A popular Polish cartoon shows two knights rushing to battle. “Damn!” one says. “I forgot to ask what just cause we are fighting for this time!” So are the Poles, at the threshold of membership in the European Union, asking themselves today. What is this “New Europe,” and what will happen when it merges with the “Old”?

In economic terms, things are relatively simple. The new members from the post-Communist countries–younger and leaner than the Western Europeans and hungry for success–will inject new vigor into the aging EU. Poland’s national economic policies these days can be depressingly anti-free market and anti-entrepreneurial. But industry is ready. Its competitiveness is illustrated by the steady growth of exports to the EU, up more than 70 percent since 1995.

New Europe will also add to the pressures to tackle long-overdue reforms. Sclerotic EU labor-market restrictions will not long survive the addition of a large new pool of well-educated and relatively inexpensive workers. Alas, the Common Agricultural Policy–an important collective undertaking in the past, but now a waste of resources and human talent–will survive. Our many poor farmers will receive direct payments–just for being farmers! It’s not hard to predict that they will become dedicated defenders of that policy. A pity, since agriculture is of marginal importance to the European economy.

What about the big picture–the future of Europe and its place in the world? We will be keen supporters of European integration–both economic and political. While the concept of a “federal” Europe would not be accepted by most Poles today, we will inevitably be pushed along by countries like Germany, France and Spain in precisely that direction. On these issues, we are closer to Berlin’s view than London’s. This is hardly an accident: the Germans are next door, and the British are on their island. We will complete our reconciliation with the Germans and keep on strengthening links between Poland, Germany and France through the so-called Weimar Triangle. We will also push to extend the new Europe further to the East. Once the EU is on their borders, even Ukraine and Belarus, which now look like hopeless cases, will produce a new class of politicians promoting integration with the rest of Europe. It is vital that our union remain open for them, and not become a select club.

The ideal of an “ever closer” Atlantic community is also very dear to us. Not just because we are particularly fond of Americans. Nor because, as some stupidly say, we are an American “Trojan horse”–or even “a Trojan donkey,” as one German newspaper claimed. But because in our part of the world, security is a serious issue. That is why we didn’t hesitate to go to Iraq when asked to do so by our ally, the United States.

That is also why we are staying in Iraq–not only to help people there build a decent country, but also to make the point, together with the British, in the crucial debate about European foreign and defense policy. Here we are in agreement with London, and in conflict with Berlin and Paris. We do not want the EU to become a “counterweight” to America, as France (among others) advocates. We prefer it to be a partner, particularly on security issues. NATO is not at all dead, nor is it irrelevant, as French President Jacques Chirac reportedly described it recently. Rather, it is a piece of very important unfinished business.

Transatlantic cooperation is an imperative, not an option, in another important respect. It is the only geostrategic concept that allows for a useful and satisfactory place for Russia in Europe. Unification will not be complete without Russia. The continent will remain divided, Poland will not be safe. Yet Russia is simply too big for the EU; its inclusion would throw the whole structure off balance. That is why, for now, the best way to draw Russia closer to the West is by its expanding cooperation with NATO. Simply put, to incorporate Russia into Europe, we need America to stay involved in Europe, too.