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V4: Real European power or a Hungarian political mirage?

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Does the Visegrád Four represent a real political power in Europe? What possibilities do Central-European countries have for cooperation? Is the potential of the V4 exploited sufficiently? Debate articles by Csaba Fodor, political analyst, and Botond Feledy foreign policy expert.

The unexploited V4 potential

Feledy Botond | translated by: Dorottya Böröcz | 2018. March 14. 20:48

The Visegrád Cooperation had almost 30 years since the regime change to become an institutionalized cooperation. A high price had to be paid for this missed opportunity during the European Union enlargement negotiations and Visegrád has remained ever since an ad hoc platform of advocacy in Brussels and Berlin. The value of Visegrád in Hungary hasn’t skyrocketed after 2010 elections either, but after 2015, and at present reflects more communicational rather than strategic considerations.

Building alliances is completely natural among the 28 members of the Union. Despite the fact that we hear little about other functioning historical partnerships, they are blooming and flourishing in Europe.

*Lacking institutional background

The Benelux states run numerous institutions together: since 2010 they have been calling themselves the Benelux Union and have an independent, common parliamentary assembly, a Court of Justice, a Committee of Ministers and a Secretariat General. The Nordic Council also has an independent Assembly consisting of the region’s parliamentary representatives and a Council of Ministers. Then there is the separate Assembly of the Baltic States and the list goes on and on. For example, the Hanseatic League happened to be resurrected more than a year ago, holding one minister-level, closed, informal meeting after the other, each one of which has a substantial influence on EU matters. Partnerships like these only make sense, if there are effective assemblies held several times a year, concerning each policy area and built into the operation of the public administrations.

Is there any trace of such meetings in the Visegrád Cooperation? How many members of the Hungarian parliament meet regularly their Visegrád counterparts, to build a common cause of the four countries’ public administration? How many representatives in our region are at all willing to speak up in a language that is not their own? How long does it take to build up the diplomatic culture after a hiatus of forty years, while the young people, who do speak foreign languages flow out of the region?

Although significant steps were made at the level of political communication in the V4 capitals, it is still in everyday policymaking where the Visegrád members have a lot to learn both at domestic and regional level: they need to work on their policy implementation, consensus and trust building capacities to go beyond frequent, colourful declarations.

*The obstacles to cooperation

While in Hungary the domestic communicational environment favours right now – quite justly – more communication on Visegrád, we need four countries to make any progress. Poland must also go through this learning process to be able to realize: it may need the Visegrád “backup” to have its voice heard next to the big players, Berlin and Paris. That would mean however much less opportunism and less room for bilateral maneuvers for the other three members, which is simply not the most popular political approach nowadays.

The Russian-issue immutably divides the Visegrád-axis. While Poland must count on the Baltic States and Finland in this matter, it must divide its energy and resources. Poland cannot handle this issue within the Visegrád Group, therefore it is possible that in cybersecurity, military matters, and perhaps also in secret service coordination it is glancing to the North. These however, would all be great policy areas for building trust, the lack of which Visegrád will feel in future, like it has already felt in the past

*Excessive dependence on the West

Among the economic metrics of the Visegrád countries, there are a lot of nice figures. This however in a large extent is due to the intracompany trade of the German multinational corporations, which although shows the embeddedness of the region in German economic processes, sadly only produces a small added value. Therefore, it does not strengthen independence in the long run. According to PwC’s survey this year, most of the Central-European CEOs still consider brain drain to be the biggest risk. This is a serious and cautionary sign. Even though the V4 would have the capacity to create companies visible on a European level, which therefore would have a retaining power that would drive further cooperation in the region, we do not see too many examples. It is even less common to see a political will bridging governments, behind these initiatives; anyhow there are simply not enough MOL-like companies.

In international politics, the Visegrád countries can only be seen through the prism of the European Union. The realistic goal of the Visegrád Cooperation could be the real assertion and advocacy of their interests in the EU. But for this, the individual member states need to have long-term, predictable policy strategies, which is an inherently impossible expectation amid the current populist wave, not to mention the difficulties of governance arising from time to time in Prague and Bratislava. If the V4 cooperation institutionalizes within the Union – in Brussels – Berlin will certainly notice it. They will not like it, they will not support it. If the Visegrád countries want long-lasting results, they must work on it consistently and against the current, for several years.

*A long way to go

We are still at the beginning of the process, after the joint photoshoots it would be time to get to work, teach the language of the neighbouring countries to public administration employees, initiate long-term exchange programs with higher headcounts for functionaries, create liaison with permanent presence in the most important policy areas, hold common trainings in the high priority areas in foreign languages. And this is just the beginning. After this, the Permanent Representation of the Four could move into a common building in Brussels. Or in Washington too. Or in Moscow?!

Currently, however they keep relations with China in a 16+1 format, in the MFF (Multiannual Financial Framework Committee of the EU) the friends of the cohesion group are stronger, while the V4 are just members in the group. They do discuss themes, but this almost exclusively means criticizing the EU, not constructive proposals: the rule-of-law procedure against the Polish PiS-government and the solidarity that Hungary expressed in relation to it is not exactly the type of Visegrád unity we discussed above.

In short, it is not visible that the compromises that the governing powers of the Visegrád countries are not willing to make for Brussels or Berlin, they would be willing to make for Bratislava, Budapest, Warsaw or Prague. And this weakness of the political culture has consequences on all levels.

 

The future belongs to the Visegrád Countries

Fodor Csaba | translated by: Dorottya Böröcz | 2018. March 14. 20:45

The V4 region became one of the world’s most stable area in a political sense and from an economic point of view it is respectable and represents an attractive power. The key to success is common sense.

It would be hard to deny that in the past few years the Central-European region and especially the V4’s (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary) significance became more appreciable in world politics. Just think about Donald Trump, who delivered his first “European” speech in 2017 in Warsaw, the Chinese – Central- Eastern-Europe summit being held in Budapest, even the Israeli Prime Minister and the Egyptian President got a “regional welcome”.

*The regional partnership became more appreciable

The V4 region became one of the world’s most stable area in a political sense and from an economic point of view it is respectable and represents an attractive power. These countries were brought closer together by recognizing their common interests and asserting them. The cooperation of the V4 is a success not merely from a diplomatic, but also from a historical perspective. Namely the results of the period behind us – which are exemplary for other Central-European countries as well – suggest with good chance, that it is possible to rise above the offences of the past, to build a regional partnership, and not to fuel dissension.

For us, the Central-European partnership and fresh dynamism will be particularly important points of reference in the coming years, especially because Western-European attempts to divide the region seem to become permanent. The Western elite became frustrated by the unbreakable unity of the region, most notably regarding the question of migration quotas. This is especially remarkable considering that the V4 governments came from different party alliances in 2017 and the level of integration with the West also varies by state.

*Everything is given for further cooperation

The perspective ahead of the V4 is a recurring dilemma. First, it can be said, that the countries’ citizens support the partnership. Nézőpont Intézet, a Hungarian conservative think tank based in Budapest, made a representative survey in 2017 among the adult population of the V4 countries. According to the results, more than 8 in 10 people (84%) in the region have heard about the Visegrád Group and a similar proportion of people considered it important. Another significant finding of the survey was that people, who talked positively about the V4 countries, were always in majority.

Seven in ten people (68%) thought that the V4 together can assert their interests in Brussels more efficiently, than alone. As for the perspectives of the cooperation, citizens would like to tighten the V4 partnership mostly in the fields of external border protection industrial policy and common infrastructural projects (building highways).

The realism of the economic perspective is shown by the similar economic policy plans that the region’ countries are trying to implement, all focusing on improving competitiveness. It is self-evident that this should strengthen the “Visegrád dimension”. Nowadays the Central-European economical space – fueled by the cooperation of the V4 – has extremely positive prospects, providing a stable economic base for these aspirations.

The region’s countries need to utilize this potential now, as there is serious competition in the world for the financing of quality, job-creating investments and infrastructural projects, and in parallel, digitalization is underway at the speed of light. It is not a question, whether there will be new V4 topics besides the well-tested areas of the cooperation, as the mentioned developments in 2017 are already a sign of the new momentum.

*The V4 are shaping a new European-image

Finally, it is important to highlight, that the V4 influence Europe’s future too. It is an extremely interesting phenomenon that political instability in Western-Europe became practically universal at a time when they wanted to further deepen integration on a federalist path. By comparison, forming a government became problematic in many countries after the 2017 super-electoral year and crises that were previously “considered impossible” (Brexit, regionalism, separatism) caused severe headaches.

In contrast, the V4 has realized in this unconventional period that that old solutions are useless in the new situation. This is how pragmatism and standing up for national frameworks and real European values took the lead over an ideology-led approach. Policy making governed by common sense took over odd bureaucratic language.

Therefore, it can easily happen, that it will not be federalist wishful thinking, but a strengthening Visegrád Group and a Central-European cooperation in a larger sense, that strengthens Europe and forms a new concept on Europe. From this perspective, Andrej Babiš’s victory in the Czech Republic was an extremely important event and so is the new Austrian leadership, which is instead of acting hypocritically, standing behind the V4 in many questions. All in all, it is not an exaggeration to say that the future does belong to the Visegrád Countries.

 

This article convinced me.

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

This article convinced me.

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

The state of votes

72%
28%

The unexploited V4 potential

Feledy Botond|translated by: Dorottya Böröcz

The future belongs to the Visegrád Countries

Fodor Csaba| translated by: Dorottya Böröcz

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