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Central Europe – In the Heart of Europe

On 15 December the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (IFAT) hosted the last event of the Stronger Together – Mapping a New Path for the European Union event series this year. The event was unconventionally held in Hungarian. The event was organized by the IFAT, and supported by the State Secretariat for European Union Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office.

During the roundtable discussion Dr. Tibor Navracsics, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr. Károly Grúber leader of the Department of Common Foreign and Security Policy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Gergely Prőhle, Director General of the Petőfi Literary Museum shared their opinions about the concept of Central Europe. The discussion was moderated by Márton Schőberl Director of the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

In his opening remarks Márton Schőberl expressed his pleasure that despite the end of the year the event drew many attendees. Having greeted the guest and the lecturers he underlined the main puzzle of the event, whether Central European identity exists?

At the beginning Tibor Navracsics declared he would offer a personal opinion and not an official one as a commissioner. He cited Sándor Márai claiming that in the past the German-Belgian border used to be the Western border of Central Europe, but after World War II the borders of Central Europe have been realigned. Central Europe is of great importance for Hungary, as the region means a solution to resolve the trauma of the lost territory and population of Hungary. Nowadays Visegrád countries are often identified as Central Europe, however Central Europe is much larger than that. Tibor Navracsics outlined the important role of the House of Habsburg in shaping the region. After the Habsburgs there were many attempts to revitalize the Central European political and economic integrity, however these attempts were unsuccessful. The reason for the success of the Habsburgs according to Dr. Navracsics was the well-functioning institutional framework. Also, the Visegrád Cooperation would remain successful only if it would be institutionalised. Among the four countries only Hungary backed the idea of institutionalisation of the cooperation.

Károly Grúber agreed with Tibor Navracsics that Central Europe is more than the Visegrád countries, as it includes the Baltic states, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria as well. He highlighted the active role and effectiveness of the Visegrád Cooperation which was showed by the facts that there had not been significant conflicts between member states within the Visegrád Group and there was always a potential country which wanted to join to the cooperation. However Germany is interested in to deal with Visegrád countries separately, so the German dominance can prevail. According to Károly Grúber historical facts demonstrate that the golden age of the Hungarian nation was during the era of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although there is still an intellectual debate if in terms of Hungary the compromise with the Habsburgs was a good solution or not.

Gergely Prőhle emphasised the role of Germany in terms of Central Europe. After the unification of Germany 1990 it became a real Central European country. Germany’s commercial turnover is larger with the Visegrád countries than with France. He thinks external motivation is needed for the institutionalisation of Visegrád Cooperation.

All of the lecturers of the roundtable discussion agreed the Visegrád Cooperation has future.