The European Union underwent a major transformation last May.  It was enlarged to 25 states when eight former communist countries—Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, and three Baltic republics—were formally admitted, as well as Malta and Cyprus.  The union is now a political and economic giant of 450 million people, the largest single market in the world and an economic powerhouse that accounts for a quarter of the global economy.

This could have been an occasion to celebrate: Europe’s artificial divides are disappearing; splendid old nations are joining an extended family to which they rightfully belong.  Is this not a step toward the long-cherished goal of a Europe “whole, free, at peace and growing in prosperity,” as articulated by successive U.S. presidents?  Sadly, however, the European Union has morphed, over the past three decades, from Schuman’s and Monnet’s nonfederalist concept of the Old Continent reasserting her individuality into a bureaucratic leviathan dominated by dirigiste civil servants from France and Germany.  Its constitution shows that the union’s ideology is based on political correctness and militant secularism.  Its character now reflects the aspirations and interests of the core countries’ post-Christian ruling elites rather than the aspirations of the real peoples of Europe.

The best that can be said for the enlargement is that the newcomers include tough people of sturdy stock—Poles, Hungarians, Lithuanians—who have retained their distinct identity over the centuries against many odds and who will not be easily made to toe the federalist line.  Poland’s stubborn insistence on maintaining the voting rights obtained at the summit in Nice is highly promising.  The Poles have been called “extremely stubborn,” “very aggressive,” and “difficult to deal with” by anonymous European Commission officials.  “They adore confrontation,” said Eneko Landaburu, former head of the commission’s enlargement service.  The presence of such people in the European Union promises to make it a more interesting body.

In the short term, the enlargement is a geopolitical boon to the Bush administration.  Several new members, notably Poland, have governments and populations that are markedly more sympathetic to Washington’s policies than the old E.U. core.  Poland’s 2,700 troops represent the third-largest U.S.-led contingent in Iraq, and Poles command 7,000 soldiers from other Central and Eastern European countries.  These new E.U. members are more inclined than their western neighbors to view America’s “War on Terror” in terms of the looming clash of civilizations.  The term Euro-Atlantic integration is still popular in Warsaw and further east along the Baltic coast, where membership in both NATO and the European Union is seen as the optimal insurance policy against a future resurgent, and possibly authoritarian, Russia.

The presence of these “new Europeans” in the decisionmaking structures in Brussels means that the union’s foreign and security policy will not be defined in terms of an antagonism toward the United States for years to come.  Aware that this new spirit would not be to the liking of some old members (France in particular), Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski warned two years ago that it would be “unjust” to accuse Eastern Europeans of being “a Trojan horse of the United States” in the European Union.

Today, the accusation is still murmured in Paris, where the old notion of Europe puissance—Europe as a global political player, on par with America and, if need be, in competition with her—is reluctantly admitted to be dead.  It is noteworthy that President Jacques Chirac defended the enlargement on economic, rather than political, grounds: “[W]ith its 450 million inhabitants,” he declared, “the Union is asserting itself as a first-class economic power, where growth and investment will create a new dynamic in the service of employment.”  This is light years from the Gaullist certaine idee de l’Europe—and from Chirac’s own warning to the Central and Eastern Europeans in February 2003 that they cannot side with America and still hope to be admitted into the European Union.

New members are closer to American thinking not only on foreign and security issues but on economic policy—specifically on the use of tax cuts as a means of promoting growth.  The median company tax rate in the new member nations is 19 percent, compared with 34 percent in France and 38 percent in Germany.  President Chirac and Germany’s Chancellor Gerhard Schröder have suggested that new member nations should raise taxes, but the governments of Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary have quite rightly ignored their demands.

It is preposterous for the overregulated, overtaxed Franco-German axis to demand the imposition of artificial legal and fiscal restraints on new members, whose only chance of catching up with the much richer “core” is to create comparative advantages for foreign investors.  The future of many small and medium-sized industrial companies in Central and Eastern Europe is uncertain as they struggle to comply with the union’s environmental and safety regulations, which will cost the new members some $12 billion this year alone.  As thousands of Central and Eastern Europeans lose their jobs, they will continue to be denied access to the job market of the old E.U. “core” for years to come.  Their prospects will be grim if the former East Germany is an indicator.  The German government’s annual transfers to the former East Germany, with its 17 million inhabitants, were in the region of $60 billion—and yet unemployment in eastern Germany remains twice as high as in the west.  New members cannot hope for one tenth of that level of support from Brussels and, therefore, have to attract private funds.  If they resist pressure to raise taxes, they will be doing a favor not only to themselves but to the old core, by forcing reform of their sclerotic economies.  New members promoting tax competitiveness are America’s natural allies in the looming struggle within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development against Franco-German demands for “tax harmonization” that would only serve to feed their bloated public-welfare systems.

The Franco-German axis itself is likely to change as a result of E.U. enlargement.  Germany’s power and influence will increase, while France’s will diminish.  Berlin is now poised to become the geographic, political, and economic center of the European Union.  German companies will take advantage of the imposition of European regulations on the financially strapped, technologically less-developed economies east of the Oder-Neisse.  Standards of food production, for example, can follow stringent E.U. rules in Benelux, France, and Germany, because manufacturers can absorb the cost of those regulations in the price their home customers are able to pay.  Central and Eastern European consumers, on the other hand, cannot afford higher prices.  In Slovakia, 3,000 dairy-industry employees have already lost their jobs because their employers lacked the capital necessary to meet E.U. standards of production.  The end result may be Eastern European foodstuffs—processed by German-owned firms—dominating Eastern European supermarket shelves.

Germany’s foreign minister Joschka Fischer claims to see the enlargement primarily as a means of “overcoming nationalist ideologies and confrontations” in the East, which could threaten the stability of Western Europe itself.  Germany, however, looks poised to reap more tangible benefits.  Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Federal Republic has become the largest trading partner in Central and Eastern Europe, accounting for an astonishing 45 percent of the trade volume between the European Union and its ten new members.  The German Economic Institute in Cologne estimates that the share of German exports to Central and Eastern Europe (9.2 percent) has nearly equalled the country’s exports to the United States (9.3 percent).  It has invested $36 million in the eight new members, with half of the capital going to the processing sectors, such as the automobile and chemical industries.  The Volkswagen-owned Skoda thus accounts for ten percent of the Czech Republic’s exports, while a single VW plant in Bratislava accounts for over one fifth of Slovakia’s foreign trade.  VW, Siemens, and other German concerns are taking advantage of labor costs in Central and Eastern Europe that are just one eighth of the equivalent figure for a skilled worker in Germany.

As historian Hannes Hofbauer notes in his new book, Vom Drang nach Osten zur peripheren E.U.-Integration (“From the push to the East to Peripheral E.U. Integration”), German businesses will continue to benefit disproportionately from the combination of big outlet markets and cheap labor in the “new” European Union, as they are already well established in the region.  Hofbauer detects in the latest enlargement a degree of continuity with previous attempts to unite Europe, notably with the German attempts to expand since 1871.  “A break after 1945,” Hofbauer says, “did not take place, either regarding the persons or the content of the project.”

In contemporary German thinking, we may detect the old-fashioned notion of “three rings of control” that is reminiscent of the late 1930’s.  In its modern form, the concept entails an inner ring of not-quite-equal E.U. members (Poland, Bohemia, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia), a middle ring of more distant new and future members (the Baltics, Rumania, Bulgaria, Croatia), and an outer ring of “intermediate” non-E.U. members providing a cordon sanitaire around Russia (Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus).

Such views are not limited to the old-fashioned German right.  The deputy chairman of the largest parliamentary group, Gernot Erler of the ruling Social-Democratic Party (SPD), declared only days after the enlargement that Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova need to “solidify” their relations with Europe.  To gain acceptance as partners (albeit not as E.U. members), the countries of “this region of intermediate states between Russia and the expanded European Union” should display willingness to follow “recommendations” from the European Union.  He singled out Ukraine’s President Kuchma as a leader who needs to do better.  Polish authorities are well suited to keep order along the border of the intermediate states, Erler added, in view of their “ethnic proximity” to the intermediate region, “which could and should be utilized in the organization of the E.U.’s external frontier.”

Bismarck would approve of Herr Erler’s concept; so would the Kaiser and a few less pleasant figures from Germany’s recent past.  His old-fashionedly frank blueprint for a clearly German (rather than “European”) Ostpolitik illustrates Lord Acton’s maxim that nations have neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies but only permanent interests.  Continuities in the geopolitical ambitions, cultural preferences, and economic appetites of the great powers guide their actions.

Germany’s behavior in the Mitteleuropa, the Danubian basin, and points further east is not based on a conspiratorial grand design (although her policy in the Balkans has been mendacious for years) but on those continuities.  Germany is an economic powerhouse that would dominate her weaker eastern neighbors regardless of her leaders’ intentions or planning.  Even in the early 1940’s, post-World War II planning was a major theme in various elements of the Nazi power structure; in the end, all they had in common was a vague notion of the “rings” of control radiating from Berlin.  It is reassuring in principle, and somewhat discomforting in this particular case, to know that geopolitical continuities so endure.

If the enlargement leads to a revival of traditional power politics, and to the end of the federalist dream of a superstate ruled from Brussels, then it will be the best thing to happen to Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall.  A more fluid Europe in which nations maintain their identities and the awareness of their interests, will also be a more reliable partner for the United States in the struggle against global jihad.  To those of us who believe in the fundamental unity of geopolitical interests between Europe (including Russia) and America, the enlargement is also welcome as a means of lowering the potential for long-term transatlantic confrontation from which only our common enemies may profit.

In the short term, the United States needs both the European Union and Russia in order to extract herself from the Iraq quagmire; in the long term, she needs them both in order to fight a meaningful War on Terror.  September 11 rekindled a dormant awareness of just how much the Old Continent and the New World have in common; the dispute over Iraq has blurred the issue, to both sides’ detriment.  The threat remains, and it does not differentiate between branches of the same family.  That we belong to the same family is obvious and demands unity of global action.  As I have already argued in these pages, a genuine Northern Alliance of Russia, Europe, and North America is the answer—and a necessity for all.