The Visegrad Four in the context of European integration? No sense ~ Right Bank – Petr Fiala Institute

One of the consequences of the recent Hungarian parliamentary elections, which were again convincingly won by FIDESZ and in person Viktor Orbán, is the renewed reflection on the future of the so-called Visegrad Four (V4).

Due to the persistent profile of FIDESZ and Hungary’s role in the Russian aggression against Ukraine, rumors are circulating that the V4 should be abolished or that the Czech Republic should withdraw from it. There is no reason for that. Richly, it would be enough for the V4 to revert to its original meaning and cease to function as an artificially nurtured and factually empty coalition within the EU.

The discussion cannot be conducted without clarifying why the Visegrad Four – originally the Visegrad Troika, as Czechoslovakia still existed at the time of its establishment – was created in the early 1990s. Its main meanings were to stabilize the Central European region, to share experiences on the way to Western European organizations such as NATO and the EU, and to classical intergovernmental cooperation in policies such as culture and education. Although the Visegrad cooperation was considered to have ceased to exist after the achievement of the second goal – NATO and EU membership, this did not happen.

The myth of Visegrad common interests

The other two patterns have survived, which is nothing special. Sub-regional cooperation is flourishing in the EU and works both in Northern Europe (Nordic Council) and in the West (Benelux). However, the fact is that in recent years the V4 – atypical for traditional sub-regional cooperation – has mainly profiled itself within the framework of European integration. This was mainly helped by the migration crisis, which started in Europe in 2015, but also by the staffing of central European governments. Coordination meetings before European Council summits, where the Prime Ministers of the participating States have demonstrated their unity, have thus become the rule in recent years.

Needless to say, they were just masking the fact that the V4 as a compact and efficient group was a big myth.

First, Visegrad cooperation has never worked in EU sectoral policies. There are a number of studies and analyzes that have shown that, for example, in energy or agriculture, the different countries in the group have completely different interests and cannot find a common denominator. In the case of V4, there have never been “like-minded” compact clusters that cut across common policies and cover a significant amount of EU legislation.

Second, the V4 presented itself as a braking force. If states have ever been able to agree on something – especially at the level of Prime Ministers – it has always been a negative definition of something that has dominated or prevailed in the EU in this context. V4 rarely managed to come up with a positive program. There are also several analyzes of this claim, one of which implicates the author of these lines. At the same time, the presentation and defense of alternatives is an important leitmotif for the functioning of European politics. In the EU’s multilateral negotiating environment, it is perfectly acceptable to disagree. But the disagreement should be accompanied by a proposal for an alternative solution and its defense. V4 never understood this axiom.

There is no need to disrupt Visegrad, as it can continue to operate on non-European issues. It is enough to admit that there is no reason to coordinate anything with Hungary in the context of the EU.

So what was the main imaginary added value of V4? in political symbolism. V4 and its perception was a signaling tool, indicating the presence of a more or less fluid and rather less comprehensible opposition. In this sense, the individual band members used it very asymmetrically. Czechia and Slovakia hardly at all, Poland more and Hungary clearly the most intensive. Due to its conflicted relationship with the European institutions (but not only with them – Viktor Orbán was also able to upset a number of member states), the V4 group served as a fig leaf that put Hungary’s growing isolation into perspective.

In other words, with the exception of symbolism, of which the Czech Republic had nothing either, cooperation at the pace of the V4 in European integration does not and never has made sense. Czechia needs to build coalitions in individual policies differently. Adhering to Hungary does not bring anything in terms of reputation – compared to Russia, not only Czechia, but also Slovakia and Poland have a completely different position of value from Hungary. However, there is no need to disrupt Visegrad, as it can continue to operate on non-EU issues. It is enough to admit that there is no reason to coordinate anything with Hungary in the context of the EU.


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