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According to GLOBS Magazine, the cooperation of the Visegrád countries, looking back on great traditions, is probably one of the most interesting partnerships in the world.

Even the name is special, since it was purposely named after the city lying on the coast of the Danube, north of Buda. This was the place where the Hungarian, Czech and Polish kings met in 1335. (In that time, Slovakia’s territory was under the control of the Kingdom of Hungary, meaning that the meeting covered all the four present member states). The Roman Catholic countries located between the Baltic Sea and the Adrian Sea agreed that they would communicate their economic and political needs together to the western powers (primarily to the neighbouring Holy Roman Empire) and eastern Orthodox or Muslim powers, which mostly signified the framing of a joint trade and customs policy in practice. So we already agreed back then that we would go together without separate deals with outsiders. Following the change of regime in 1989-1990, the leaders of the Central European region (József Antall, Václav Havel and Lech Walesa) had exact visions about how they wanted to lead out their countries from the institutional fetters of the Soviet rule, so they wound up the Warsaw Pact in the 1990s and quit the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. Moreover, the states who once cooperated in Visegrád knew that besides introducing the market economy model in their countries, they also wanted to change their economic relations with the rest of the world based on the European principles and practices. They initiated so called Europe Agreements – more specifically, it is a type of free trade and economic cooperation relations – with the EU and signed agreements about the withdrawal of the Soviet troops. (When evaluating their result, it must be taken into consideration that the communist regime – then yearned to be reformed by the Soviet Union and Gorbachev – only collapsed in the second part of 1991.) That was when the three great statesmen decided to re-establish the historic Visegrád cooperation to achieve joint goals in the economic and geopolitical vacuum – since they could only join the EU and NATO later.

The memorandum of association was signed in February of 1991 – at that time the countries were still hosted the Soviet troops – and the institutional cooperation was launched immediately. Since the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Visegrád Group has four members.

The power and attractiveness of the cooperation is demonstrated well by the fact that many of the neighbouring, west-oriented countries wanted to join them, but it was always turned down by the founders. At the same time, the so called Visegrád+ political cooperation is focused on a more and more extended cooperation – most intensely with the countries of West Balkan and the Eastern Partnership. Therefore, the Visegrád Group fought arm-in-arm for their integration goals, such as a strong cooperation with NATO – as part of the Partnership for Peace programme until the admission in 1999 (Slovakia was only admitted in 2004) – and the accession to the European Union following the successful partnership agreements to the start of the negotiations in 1998 and the accession in 2004.

The Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) was worked out and enacted right in the beginning of the cooperation in order to boost the failed trade between the member countries.

This didn’t only have a good influence on the traditionally state-owned or nationally owned companies’ product and service trade, but it also launched prosperous trade and production cooperation between the regional subsidiary companies of the foreign direct investments (FDI) and their other interests in the countries. This was accompanied by a quick visa-liberalisation in the EU for the citizens of our countries – free flow of labour wasn’t established at the time – which resulted in outstanding growth in trade turnover and touristic performance with both the EU and each other from the 2000s. A curiosity about CEFTA is that it was open to other countries of the region as well, and after the Visegrád countries joined the EU in 2004, it became a living heritage of the 1991 foundation through the states waiting to be admitted. Even though the Visegrád countries joined the Schengen zone in 2007, the integration pace is very different regarding the admission to the euro zone. They all accepted the introduction of the joint currency with the signature and ratification of of the Accession Agreement, but the date is not defined and neither Hungary, nor Poland and the Czech Republic seem to be ambitious to set a concrete date. Slovakia gave up its own currency, the Slovak corona in January of 2009. It’s hard to decide whether Slovakia – who wanted to strengthen by this its European determination – or the other three partners took the right step, but I think it says a lot that Slovakia’s economic growth has fallen back to the Hungarian level since her entry in the euro zone – just at the time if the financial crises in Europe. Economists discuss whether this is the result of the introduction of the euro in Slovákia or the lack of it in the other three Visegrád countries.

The success and development of the group is also demonstrated by the Visegrád Fund set up in 2000, which helps the establishment of human relations and the cooperation of the scientific and cultural spheres with a moderate budget. The fund also receives support from countries outside of the Visegrád Group, with which it aims to strengthen cooperation with Germany for instance, and other great, developed world economic and political partners like Israel, Japan and South Korea.

It must be highlighted that before the high-level union meetings, the Visegrád leaders always consult each other at ministerial level. Furthermore, the cooperation between parliamentary and professional organisations have become just as important as the cooperation of the governments.

The cooperation is still based on structural economic similarities, because the countries’ foreign direct capital/GDP rates are still among the highest in the European Union, while the chances of the four countries to be involved in the international productive value chains are also similar. Hence, the EU plays a significant role in their trade – especially export – whereas the export capacities of enterprises in national ownership is quite low everywhere. Our demographic trends, and the rate and direction of emigration with purposes to work abroad are similar as well, however, the latter issue is probably a bit more moderate in the Czech Republic. The countries have similar views – though expressed with different vehemence – on the dangers regarding migration, therefore we aim to keep the key to immigration policy in our hands. A good example of outstanding solidarity is the way our partners help protect Hungary’s southern borders against illegal immigrants, and how we joined our forces to send policemen to Serbia and FYROM to strengthen expertise and solidarity at the southern borders.

The urge to represent our joint interest in Brussels is not only confined to the consequences of the persistent approach regarding our immigration autonomy, but the challenges EU’s great policies are facing must be mentioned as well. So far, we always managed to live through the issues concerning financial budgets and the reforms of cohesion and agricultural politics with beneficial outcomes. We are encouraging the strengthening of EU’s defence capability, we set up the Visegrád Combat Team that can help our smaller regional partners, like Slovenia or the Baltic states in fulfilling their needs regarding protection.

Hungary took over the one-year presidency of the Visegrád Group for the fifth time on the 1st of July, 2017.

We hold the presidency in a period, when we have to protect our joint interests at several negotiations of key importance in the EU, not only concerning the budget guidelines, but also regarding the effects of the BREXIT talks. London is the important employer of the Visegrád work force, and it used to be one of the main net contributors of the joint budget, from where the Visegrád countries received significant sources for the development and cohesion of the regions and the support of agricultural producers, which shall be expected to continue to be provided.

Another joint challenge is that Brussels initiated infringement proceedings against three Visegrád member states due to the implementation of migrant quota schemes centred around the supervision of the requests of illegal immigrants entering the EU. The fourth country (Slovakia) also criticised the EU’s logic, when the country – along with Hungary – legally attacked the decision concerning the obligatory migrant quotas made on the session of the Home Affairs Council without consensus among member states, even if the two countries didn’t win the lawsuit formally in the European Commission. (To attest their solidarity, the Visegrád countries recently offered financial support to the mostly affected Italy.)

But the current situation in the case of Hungary and Poland is very unique: a so far unprecedented proceeding arose (it has already been officially initiated against Warsaw), which would withdraw the voting right of the member state – in other words the participation in joint decision making – due to the alleged violation of the different aspects of constitutionality and rule of law, not to mention that it could also come together with a punishment fee, which has also been unprecedentedin this field so far.

This is why it was very symbolic that the new Polish Prime Minister, Morawiecki, visited Hungary in the first days of January 2018 shortly after his entry into office to consult with his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orbán, who is not only a sympathetic ally, but also the head of government of the current presidency of the Visegrád Group. Hungarian and Polish people are not only connected by special historic events and similar values, but Poland has also grown to be one of our greatest trade partners in the post-communist world, while their touristic presence in Hungary has also reached a significant level.

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Source: by Dr. Zsolt BECSEY, Former MEP and State Secretary for Foreign Trade, University Professor/Globs Magazine

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