From the Big Three to the Weimar Triangle

If the EU is to face up to its global ambitions, a revitalized Weimar triangle needs to take on more political leadership

This piece was co-authored by Pawel Swieboda and Annemarie LeGloannec

Political leadership within the EU is a commodity that never seems to be in abundance. As the European Union is not a state and does not have the depth of political debate necessary to move it forward, it has had to rely on the determination of its member states to drive its agenda. Last week’s declaration of a Franco-British entente amicale holds the promise that two key capitals will assume a stronger role in pushing the EU forward. This is good news. However, if the EU is to face up to its global ambitions, it needs more leadership initiatives. One such initiative could be a revitalized Weimar triangle bringing together Germany, France and Poland.

The Weimar triangle was born in 1991, in the early days of Poland’s EU membership aspirations. It regularly brought together the three countries’ leaders but has been dismissed by many as an ineffective forum with a weak agenda. However, we believe that this trilateral cooperation scheme offers an opportunity to fine-tune an enlarged EU and drive the agenda on a diverse range of issues from climate change, through security to defence. Weimar is, in fact, an indispensable ingredient because it cuts across two traditions of European integration – post-war reconciliation and inter-governmental cooperation.

What is more, an increased cooperation between Germany, France and Poland would also assist the EU, as a whole, in its quest to meet the challenges of globalization. Enlargement was a training ground for that and it worked wonders. Four years after the big-bang enlargement of 2004, the EU is better equipped for globalization and more comfortable with it, even though not all doubts have been dispelled.

The EU will now serve as a test case for a new global experiment, that of squaring the circle of economic competitiveness with new climate change objectives. The European Commission’s energy and climate change package, released in January 2008, is one of the most ambitious projects ever launched in Europe – comparable to the creation of the single market in the 1980s and the common currency in the 1990s. It can also be taken onto the wider arena when Poland chairs the UN Climate Convention and post-Kyoto meeting in Poznan this December. The Weimar forum can be useful in working out solutions to make UN negotiations a success. Time is of essence and therefore urgent action is needed.

On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the energy and climate change challenge will not be resolved without major advances in research and development. Within the Weimar group, there are well-known discrepancies between positions – Germany dislikes nuclear energy, France relies on it and Poland is still largely on coal. But this is precisely why this formula can be exceptionally useful: it could bring together the added value of all three positions. It is because the three countries have so contrasting opinions that they are forced work together. If, at the same time, they happen to succeed in de-demonising the debate about nuclear energy, all the better.

On another matter, it is right to say that no Russian and Eastern policy is thinkable without Poland. Before the EU can ever agree on a future-oriented policy towards Russia, Warsaw has to overcome its deeply held suspicions of Moscow and the bitter memories of the past. Having said that, Poland often has good instincts about Russia, and these are useful. It has just travelled the route that we would all like Russia to take eventually. It has good friends in the neighborhood that Russia must begin to treat as partners. Germany and France need to overcome their often too great lenience towards Russia. But Weimar could be the perfect framework to ease conflicts between East and West on Russia politics. The Weimar Triangle, indeed, should work on overcoming the division of Europe with respect to Russia.

In addition, Weimar could help to recalibrate the political attention that has been recently devoted to the Mediterranean. It is not about creating unnecessary rivalries between East and South but making sure Europe commits itself fully to bringing its neighbors more closely into its orbit. Happily, what the East requires is not the same as what the South needs. Ukraine is negotiating its “deep-free-trade” agreement with the EU and it needs targeted assistance in adopting the Union’s regulatory regime, not just market access.

Last but not least, Weimar partners are leading contributors to NATO and EU-led operations, from Chad to Afghanistan and Kosovo. They have demonstrated that there is more to common European foreign policy that meets the eye. They should now put forward joint initiatives to ensure that the Lisbon Treaty becomes a real opportunity to develop the EU’s foreign policy further. The three governments can lead the way in consolidating instruments for civilian and military operations. They can help to improve the decision-making process and contribute to progress on logistics and standardization where gaps are huge. While no credible European security and defence policy is possible without Britain, it is clear that the Weimar governments won’t be able to pull this off alone.

The EU’s traditional Big Three are right to claim political leadership in Europe. But power will not come on the account of their weight in the decision-making system alone. Among the three, Germany is the glue between the ‘Big Three’ and the Weimar Triangle, being in both, and should actively grow into this position, in order to make new leadership in the enlarged EU work. Poland is the newcomer assuming special responsibilities for the East; and France will soon take over the EU’s Presidency. Commitment and initiative will be needed. As will other platforms for making Europe strengthen further. If the new Europe is to be performance-based, more stakeholders will be necessary. Weimar will not solve all of the EU’s problems but it is a formula that has a great potential, and which should be cherished.


The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


ECFR Alumni · Former Senior Policy Fellow

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