The European Union is dealing with multiple existential threats, including rising nationalism and populist sentiments. But, in an exclusive interview with RiskHedge, Geopolitical Futures’ senior geopolitical analyst Antonia Colibasanu says the EU is also facing diverging security interests that are putting additional tensions on the economic and political alliance.
Western European countries like Germany and France are most concerned with internal security issues like Islamic terrorism, whereas Eastern Europe is focused on what’s happening with Russia.
“The Western Europeans have been less worried about what Russia is going to do… The Central and Eastern Europeans—the eastern flank—have been very worried,” explains Colibasanu. “Especially when they saw Trump elected because they thought the US getting together with Russia and having some sort of a formal agreement will actually mean that Russia will start dominating Eastern Europe again.”
Eastern Europe’s preoccupation with Russia has translated into stricter adherence to NATO’s requirement that member countries spend 2% of GDP on defense.
“You’re having a Poland that is already contributing with 2% for NATO and thinking about how to get their defense apparatus stronger,” says Colibasanu. “And Romania is going the same path; the other [Eastern European] countries are thinking in the same terms, but being at the very beginning of the process.”
Meanwhile, Western Europe is in a completely different mindset.
“At the level of the state person you get the German… very much worried about terrorism, very much worried about outside threats like cyber security related issues. A Romanian would be very worried about Russia,” explains Colibasanu. “A German will not support an increase in defense because he doesn’t feel threatened. A Romanian will because he remembers Communism from just a matter of time. It was there more recently, and he remembers Russia. It’s a very vivid memory for him. So, he would support the increase in defense… And this is the divide internally within NATO. That’s where you have countries that do not seem to share the same level of responsibility. In fact, they do not share the same level of risk.”
Despite being member states of the EU, most Eastern European countries will remain firmly tied to the United States for security reasons.
“The east is going to continue relying on the US,” explains Colibasanu. “There are two major partnerships that have been set before Trump and these will continue—with Poland and Romania. These countries are very much reliant on the US partnerships and they are continuing that relationship.”
The biggest reason for Eastern Europe’s current fear of Russia? Russia’s worsening economic and social conditions. “Russia [is] facing, maybe in the next year or two, socioeconomic problems that will be problematic for the politics in Russia,” says Colibasanu. “[These will] become problematic for the region due to… what Russia [historically] does when it’s weakening.”