Europe’s Eastern Leg

From the May-June 2014 Trumpet Print Edition

Until recently, the European Union has been a Westerners’ club. Former Communist nations were allowed to join in 2004, but with little influence. The European Parliament and Commission are in Brussels. The founding members of the Union took all the top jobs, with some others like Britain also given a look-in.

It seemed likely that Poland and other newcomers would act more like Britain—sticking to the outskirts of the EU, securing opt-outs and never getting fully involved in the endeavor.

But in recent months, amid the tussle over Ukraine, Poland in particular has emerged as a serious European power—not equal to Germany, but perhaps on the same level as France, Italy, Spain and other members of the old guard.

Other Eastern nations have also proven to be enthusiastic Europeans. Slovakia and Slovenia quickly joined Europe’s currency, the euro. Latvia and Estonia both signed up even after seeing the mess of the Greek bailouts, which exposed the common currency’s fundamental flaws. The Czech Republic also indicated that it would adopt the euro within the next few years.

Eastern Europe’s drive to be at the heart of Europe is an important shift in world events.

The Rise of Poland

In this Ukrainian crisis, no European voice has been louder than Poland’s. As violence escalated on the streets of Kiev and the bodies began piling up, it was Poland and Germany that sent their foreign ministers to Kiev to forge a deal and end the bloodshed.

Poland’s Radoslaw Sikorski and Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier came up with an agreement and got all the leaders sitting around the table to sign it. Though the protesters on the street ultimately rejected it, it was still a partial diplomatic success. The negotiations showed that “Poland, for years dismissed as a poor relation in the European Union, has a place at the top table of European decision-makers, enjoying the confidence of EU powerhouse Germany, especially over policy in the East,” Reuters wrote (February 24).

“The events in Kiev offer clues about the future shape of the European Union, and the shifting balance of power that has seen ‘old Europe,’ notably EU co-founder France, lose ground to the faster-growing states that joined the bloc after 2004,” it continued.

Poland, Reuters wrote, has created “a special role” for itself “as Europe’s go-to people for anything related to the bloc’s eastern neighbors.”

Europe is impressed. Reuters quoted a couple of anonymous senior sources praising Sikorski’s efforts. The EU was humiliated in Ukraine; its soft power was made to look impotent in the face of threats from Russia. Sikorski’s diplomacy allowed it to save some face.

“Whatever role Sikorski’s appeal played in ending the killing, Poland’s diplomatic credentials have been burnished and could be cemented in a coming round of appointments to senior jobs in Brussels,” noted Reuters (ibid).

Sikorski is a serious contender to become the EU’s next foreign minister or the head of nato. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is in the running to replace José Manuel Barroso as president of the European Commission. He is not necessarily the frontrunner, but just a few years ago no one from Poland would have even been considered for any of these posts.

The East Under Threat

On March 1, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius invoked Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty, where nato members must meet if “the territorial integrity, political independence or security” of a nato member is at risk. This provision has only been invoked four other times.

Romanian Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean told the Associated Press that “there is first of all fear” that Russia’s aggression could spread. “Romania is extremely preoccupied,” he said.

Foreign Minister Sikorski told Der Spiegel on March 10 that it was essential that Europe take a stronger stand and that Europe unite to face the Russian threat. “The Americans have done even more—by relocating F-15 and F-16 jets to Eastern Europe,” he said. “In contrast to Europe, the U.S. has a centralized government. We should learn from the current crisis that European integration must also continue when it comes to security policy.” In other words, Europe needs to start working on a combined, American-style military.

Poland is also reconsidering its position on the euro. It has benefited economically by avoiding the single currency and not getting caught up in the mess of bailouts and economic crises. Its firm position used to be that it would not join until Europe had sorted these problems out. But in the wake of Russia’s invasion, Poland’s central bank governor, Marek Belka, said that Poland should join the euro—not for economic reasons, but security reasons. Poland, he said, needed to be in the “core group” within Europe. “Even if the economic benefits today look modest, we need to make the political calculation as well,” he said.

Bible prophecy makes it clear that several Central and Eastern European nations will be in the core group of Europe. Continue to watch as this ancient forecast becomes present-day reality.