BRUSSELS – Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski came to Berlin and, in the presence of the German foreign policy establishment, asked – indeed, demanded – Germany to play the leading role in solving Europe’s crisis.
Sikorski analyzed the elements of the crisis and arrived at the stark conclusion that only two scenarios for its continuation exist for the European Union — deeper integration or collapse.
Sikorski offered Germany Poland’s unwavering support. In case this sounded like a return to government by nation-state alliances, he explicitly proposed a major strengthening of the European institutions, declaring that Poland was ready to pool more national sovereignty if it led to a stronger Europe.
This was a politician, this was a statesman, exploding a series of myths:
- the myth that the crisis is a result of a premature enlargement of the EU. He insisted on the economic contribution already made by the new member states, and in particular the performance of Poland, whose fiscal discipline trumps even that of Germany.
- the myth that the eurozone can continue to muddle through until its problems are resolved. For him “too little, too late,” a failure to adapt its governance, would lead to the breakup of the EU , just as the Federation of Poland and Lithuania collapsed in 1795, leading to a century of Polish partition.
- the myth that the member states of “New Europe” lag behind “Old Europe” in their commitment to ever-closer union in the EU because they are so attached to their recently regained sovereignty.
This was a politician prepared to speak truth to power, to spell out the chaos that would ensue on a collapse of the euro, to tell the countries of Western Europe that their welfare states must now face a new reality of austerity, to demonstrate to his own voters that he is prepared to trust the country that invaded his in 1939. For him, the time of denial is long past; only the courage to do the right thing, however difficult it may be, can save Europe from going over the precipice.
Sikorski sketched out the broad lines of the stronger EU he envisages. The Commission would be given the watchdog role over EU member state budgets, a watchdog with teeth, to ensure that they live up to their fiscal discipline responsibilities. Member states would collectively guarantee all national debts; total solidarity would balance responsibility. And the European Parliament would have powers of co-decision in approving budgets in order to ensure the democratic legitimacy of the new order.
For Sikorski, the Commission would be composed of merely a dozen powerful commissioners with authority, personality, and charisma. He proposes unifying the posts of president of the Commission and president of the Council. And he cleverly expresses admiration for the idea he ascribes to Angela Merkel of this president being directly elected.
This was the speech of a politician who knows his history, does not want to repeat its mistakes, and has the strength and the clarity of mind to formulate a convincing message of hope for the future based on mutual trust between the European nations, which the crisis has so far called into question. It is also a demonstration of authority, personality, and charisma. Perhaps the EU has found its new president.
John Richardson is a Senior Resident Fellow with the German Marshall Fund in Brussels.