Quo vadis, V4? – The Weekly 42

It is not a new idea to develop or institutionalize the alliance of neighbouring states that already established close economic relations, perhaps even have a lot of historical experiences and cultural elements in common. As an example, let me mention the Visegrad agreement made by Hungary, Czechia and Poland in 1335 in order to circumvent Vienna’s staple right. 

Europe, and certain EU member states in particular, also have several cooperation agreements to effectively represent the interests of a region, in compliance with the EU’s objectives.

That’s why it was such a forward-looking idea for Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary after the collapse of Communism to draw on the legacy of the medieval agreement and decide to enter into a closer cooperation. For this purpose, they established the Visegrad Group which had four members instead of the original three when the Czech Republic and Slovakia separated from each other in 1993. Did we manage to utilize the opportunities offered by this cooperation? What conclusions can we draw from the thirty years of the V4 project?

Unfortunately, the picture is quite mixed and it could hardly be called a success story. Even though Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary have a lot of historical experiences in common and their interests overlap in many issues, they have also been divided by just as many historical grievances and even concrete disputes right from the birth of the cooperation. No real progress has been made in most of these issues ever since.

Hungary and Slovakia have been in constant and ever renewing disputes over such matters as the interpretation of their common history or the situation of the Hungarian minority living in Slovakia, neither of which has been helped by the V4 cooperation to any extent whatsoever. As the westernmost member of the alliance, the Czech Republic has constantly been eyeing better options and trying to capitalize on its closer connections with Western Europe. Poland, being larger in territory and population than the other three members combined, obviously has a completely different view on any cooperation than the medium-sized Central European countries.

No wonder the V4 got into a deep freeze by the mid 2010s and was constantly losing significance until the migration crisis broke out in 2015 and changed the trend.

This crisis brought a historical situation where Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava and Budapest took up a considerably similar position. Many people thought at the time that the group’s position on migration may lead the four countries taking a common stance in other issues, too. However, it never happened. In fact, we may go as far as to say that the V4 project fell victim to the short-sightedness and political greed of the governments of its member states.

Budapest and, to a lesser extent, Warsaw realized the political PR opportunities offered by the V4 cooperation, but Prague and Bratislava did not join in. Furthermore, neither the Hungarian, nor the Polish side were able to produce any content other than a set of increasingly fierce anti-migration slogans or smearing the EU. It should hardly have come as a surprise, since perhaps the strongest link of the V4 countries is their dependence on western (primarily German) economic interests. This dependence is clearly shown in the structure of their economies as well as the lack of their independent bilateral connections with each other. To illustrate this point, let me mention the fact that while all the four countries have built sufficient East-West traffic routes in the past thirty years, there is still no highway connection to Warsaw from Budapest (and you need to take a considerable detour from Bratislava as well).

 

As for any common policy represented in Europe, the situation is even more disillusioning. While the governments of the Czech Republic and the now Eurozone member Slovakia are reluctant to get into confrontations within the EU, Budapest’s and Warsaw’s “Central Europeanism” agenda has essentially been reduced to a constant search for enemies within the alliance.

Of course, after reading so many negative things about the inner workings of the V4, you may rightfully ask if there is any point to this cooperation. 

Despite all the difficulties, I am convinced there is. However, just like all successful European cooperation systems (such as the Scandinavian or the Baltic examples) are based on positive attitudes and proactivity, the V4 can only be successful if its members finally stop viewing it as a domestic political tool or the ideological basis for “trolling” Europe. As a Hungarian, I hope that Budapest will see the necessary change in 2022 to make it happen. After that, we might perhaps better involve the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and the V4 may finally take the place in Central European policy that it should have taken from the very beginning. - JOBBIK MEP MÁRTON GYÖNGYÖSI 

The original article is available here: https://www.gyongyosimarton.com/2021/02/26/quo-vadis-v4-the-weekly-42/