The European Union fights to unite the countries of Eastern Europe

Photo: VCG

As France takes over the Presidency of the Council of the EU on January 1, 2022, President Emmanuel Macron traveled to Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs), trying to ease the strong contradictions between Europe’s l ‘East and West Europe.

In the midst of Macron’s first stopover in Budapest on a visit to enlist the unpopular Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Macron even attended a summit of the four Visegrad countries – Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and the Slovakia – to reduce the difficulties of the CEECs during the French Presidency.

The appeasement of France and Germany came after irreconcilable conflicts between the EU and CEECs like Poland and Hungary on critical issues, such as the crisis of the rule of law, finances, security, refugees and energy. The EU has not yet lifted the suspension of the disbursement of EU funds to Poland and Hungary, which believe that the country’s domestic law takes precedence over EU law. The bloc is constantly trapped in the geopolitical differences between the CEECs and Western Europe, and the tangle of interests between old and new Europe – a major problem for the EU.

After the Cold War, the EU, through its economic attractiveness and its political influence, was greatly enlarged by the membership of ten CEECs previously under Soviet influence, including the three Baltic States neighboring Russia.

The EU did not stop there. It extended its influence eastward after the 2008 South Ossetia war, adapting the Eastern Partnership initiative to Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Using “European market access” as a bait, the EU called on these countries to reform, shaping “democracy” and the market economy of Western Europe, in order to encircle Russia and transform in depth “the post-Soviet space”.

However, Russia bounced back strongly using the Crimean Crisis in 2014, and dragged down a reluctant Belarus with the aid of its political unrest in 2020, partially regaining control to define Europe’s eastern borders and form a situation. roughly balanced with the EU.

Along with Macron and Scholz’s visit to the CEECs, the EU simultaneously held the “Eastern Partnership” summit. But Belarus’s absence left the EU’s enlargement plan almost bankrupt despite the willingness of other countries to join.

What makes the EU’s eastern border more difficult to define is the growing divide of ideas and the entanglement of interests between its members. After experiencing the fleeting pleasure of joining the EU, the ten Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) felt a sense of loss due to economic imbalance and political inequalities. In the tenth year of their accession in 2014, the real feeling of the CEECs was that being a member of the EU alone cannot ensure national prosperity.

On internal and external issues such as refuge issues, security concerns, energy transition, rule of law reform and social rights, the CEECs have had more disputes with the EU, with the Western Europe as the main voice. In terms of defining “New Europe”, CEECs see themselves as “challengers” instead of previous “laggards”. They are no longer content to passively accept and obey the EU rules and order shaped by the countries of Western Europe. Instead, they participate more actively in the EU power play by cooperating horizontally and offering independent solutions.

While France and some other Western European countries are offering “strategic autonomy”, some CEECs, because of their mistrust of the EU, are trying to cling to the United States. Poland and Lithuania have hailed the “permanent presence” of US troops on their soil, which is no doubt a joke about Macron’s proposal for “European sovereignty”.

The current East-West confrontation within the EU and the battle between the great powers is reshaping the EU’s eastern border. Before the CEECs make themselves heard enough within the EU, pressure from France and Germany, Russia’s energy and geopolitical approaches and the differentiation of the United States remain the determining factors of the remodeling. from the eastern border of the EU.

The United States has stepped up its strategic containment of Russia, and Russia has had to offer to reshape much of the entire post-Cold War European security order by limiting military deployments from the United States. NATO on its borders before 1997. Meanwhile, Macron has said he sees Orban as both a political opponent and a European partner. The EU also said that “good governance, democracy, the rule of law and human rights are fundamental values ​​which lie at the heart of the EU’s relations with partner countries and of the Eastern Partnership itself. -same”. All of these scenes now seem very meaningful.

The author is director of the Department of European Studies at the Chinese Institute of International Studies. [email protected]

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