Dr. László Vasa, deputy-director for operations represented the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade at the 27th Krynica Economic Forum in Poland on 5 – 7 September 2017 where besides of his active participation at different sessions he moderated the panel discussion “The Visegrad Group – Our Place in Europe”.
Dr. Kai-Olaf Lang, senior fellow at the Institute for International Affairs and Security (SWP) from Germany, Arkadiusz Mularczyk, Polish politician, member of Sejm from Poland, Pavel Havliček, associate fellow of the Association for International Affairs (AMO) from Czech Republic, Ladislav Suhányi, vice-rector of the University of Presov from Slovakia, and Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, analyst and CEO of Nézőpont Group from Hungary took also part in the discussion.
In his speech, Dr. Lang argued that contrary to the common belief, the Visegrad Cooperation did bring added value to the European Union. This can be captured in three aspects. Firstly, by being able to think outside of the box regarding policy solutions for common European problems, the V4 member states can be considered as a “constructive irritation” in the mainstream EU politics – as Dr. Lang has termed the phenomena of representing different views on current issues. Secondly, the V4 is a good example of “natural togetherness” and thirdly, they are intrinsic players that on the other hand are not inward looking since they have a natural sense for sovereignty, a “legitimacy first” approach and a tendency to “colorize politics on EU level” as well. He further highlighted that EU unity is at the crossroad at the moment: between the pragmatic Bratislava spirit and a more ambitious vision represented by France. According to the expert, Germany has to find its way between these two directions. He maintained that solidarity, the illusion of economic and identity convergence and the two-fold Germany imperative – to keep the whole Europe together including the V4 and to have a value based EU managed by Germany – are the most important elements of fragmentation.
Arkadiusz Mularczyk asserted regarding the future of the V4 that member states shall find issues that join them inside the European Union. According to him, the problem of CEE countries that prevents further cooperation is that they are not able to understand this kind of necessity since they have always been sovereign countries. The other major question for the future of the V4 is an economic one: around 2.5 million citizens from this region live in Western countries which is also the place where they pay their taxes even though CEE countries financed their education. Furthermore, there is an economic dependency on French and German capital while there is a huge problem in infrastructure developments especially in the field of accessible border crossings. Therefore, Mularczyk concluded that it is in the common interest of the V4 countries to speak with one voice in these issues.
Pavel Havliček from Czehia emphasized that the migration crisis changed both the perception of the V4 and the conception of the cooperation as well. The main issues of cooperation are the questions of borders and security in connection with migration, however, V4 countries shall cooperate more beyond migration. He believed that the advancement of joint action in other areas are not a question of money, but priorities. Therefore, a more pragmatic approach shall be brought back in the field of energy, joint cooperation with Germany and Eastern Partnership in order to “go back to the basics”. Those are the common interests of the V4.
According to Ladislav Suhányi from Slovakia, V4 countries shall decide whether they can agree on common interests regarding EU issues, because they have to make a choice between cooperation on a permanent basis with well-defined priorities or cooperating randomly when there is a crisis situation. He maintained that common interests can be identified in at least three different issue areas: external borders, industry policy and motorway development. Furthermore, the V4 shall also set the goal whether they want to belong to the core EU with the implementation of the euro currency.
Finally, Ágoston Sámuel Mráz delivered his opening statement at the panel discussion. He mentioned that it the V4 countries wish to join the core EU, it has to be firstly defined what the core EU means. Is it an abstract thing or one can become a core member by joining the Eurozone? After the Germany election, this issue will be raised again which will lead to difficult decisions. The Hungarian expert underlined that Germany shall be a manager of the EU even though it was not really successful in the recent years in that regard since German-CEE cooperation has stopped and Germany has lost its natural influence in this region which led to the erosion of the manager role. He further drew attention to the fact that interest representation within the EU shall be focused on defence and infrastructure when the new budget discussion begins in 2019-2020.