May 27. 2024. 8:17

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The Brief — Poland, the EU’s new heavyweight

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has triggered tectonic changes, some more visible than others. One of the most seismic ones is that Poland seems well on its way to becoming the EU’s top military power, which almost makes it an EU heavyweight on par with traditional economic powerhouses Germany and France.

Russia’s full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022 vindicated Poland in its assessment of Moscow as a direct threat to the West. For too many years, France was nurturing ideas of common space with Russia ranging from Lisbon to Vladivostok, while Germany was building pipelines to bring more Russian gas.

From the outset, Poland wanted the EU to ban Nord Stream 2.

Since the start of the war, Warsaw has taken on a crucial role as the gateway of NATO support to Ukraine and has set an example of generosity to its neighbour in military, financial and refugee aid terms.

But what was less obvious was the Polish decision to beef up its military capability to the extent of becoming a key military power in Europe.

Poland was already allocating 2.4% of its GDP on military spending even before the war in Ukraine began, much more than other NATO members, except the US and Greece. It aims to up this to 4% in the near future, ranking it first amongst other members.

Poland’s army now has 170,000 soldiers — just as much as Germany, but Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak promised to build “the largest land army in Europe” with 300,000 soldiers comprising 250,000 professional soldiers and 50,000 civil defence personnel.

In January, in a $1.4 billion (€1.3 billion) deal, the country approved the purchase of 116 Abrams tanks from the United States, which are due to arrive in Poland later this year. Last year, it bought another 250 Abrams tanks, expected to be delivered in late 2024.

In 2020, Poland signed a contract to acquire 32 F-35 fifth-generation fighter jets from the US. Warsaw is also buying some 48 FA-50 light combat fighter jets from South Korea, from where it also acquires tanks and howitzers.

It is not by chance that US President Joe Biden is travelling to Poland to mark the first anniversary of Ukraine’s invasion.

In Poland, Biden will meet with the ‘Bucharest Nine’ allies (the host country, Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania and Slovakia), essentially NATO’s eastern flank.

The importance of the eastern flank is growing, reminiscent of what Polish statesman Józef Piłsudski called, after World War I, ‘Intermarium’ – a union of countries stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

Until recently, Poland and Hungary were more often referred to as the EU’s ‘black sheep’ for taking liberties with the rule of law.

But while Viktor Orban’s Hungary retains the moniker, Poland is gaining moral authority not only in NATO but also in the EU, despite not being out of the woods regarding the rule of law.

Given the dismal record of peacemaking efforts with Russia (the so-called Minsk agreements negotiated by France and Germany), the Paris-Berlin international tandem badly needs a credible pillar, which certainly could be Poland.

Such a format exists as ‘the Weimar Triangle’, a loose grouping between Paris, Berlin and Warsaw, which has constantly been in crisis primarily due to Franco-German grandstanding.

In an EU triumvirate, Poland would prioritise the Atlantic relationship, which would run counter to France’s ideas and hopes for European autonomy, including in defence policy.

In this triumvirate, Warsaw is more likely to leverage the growing power of ‘New Europe’, often kept at bay by ‘Old Europe’.

This uncomfortable division was first highlighted by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who praised the vitality of the new, mostly former communist, EU countries in 2003.

But time is on Warsaw’s side.

The day Ukraine joins the EU, with its powerful army, rich with battlefield experience, Europe’s centre of gravity will turn East.

The US administration already knows that – and Paris and Berlin will have no option left but to adjust to the new reality.

The Roundup

Moldova’s President Maia Sandu accused Russia on Monday of planning to use foreign saboteurs to bring down her country’s leadership, stop it from joining the EU, and instrumentalise it in the war against Ukraine.

A group of seven EU countries has called on the European Commission to keep its upcoming reform of the electricity market “targeted” and focused on measures that will enable the green transition while ensuring affordable energy for consumers.

Vehicle manufacturers, fuel companies, and other industry bodies have warned lawmakers that banning the sale of combustion engine lorries and buses too early could imperil Europe’s road freight industry.

The European Parliament’s rapporteurs on the AI Act circulated on Monday (13 February) an agenda for a key political meeting which includes new compromises on AI definition, scope, prohibited practices, and high-risk categories.

After EU-US free trade agreement negotiations came to a standstill in 2017, Brussels and Berlin are showing signs of regret over the diplomatic failure, which in their view, could have prevented current tensions over the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

Last but not least, check out our video on ‘The future of EU migration’, and our weekly Agrifood Podcast.

Look out for…

  • Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in meeting of College of Commissioners.
  • EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness joins meeting of Economic and Financial Affairs Council – ECOFIN.
  • Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič meets with David Turk, deputy secretary of energy.
  • Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni meets with Finland’s Minister of Finance Annika Saarikko.