Blog AnalysisEuropean policy

Some gaps in the family photo in Bratislava

(B2) The family photo from the informal meeting of Defense Ministers on Tuesday (September 27) has some serious holes... This well-established tradition of European meetings of bringing together for a few minutes, all the participants on a podium to immortalize , for posterity, experienced a slight hiccup in Bratislava on Tuesday (September 27). Certainly most of the ministers were present in the photo. But you will notice a certain void in the second row behind Jens Stoltenberg, Peter Gajdos and Federica Mogherini…

Eh yes ! Our legendary couple — the Frenchman Le Drian and the German von der Leyen — did not come to the photo. They were there, however, and very present. Were they detained elsewhere... or - particularly unhappy with the lack of enthusiasm their initiative to strengthen European defense received - did they shun the family photo? History will tell us. They were not the only ones not to be photographed: the Portuguese minister José Azeredo Lopes and his Polish alter-ego Antoni Macierewicz (1) were not as present. The Pole even took flight.

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I tried to locate all the names, I hope I haven't made any unfortunate mistakes (even if I have doubts about one or two)! Some countries were not, at the meeting, represented at the level of a minister but an ambassador or an administration official. This is the case of the two neutral countries (Austria, Ireland) as well as Lithuania (according to my information). Bulgaria was represented by its deputy minister. On the other hand, Denmark, which nevertheless benefits from an opt-out in military matters, was there.

Also as tradition, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was invited, as well as the Deputy Secretary General for UN peacekeeping missions. We can notice that if the first was placed at the front of the stage, right in the center - the Slovak minister having taken care to be in the center of the photo alongside him -; the second was placed at the very back in a corner... The European Commission, represented by the Commissioner for Industry and the Internal Market), E. Bienkowska, was also present, as is the rule in all ministerial meetings (informal or formal).

Small clarification, not without importance on the first row of the photo. It is mainly made up of countries that have assumed (the Netherlands) or will assume the presidency of the EU (Malta, Romania, Estonia, Finland), with one rather singular and symptomatic exception. We find Michael Fallon, whose country (the United Kingdom) should have assumed the presidency in 2017 but gave up (Brexit obliges). A small breach of protocol which sometimes says as much about diplomatic thinking as words... The United Kingdom is for the moment still a member of the European Union and intends to remain so, fully, especially in terms of defense, to block anything that could constitute a step forward.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) A Polish minister, who can be described as a 'traitor', as his attitude was considered unconstructive. According to our information, Macierewicz never stopped, throughout the meeting, criticizing the Franco-German positions as well as wanting to unravel the community texts. This is not surprising in itself. But when we know that Poland is a member of the Weimar triangle and signed, in August, a rather ambitious paper on European foreign and defense policy (read: Alert! The 'Weimar' are getting ahead in terms of strategic thinking), it's rather bloated. Basically, Warsaw wants the butter and the money for the butter, the pot and the (rest) of the creamery but without any obligation or loyalty to its commitments. The Poles are no longer reliable allies…

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).