Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are already pushing to step up Russian energy sanctions to keep the pressure on Russian President Vladimir Pu
Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are already pushing to step up Russian energy sanctions to keep the pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, but other EU countries said the bloc had hit the political limit. Setting the scene for a new clash over sanctions, Karl Nehammer, the Austrian chancellor, said that there could be no question of suspending gas imports because of the effect on major European economies, such as Germany’s.
He said, in a reference to the German chancellor ruling out any moves towards a ban during talks last night: “The gas embargo will not be a topic, Olaf Scholz has made this clear as well.
“Russian oil is much easier to compensate for, gas is completely different, which is why a gas embargo will not be an issue in the next sanctions package.”
According to experts, the result has been a marked weakening of Berlin’s influence and a greater willingness by other countries to go their own way and, in some cases, openly challenge the Franco-German alliance that has long been at the centre of EU power and decision-making, according to numerous EU officials and diplomats.
One of the diplomats told Politico: “We don’t need German protection; history proved it to be on the wrong side of history,” referring to Berlin’s longtime policy of treading softly with Moscow.
“Poland has shown good leadership, on Russia, on welcoming [Ukrainian] refugees, on phasing out gas. The Baltics have a smart leadership. Bulgaria has a new more credible government.
“Romania is stable.”
The crumbling of German authority was on vivid display this week as EU heads of state and government struggled to reach an agreement to embargo Russian oil and to overcome the stubborn opposition of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
For years, Germany was the undisputed leader of a bloc within a bloc — the voice and muscle of Central and Eastern European nations in the EU who looked to Berlin for patronage, guidance, and, at times, explicit instructions.
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Often, when Brussels needed to twist arms, it was Germany that cajoled Poland, Hungary or others to get with the program.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron, who was recently re-elected to a second term, is viewed as unable to put aside his ego and grandiosity in order to become a quiet influencer of consensus-driven policymaking and decisions.
The downshift in German influence was already underway in the waning years of Merkel’s 16-year tenure, but first became glaringly visible last June when she and Macron proposed holding an EU summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin — only to be brutally rebuffed by leaders from Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Macron and Merkel had seemed intent on keeping up with US President Joe Biden, who had held his own summit with Putin in Geneva earlier that month.
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That meeting yielded few concrete deliverables but offered a rare hint of potentially improved relations with Moscow.
Eastern European nations warned that Putin had not yet taken any concrete steps in response to President Biden’s overtures, and cautioned that an overly soft approach by the EU toward the authoritarian Russian leader could undermine Biden’s efforts to create a new geopolitical balance.