Central Europe in Transatlantic Relations


           Twenty years ago, the fall of the Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe was hailed all over the world as a victory of our own societies but also, and maybe even more, as a victory of the Western democracies allied in two essential organizations, NATO and EU. The transatlantic dimension of this historical event was so obvious, the essential contribution of the United States and of NATO to the new realm of freedom and democracy was so dazzling, that no one amongst us had the faintest idea of a split between Europe and the United States. We knew then, and know today too, firsthand, how important America’s support for our freedom and independence was during the dark Cold War years. For us, John Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” was a manifesto, a light in the darkness, and U.S. engagement and support was essential for the success both of the liberation of our part of the world and of our democratic transitions after the Iron Curtain fell.

That is why we worked so hard to join both NATO and the European Union. That is why we have worked to reciprocate the help and example we received both from Europe and from North American democracies. When the war started in the Balkans, both EU and NATO understood that European security is indivisible and that our region is the key to this security now. Our nations have supported the United States and the European Union in the Balkans, then, after September 11, the United States and the United Nations effort in Iraq, and in Afghanistan. We know too well that without Washington's vision and leadership, we would not be in NATO and even the EU today. Having benefited from America’s support for liberal democracy and liberal values, we have been among the first and strongest supporters of the US in promoting democracy and human rights around the world.

Then, we discovered the rift: we learned that, from an European viewpoint, we are maybe too ardent Atlanticists. We learned that we should better shut up, that we are a New Europe to be opposed to the Old one, that we are even suspects of being partners in crime with an American administration which was perhaps too scared of the new menaces to follow its own standards of freedom and respect for human rights.

The new American administration was true to its own promise to mend and heal the wounds in its relation to Western Europe.  President Obama was unanimously hailed in Europe as a friendly and wise figure, able to reinstall a climate of confidence and trust in a renewed Transatlantic relationship, and this surge of hope succeeded even to open a gate to a renewed cordiality in the relationship of the US with the Russian federation. All that had a price, and the price is, as for now, our part of the world. Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, caught in the midst in the effort of narrowing the gap between US and Western Europe, forgotten and left aside in the effort of a renewed relationship with Russia, our region became one part of the world that Americans have stopped worrying about.

That view is premature and far too optimistic. Our region has not been immune to the wave of criticism and anti-Americanism that has swept Europe during the Bush era. In the future, some of our leaders who paid the political price for their support for the Iraqi war may be more careful in taking political risks to support the United States. Central and Eastern Europe is today at a political crossroads, with democratic institutions still fragile, and with the menace of populism still active. The global economic crisis runs the risk that our societies will be less engaged with the outside world. The current economic turmoil provides ghastly opportunities for nationalists, extremists, demagogues, and anti-Semites across the continent, and even in some of our countries.

At the same time, the political impact of the Russo – Georgian war of 2008 on the region was deeper than it seemed. Many of our citizens were distressed to see the Atlantic alliance keep quiet, as Russia violated the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act and the integrity of a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace. We used to be partners of NATO, we now are full-fledged members of the Alliance, but after the Georgian war our people question whether NATO would be, if needed, willing and able to come to our defense. Our ability to sustain public support at home for our contributions to Alliance missions abroad, the comfort we can offer to the strategic investors,  and even our own sense of safety  also depend on us being able to show that our own security concerns are being addressed in NATO and close cooperation with the United States and the EU.

In many ways, the EU has become the major factor and institution in our development. To many of our citizen, the EU may even seem more relevant than the transatlantic link to NATO and the United States. There are fewer and fewer leaders who emerged from the revolutions of 1989, and who experienced directly Washington's key role in securing our democratic transition. A new generation of leaders, who do not share our memories, spends much more time in EU meetings than in consultations with Washington, where it often struggle to attract attention or make its voice heard. The new elites may not share the idealism of the generation who led the democratic transition, or have the same relationship to the United States. They may be more parochial in their world view, and follow a more pragmatic and day to day policy. A similar transition is taking place in Washington as well, as many of the leaders and personalities we have worked with and relied on are also leaving politics. Our region suffered when the United States succumbed to "realism" at Yalta. Moreover, it benefited when the United States used its power to fight for principle. That was critical during the Cold War and in opening the doors of NATO. Had a "realist" view prevailed in the early 1990s, we would not be in NATO today and the idea of a Europe whole, free, and at peace would be a distant dream.

The region's deeper integration in the EU should not necessarily lead to a weakening of the transatlantic relationship. We did hope that integration of Central and Eastern Europe into the EU would actually strengthen the strategic cooperation between Europe and America, and that our countries will become a pro-Atlantic voice in the EU. The Central and East European countries do not have the practice of assuming a global role.

Finally yet importantly, Western Europe's dependence on Russian energy creates deep divisions, and deep concerns in our countries about the cohesion of the EU. One of the thorniest questions in our relationship with Western Europe or with the transatlantic countries is the issue of how to deal with Russia. We hope, first, that Moscow would finally get used to, and fully accept our complete sovereignty and independence after joining NATO and the EU; it did not, yet. Instead, Russia is back in pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics. At a global level, Russia has become, on most issues, a status-quo power. But at a regional level and vis-à-vis our nations, it increasingly acts as a revisionist power. It challenges our claims to our own historical experiences. It uses the means of economic warfare, ranging from energy blockades and politically motivated investments to bribery and media manipulation, in order to advance its narrow interests and to challenge the transatlantic orientation of Central and Eastern Europe.

We welcome the re-opening of dialogue between the US new administration and Russia. Obviously nobody has a greater interest in the development of the democracy in Russia and better relations between Moscow and the West than we, the closest neighbors of  Russia, do. But we want also to ensure that too narrow an understanding of Western interests does not lead to the wrong concessions to Russia. If, for instance, the United States and the major European powers were to embrace the Medvedev plan for a "Concert of Powers", the sheer loss of a value-based security structure, could lead to a neutralization of the region, despite its (formal) participation to NATO. To avoid such an involution, which can and will endanger European security, the full engagement of the United States is needed.

We want to help a better future by being strong Atlanticist allies in a transatlantic strong partnership. We strongly believe it is a time when both the United States and Europe need to reinvest in the transatlantic relationship, around a new, shared, vision of the world. I am convinced that the transatlantic solidarity was not only an effect of the Cold war, for America needs Europe and Europe needs the United States as much today as in the past. The United States should reaffirm its vocation as a European power and express clearly its commitment to stay fully engaged on the continent, notwithstanding the challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the wider Middle East, and Asia. Europe must work to convince its leaders and societies to adopt a more global perspective and be prepared to shoulder more responsibility in partnership with the United States.

For that, a renaissance and reshaping of NATO as the most important security link between the United States and Europe is needed. NATO is the only credible security guarantee we have, inasmuch as it reconfirms its core function of collective defense adapted to the new threats of the 21st century. All these should be reflected in the new NATO strategic concept, but first I think that NATO must plan a new 5th Article to enlarge the Alliance to 27 members. This should include contingency planning, positioning, equipment, and supplies for reinforcement in our region in case of crisis, as originally envisioned in the NATO-Russia Founding Act. I believe the NATO-Russia Council should become the venue where NATO member countries enter into dialogue with Moscow with a coordinated position. Our experience has been that a more determined and principled policy toward Moscow will not only strengthen the West's security but will ultimately lead Moscow to follow a more cooperative policy as well.

We should decide together the future of NATO, as allies do. The Alliance should not allow any issue, be it America's planned missile-defense installations, to be solved by unfounded Russian opposition. Involving Russia too deeply in its strategies without consulting Poland, Romania, or the Czech Republic can undermine the credibility of the United States across the whole region.

We also need more Europe, as well as a better and more strategic U.S. – E.U. relationship. We also want a common European foreign and defense policy that is open to strong cooperation with NATO and the United States. We need the United States to engage itself as a strategic partner of the EU. We need to bring NATO and the EU closer and make them work together.

We need common NATO and EU strategies towards Russia. The energy security is probably the most compelling one. The threat to energy supplies can exert an immediate influence on our nations' political sovereignty. Although most of the responsibility for energy security lies within the realm of the EU, the United States also has a role to play. Energy security must become an integral part of U.S.-European strategic cooperation.

Twenty years have passed since the revolutions of 1989. A strong commitment to common liberal democratic values is essential to our countries. We did our best in restoring as quickly as possible to each of our fellow-countrymen her or his fundamental rights and freedoms. A new generation must not only protect all these rights, but also extend them by a better education, a better health system, a better life for all. We need a new generation to renew the transatlantic partnership. It is an opportunity we dare not miss. By taking the right steps now, we can put it on new and solid foundation for the future of the transatlantic cooperation.