What’s cooking in Brussels?

By Claire Stam

After Emmanuel Macron’s victory last Sunday, one might expect the French rooster in Brussels to crow loudly. But that is not quite as certain.

Great laughter shook Brussels when the “Bubble” had to listen to Marine Le Pen during the election campaign saying that France was not sufficiently defended on the European stage. Certainly, Germany does this even better than France, historically speaking. Consider the roughly 37 employees of the Bavarian representation in Brussels, a number that alone is likely to exceed the number of employees of all French regional representations combined in the Belgian capital.

Nonetheless, Paris is not doing badly at all. One only has to look at French activism on issues such as agriculture or nuclear power to be convinced. As MEPs are in the process of packing their bags for the next parliamentary session, which will take place in Strasbourg next week, let’s take an example from the European Parliament to illustrate the point: MEP Christophe Grudler of the Renew Group, elected to the European Parliament for the first time in 2019, sits on the ITRE Committee, where he is rapporteur for the Group on the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive.

But above all, he is the initiator of a “parliamentary network on the future of nuclear power in Europe,” which the former journalist founded last November. Away from the media radar, the main aim is to mobilize to ensure that all financial instruments are available to finance nuclear power. So it is an understatement to say that taxonomy is in the line of fire.

Poland’s new role

Mais voilà, the war in Ukraine is like a masterful kick in the European haystack – a kick by the Baltic and Central European countries whose fears of Moscow suddenly appear in a completely new light. Their political influence in the EU-27 grew rapidly.

“On the one hand, we see the Baltic, Central, and Eastern European countries saying how much they are exposed to Russia, how much they are affected by the war, and how much they want a firm and decisive solution,” says Piotr Buras, Head of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) in Warsaw. “On the other hand, we see a Germany struggling with the question of its leadership role on the European stage. These countries and Emmanuel Macron are using this situation to expand their influence,” Buras told Europe.Table.

The war in Ukraine strengthens the influence of the Central European and Baltic countries on the European stage. This is especially true for Poland. The country has a central role in the conflict, as Moscow’s recent decision to stop gas supplies to Poland shows. This circumstance and the massive commitment to Ukrainian refugees make it difficult to criticize Poland, Buras says.

The question of expansion arises again

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki knows he doesn’t have much to lose by criticizing Paris or Berlin, the expert added. This fits a situation from earlier this month, when Morawiecki sharply asked the French president, “How many times have you negotiated with Putin, what have you achieved? Have you stopped any of the actions that have taken place?” To say that Paris was irritated is an understatement.

For Warsaw, the war in Ukraine proves that the European Union cannot do without NATO and the United States. “From this Polish perspective, Macron’s concept of strategic sovereignty, which he is pushing so hard, makes absolutely no sense,” Buras says. “Both Warsaw and Paris call for strengthening the defense and security of the European Union, but the approach is completely different.”

The question is whether the growing influence of Poland and the other Central and Eastern European countries can go beyond the war in Ukraine and establish itself permanently on the European stage.

With Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia knocking on the door of the EU-27, the geopolitical pendulum may well swing to the eastern side of the EU. Moreover, the question of expansion is likely to become acute again. For in this context, the countries of the Western Balkans, which are among the priorities of the French EU presidency, can no longer be ignored. And no one can imagine that the European Union will accept nine countries without reforming itself in some way.


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