German-Polish European BLOG

The Weimar Triangle after the French elections: A new opening?

Contrary to fears held in connection with Marine Le Pen’s possible election as French president, Emmanuel Macron’s rise to power set free a renewed pro-European spirit. This applies to Germany even more than it does to France. Macron’s pro-European discourse engenders enthusiasm in Berlin, where hopes are high that the Franco-German tandem will get back on track.

*Barbara Kunz

The list of issues and policy fields requiring action within the EU is indeed long. None of these problems can yet be managed, let alone solved by France and Germany alone. This, almost by default, makes the Weimar Triangle reenter the picture.

Even though the hopes for a new impetus for the Weimar Triangle are not linked to the current Polish government or any transformations at the domestic level (or to Macron’s accession to power for that matter), external circumstances may force Paris, Berlin and Warsaw to start cooperating more closely again. In this context, some policy fields seem more promising than others. After Donald Trump’s May 2017 visit to Europe, Angela Merkel declared that it was time for Europe to take its fate into its own hands. This is, of course, not particularly new, nor is Trump the first American president to ask the Europeans to spend more on defense. But it may never have been as urgent as now. It has indeed been fashionable for several years now to argue that the world is in crisis and that the EU is facing ever more complex challenges. As of 2017, however, this rhetoric has increasingly more implications for the day to day business of international politics: migration, terrorism, the unresolved situation in Ukraine, as well as the uncertainty arising from the new U.S. administration’s erratic course – to name but a few.

(…) external circumstances may force Paris, Berlin and Warsaw to start cooperating more closely again.

The key issue in this context is security and, more specifically, the transatlantic link as the foundation of European security. When it is no longer clear whether Washington continues to take Article 5 seriously, Europeans need to get serious about European defense. With the United Kingdom leaving the Union, progress might be within reach – and in any case “without alternative,” to use one of Angela Merkel’s signature phrases. But there is still a long way to go. Already when Hillary Clinton announced the United States’ “pivot to Asia,” Europeans missed the chance to come up with a unified vision on the conclusions to be drawn. And the post-2014 events in a way proved them right: the United States was still there to help to ensure Europe’s security. The temptation to adopt a similar approach in our reactions to Trump is certainly there. Yet, hoping that ignoring the problem will once more make it go away seems naïve. In other words, there is a need for action on a large-scale strategic level and inventing yet another technical body or acronym will hardly do the trick. The Weimar Triangle, due to its composition representing European security concerns in an almost ideal and typical way, seems like the perfect forum to discuss these questions. When it comes to European defense, Paris and Berlin are certainly more enthusiastic than Warsaw. Yet, if Washington reduces its engagement, Poland will hardly have any other choice but to cooperate more closely with its European allies. For now, France and Germany should, therefore, make sure to consult Poland nd secure Warsaw’s basic engagement. These reflections should first result in a shared understanding of what European strategic autonomy – as called for in the European Global Strategy – really means. Measures at the instrumental level – be it PESCO (permanent security cooperation within the CSDP) or other forms of cooperation – would then follow.

When it comes to European defense (…) Poland will hardly have any other choice but to cooperate more closely with its European allies.

The future of the Eurozone is another central issue that has direct implications for Europe’s ability to take its fate into its own hands. But since Poland is not a part of the Eurozone, these questions are not of primary relevance to the Weimar Triangle. Still, including all the 27 member states in the debate about the EU’s economic future is crucial. There are also other matters that directly concern the Weimar countries like, for instance, migration, refugees and the protection of EU borders. Moreover, Europeans will have to come up with new – and better – ideas regarding their relations with their neighbors, both to the South and to the East.

Europeans will have to come up with new – and better – ideas regarding their relations with their neighbors, both to the South and to the East.

Most aspects of these issues are difficult in the Weimar context, some even extremely so. Yet, not cooperating at all will only deepen the problems. In finding solutions, compromise will be key. At the same time, the result must live up to the exigencies dictated by the real world. Since French, German and Polish perceptions of the real world differ, at times even considerably, meeting expectations in Berlin and Warsaw is an excellent benchmark for the EU as a whole. The good news is that, perhaps for the first time in years, the European Union has a real chance to leave the “crisis management mode” behind. The crises are of course still there, but merely attempting to prevent the EU from falling apart is no longer enough. New ideas are necessary and if they pass the Weimar test, chances are that they will also convince the remaining EU 24.


*Barbara Kunz – Expert of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).