After the EU summit on May 30-31, at which European leaders with great difficulty reached an agreement on a partial embargo on oil supplies from Russia, and the issue of abandoning Russian pipeline gas was practically removed from the immediate agenda, doubts intensified among the European political elite about the possibility of maintaining initial political unity regarding the military conflict in Ukraine. One of the main reasons for this is seen in the current absence of a leading, authoritative leader for all in Europe, political scientist Alexander Ivakhnik notes in his channel. During Angela Merkel's long term as chancellor, Germany played this role, although to a lesser extent in recent years. In particular, it was from Germany that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe sought patronage, it was precisely on the position of Berlin that they were guided primarily in the development of their foreign policy decisions.
However, as the informed online publication Politico writes, a number of recent events have undermined Berlin's authority and influence both in the "new Europe" region and among the leaders of the EU countries as a whole. Among these developments is Merkel's exit, the emergence of a more complex three-party ruling coalition with internal divisions, and especially Chancellor Olaf Scholz's string of political missteps and conflicting signals regarding Russian policy and the conflict in Ukraine.
In particular, Politico notes that the weakening of Germany's influence was also evident at the last EU summit. The previous visit to Budapest by the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who was formerly the German defense minister, did not lead to a compromise with Viktor Orban on the inclusion of an oil embargo in the sixth package of anti-Russian sanctions. Only at the last moment did the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and Emmanuel Macron, as president of the country holding the EU presidency for this semester, manage to get Orban's consent, subject to Hungary's access to the southern branch of the Druzhba oil pipeline. Chancellor Scholz played no prominent role in these negotiations. Open criticism of Poland and the Baltic countries is caused by the unwillingness of the head of the German government to supply modern heavy weapons to Ukraine. It is unlikely that the agreement announced by Scholz on Tuesday with Greece that it will supply Ukraine with old Soviet BMP-1s from the arsenals of the GDR, and in exchange will receive German Marder BMPs, will satisfy Kyiv and increase the authority of the German Chancellor in Eastern Europe. In general, in a situation of acute geopolitical crisis, Scholz has not yet managed to become a unifying European political figure.
Italy's prime minister and former effective head of the ECB, Mario Draghi, has gained the most personal weight in the EU right now, Politico said, but Italy's chronic political instability limits its influence in international affairs. As for President Macron, who was recently re-elected for a second term, Central and Eastern Europe appreciates that he is paying more attention to this region than his predecessors, and France, as the EU presidency, has been quick to push ahead with the rapid adoption of new packages of anti-Russian sanctions. However, Eastern Europeans believe that in order to fulfill the role of a builder of European political consensus, Macron is hindered by an exaggerated idea of his own importance and the promotion of controversial, if even simply strange ideas, such as the idea of creating a European political community, which was regarded as a way to not grant EU membership to Ukraine and countries of Western Balkans.