Our relationship with Central Europe is a curious one. It’s as though Europe stopped at the Elbe and the Oder. Oblivious to progress made since the fall of communism in 1989, we keep clinging to the stereotypes of the past. Very often you’ll hear that the inhabitants of this region are only interested in the European project because it allows them to steal our jobs, benefit from our welfare systems. But is that really what Schengen has done? Has the removal of borders left us with no means to defend ourselves against the droves of gangsters that are now flooding our little country? This kind of grumbling, which verges on incitement to racial discrimination, is increasingly common in Denmark.

Warsaw, one of the most dynamic capitals

Our lack of historical perspective is almost as tragic as our obsession with immediate gain. Can we not look at the big picture, just for a moment? The fact that we are living in an almost united Europe fills me with joy every day. And without Central Europe in the middle of it all, I would be living in an artificial Europe, shared between the United States and Russia.

Once again in Warsaw, perhaps not the prettiest but certainly one of the most dynamic capitals in New Europe, full of confidence and initiative, I say to myself that if I was younger, I’d be tempted to move there. The fact that to my knowledge there isn’t a single Danish journalist in Poland says a lot about the provincialisation of the profession and the impending death of the written press that will result from it.

Moscow’s manoeuvres are regarded with mistrust

2011 will be Central Europe’s year. Hungary is set to take over the EU Presidency on 1 January, and six months later, it will hand over to Poland, one of the most prosperous new countries in the EU, with a population of nearly 40 million, an apparently competent liberal government with no small-time crypto-facists lurking in the corridors of power, a wealth of ancient culture and tradition, a modernisation programme that is in full swing, a rapidly growing economy and a strategic location between Germany and Russia. As for Hungary, although it may not possess the same level of financial resources, it does have a clear and well defined project: the consolidation of the Danube basin, a region with a great deal of potential that extends from Bavaria to the Black Sea.

Poland is wealthier, but its plans are not so well defined. It wants to take charge of the next enlargement to the East, and reach out to the Baltic States, to depressing Belarus, currently unpromising Ukraine, and Moldova, where the problem of Transnistria has to be resolved if the Poles are to improve relations between Russia and the EU. Right now, Polish-Russian relations are satisfactory, but far from as good as they should be. In Warsaw, Russia’s intervention in Georgia in 2008 has not been forgotten and Moscow’s manoeuvres in Paris and Berlin are regarded with mistrust, and perceived as an attempt to sideline Poland.

Western Europe arrogantly regards itself as the real Europe

Denmark will have a role to play in this regard, because on 1 July it will become part of thetroika, before taking over the Presidency of the EU in 2012. But ask about Denmark’s ideas and projects for these mandates, and you’ll find that that they will be unambitious and underfinanced. As one analyst put it, “The Danish Presidency of the EU will be done on the cheap.”

What a shame. Not only should it move forward on specific issues, but the Danish Presidency should also launch a flagship project, which could, for instance, create strong links between the Baltic countries, Central Europe and Western Europe, which has always somewhat arrogantly regarded itself as the real Europe. Boosting the status of countries that are already privileged is not what European unity should be about.