poland
In the new Europe, alliances are thankfully built on performance and competence, not tradition and habit.
December 12, 2011
In recent years, France has begun to wobble economically. That could have thrown all of Europe off-kilter, especially so in the eurozone crisis. That this didn’t happen is due to Poland. As France got weaker, it was Poland that performed well economically. Here then is Europe’s new dynamic: France down, Poland up — but the core of Europe holds.
Viewed from a German perspective, the old partner across the Rhine has been sputtering. This is especially true with regard to fiscal consolidation and reducing the overwhelming role of the state in its economy, as well as strengthening small and medium-size businesses. France has fallen behind not just Germany, but many of its other European peers on key issues.
It is as if the relocation of the German capital from Bonn, right on the Rhine, to far-away Berlin has made the French more removed from keeping up with the Germans.
One could be tempted to believe the side of the country in which the German capital is located has some magical effect on the economic performance of its respective large neighbor. France did well with Bonn nearby — and poorly with Berlin.
Germany as a magnet?
Despite all the recent talk about the Franco-German relationship as the EU’s backbone, and all the related nervous talk about the emergence of a two-speed Europe, the trouble is that the latter is precisely what is now emerging between Berlin and Paris.
The recent summit gave the impression that the Franco-German pair was very much in joint control. But it was not really the relationship of two equal partners, as Mr. Sarkozy often found himself uncomfortably on the defensive.
That is not the result of any German leadership desires, but simply a reflection of economic and financial performance — and hence competence. As a matter of fact, on that score, it is two other countries, Poland and Sweden, which are the ones the Germans truly respect. In the new Europe, alliances are — thankfully — built on performance and competence, not tradition and habit.
As it stands, Europe’s core of stability has simply been shifting slightly both northward and eastward. The main new co-dynamo is Poland.
Poland as a co-leader in Europe
The Poles have been very impressive in the way in which they have managed their economy over most of the past two decades. Under Prime Minister Tusk, the country is well-positioned to strengthen its position in core Europe even further.
The Poles have done so well that one can say that we live in a time of a true cultural revolution in Europe. What else should one call a situation where the Polish and the German finance ministers can now finish each others’ sentences?
But even when viewed in a broader framework, anybody with even the faintest sense of European history must cherish this moment. At long last, the word “axis” can be liberated from its dark historic connotations. We can now truly speak of something heretofore unimaginable: a Polish-German axis.
The should put an effective check on all the occasional talk of a Franco-German condominium deciding over the heads of the other Europeans.
Including Mr. Tusk as a co-equal would symbolize powerfully to other European countries, especially those currently in trouble, the benefits of the ability and determination to reinvent oneself, as Poland has done.
Here is Europe's new dynamic: France down, Poland up — but the core of Europe holds.
It is as if the relocation of the German capital from Bonn to Berlin has made the French more removed from keeping up with the Germans.
As France wobbles economically, it is Poland that stands firm.
We live in a time of a true cultural revolution in Europe. The Polish and the German finance ministers can now finish each others' sentences.
We can now truly speak of something heretofore unimaginable: a Polish-German axis.