Andreas Whittam Smith
December 1, 2011
When Poland’s Foreign Minister refers to German tanks and Russian missiles, as Radoslaw Sikorski did on Monday, one sits up. Poland suffered repeated invasions by Germany and Russia from the late 18th century until the last Soviet troops withdrew in 1993. Poland was truly independent only between 1918 and 1939. However, in a remarkable speech, by turns passionate and frank, Mr Sikorski was not breathing defiance of traditional enemies. Quite the reverse. He was talking about the eurozone. And he was pleading with Germany.
Mr Sikorski asked himself what did he regard as the biggest threat to the security and prosperity of Poland in the last week of November 2011? Not German tanks nor even Russian missiles, which “President Dmitry Medvedev has just threatened to deploy on the EU’s border”. Instead, he made this demand of Germany. “That, for its own sake and for ours, it helps the eurozone survive and prosper. Nobody else can do it. I will probably be the first Polish Foreign Minister in history to say this, but here it is: I fear German power less than I begin to fear its inactivity. You have become Europe’s indispensable nation. You may not fail to lead: not dominate, but to lead in reform.”
That statement is the true measure of the eurozone crisis. It was more vivid than the warning by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Osborne, in his Autumn Statement and it strikes home harder than the comments of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Developmen (OECD) when it said that events could plunge the euro area into a deep recession.
Very interestingly, Mr Sikorski in his speech tackled Germany’s sense of victimhood. This feeling goes right back to the devastating Thirty Years War in the 17th century that was waged across German-speaking lands by foreign powers, to Napoleon’s invasion 150 years later that redrew the map of the German states, to the “stab-in-the-back” explanation of defeat in the First World War, and to the division into two states following the Second World War. Mr Sikorski understands all that and told Germany such suspicion is inappropriate today.