Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski is pushing for the creation of a new EU defence commissioner post (Photo:


Newly-sensible, centrist Poland has chance to lead Paris-Berlin-Warsaw triangle

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Radoslaw Sikorski has bold ambitions for Poland and its role in Europe. The Polish foreign minister told the Sejm that Warsaw should “facilitate and contribute” to the European Union’s transformation as “a geopolitical entity” capable of defending its interests.

Sikorski’s stated view that his country belongs at the centre of EU decision-making might have seemed unrealistic a few years ago. Poland’s Law and Justice government (2015-23) clashed openly with EU institutions over the rule of law and damaged diplomatic relations with Germany. 

But the result of the European Parliament elections does position Poland as the prime actor to inform the EU’s strategic direction beyond 2024. The strong performance of far-right parties in France and Germany stands in stark contrast to how the central European state voted. Poland’s incumbent pro-European government defeated its nationalist-conservative opposition for the first time in a decade. The electoral success of the centre in Poland means that Warsaw can expect to enjoy considerable influence in the new Commission. 

Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, framed the vote as a “fight to prevent war from coming to Poland and to the EU”

This perspective was also expressed by the European People’s Party (EPP), which retained its position as the largest group in the European Parliament. Ursula von der Leyen, the EPP lead candidate, vowed to create “a bastion against the extremes” shortly after the projected results were released.

European defence and security is the EU policy area where Poland could have a leading role in the months and years ahead. Since taking office last December, Tusk has reset Poland’s relations with its most important EU partners, France and Germany, under the Weimar Triangle. This was a vital step to take towards enhancing the EU’s capability to act as one voice in response to a resurgent Russia.  

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is calling into question the traditional Franco-German motor of European integration.

Paris and Berlin stymied

France’s semi-presidential system and Germany’s federal parliamentary system has hindered bilateral security cooperation between the EU’s two major powers at a time of immense crisis. Emmanuel Macron’s refusal to rule out sending Western forces to Ukraine was met with a swift rebuke from Olaf Scholz out of Germany’s fear of escalation. 

But Poland’s positive intervention with the Weimar Triangle’s revival means that it is well-placed to help iron out French and German differences over Ukraine and build trust.

The foreign ministers of Poland, France, and Germany signed a Political Declaration earlier in the year, which committed their countries to intensify coordination and strengthen ties at all levels. Sikorski underscored the importance of leveraging the trilateral format to “a much greater extent than ever” in his address to the Polish parliament.

Poland is also taking the initiative to facilitate the EU’s institutional adaptation to the geopolitical reality of interstate war. The country’s experience of Soviet occupation means it is one of the few EU member states that truly understands the importance of maintaining a credible deterrence against Russia. Poland spends more on defence than any other of its European counterparts (four percent of GDP). 

The strong example that Poland sets on defence expenditure has already started to gain traction at an EU level. In March, von der Leyen outlined a European defence industrial strategy, which is designed to incentivise arms production and consolidate a resilient defence sector. 

But the prospect of the European Commission president’s re-election paves the way for the EU to go even further and establish an EU defence commissioner. Sikorski has welcomed the new post, stating that it would oversee the bloc’s unified command and manage its defence budget. 

It is often said that an eastward shift has been taking place within Europe since Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The eastern EU member states, who were dismissed as alarmist about Russia, were proven right in their long-standing warnings of the Kremlin’s real intentions. But the influence of Poland in the EU was severely undermined under the populist Law and Justice party. 

The European Parliament elections, however, cements a fundamental change in the EU’s balance of power. The victory of Tusk’s Civic Platform has reinforced the political salience of Poland’s unequivocal approach towards Russia and support for Ukraine. 

Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the European project, said that Europe “will be forged in crisis.” In today’s new era of great-power confrontation, it is Poland that is primed to help strengthen the continent’s cohesion and integration.