“The eastern countries are not big fans of E.U. defense — they want the United States and NATO,” Ms. Puglierin said. Germany, too, wants to enhance the trans-Atlantic relationship and depends on Washington, even as it tries to rebuild its own paltry military. “So France will lose some allies and be outnumbered,” she said.
Weakened within Europe, at least for now, France will also be less influential in a more active and aggressive NATO. The alliance is more reliant on American arms and leadership than it was before the war, not less so, and it is expected to expand soon with the new membership of Sweden and Finland.
Germany’s new government, led by Mr. Scholz, was unprepared for war, let alone for a sudden cutoff of Russian energy and trade. With rising concern about similar dependence on China, Germany faces the need to reshape its export-driven economy, built on cheap Russian gas and unfettered trade with China.
In the longer run, “the prospect of a larger and more eastern Europe will be a source of great strength for the German economy,” Mr. Garton Ash said, with Ukraine representing a vast potential for development.
Still, France and Germany are on the back foot in Europe for the near future, at least.
Luuk van Middelaar, a historian of the European Union, notes that since the war began, both Poland and Hungary have been treated more gently by Brussels in the ongoing struggle with them over the rule of law. “Politically and morally, Poland is off the hook because of the role it plays as a frontline state, delivering arms and accepting refugees,” he said.
“Poland’s new importance to NATO also makes it more important to” the European Union, said Wojciech Przybylski of Res Publica, a Warsaw-based research institution. “The volume of purchases of new equipment and upgrade of defense systems makes it a country that you must talk to when discussing security assurances and peace.”
Central and Eastern Europe, he said, “delivers a lot of attitude, even if the substance is still in the hands of the bigger players.” The war, he added, “has confirmed the reality that Europe can no longer be ruled from Paris and Berlin.”