France and Germany have always been the most important countries in Europe, both historically and culturally, as well as in terms of economic weight. This, however, is not set in stone, and in the face of major events, changes may occur. Such a major event is now imminent, and that is Ukraine’s accession to the EU and NATO.
It is general knowledge that Ukraine is actively applying to join NATO and the EU. The United States and the United Kingdom give their strong support to this. Meanwhile, emerging European countries such as Poland and the Baltic countries, who are either “brothers” or close neighbors of Ukraine, are quite supportive as well. It is the “old” European countries, France and Germany in particular, who show a more ambiguous attitude.
France’s European affairs minister Clement Beaune implied that Ukraine should better get rid of any idea to join the EU. “It’s probably in 15 or 20 years — it takes a long time”, said Beaune. This is imaginative, as it is uncertain if the EU will still exist “in 15 or 20 years”.
It is actually not possible for France and Germany to agree to Ukraine’s accession to NATO and the EU. For Ukraine to join NATO, and to be part of the EU, these are two separate issues, and the more important one is that of the EU. When it comes to NATO, the United States would have the final say. While it is true that the North Atlantic Treaty stipulates “the Parties will consult together” over crucial matters, in reality the U.S.’ position carries more weight. Contrarily, should countries like Turkey intend to act their own way, chances are they might be expelled from the organization.
The EU, on the other hand, has always been the base of France and Germany, and it is also the most important economic platform for these two countries. Since the Merkelian era, France and Germany have been advocating that the EU should be independent of the U.S., and that the euro needs to overtake the dollar. French President Emmanuel Macron has even regarded himself as the head of the EU. All these are indications that the EU is the lifeline of France and Germany.
Now, with the support of the United Kingdom and the United States, Ukraine is now seeking membership in the EU and NATO. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has become more respected worldwide than the French President and the German Chancellor, for being a hero who defies the Russian President Vladimir Putin. If Ukraine’s move continues, the EU will no longer be dominated by France and Germany. Therefore, on the issue of Ukraine’s accession to the EU, it is not about if France and Germany agree to it, but how they would stop Ukraine from doing so.
When this happens, these two countries will be in conflict with emerging European countries such as Poland. Polish President Andrzej Duda has already voiced that he is backing Ukraine. Coupled with the support of the United Kingdom and the United States, it seems that France and Germany will pay a price for Ukraine’s accession to the EU, whether it is successful or not.
Focusing excessively on their self-interest, the “pragmaticism” of these two countries has not been well-regarded by others, not even by their own citizens. They relied on the unified European market to make money, but refused to take responsibility for that. When the war in Ukraine broke up right in Europe, fearing that they would be involved, France and Germany have stepped aside. This is not what leaders of Europe should do. Therefore, the future of Europe will definitely undergo major changes, and the status of France and Germany will also be redefined.
By then, the Paris and Berlin that we used to know will no longer be the same.