Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The Sources of Visegrad Conduct: A Comparative Analysis of V4 Foreign Policy-Making

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The Sources of Visegrad Conduct: A Comparative Analysis of V4 Foreign Policy-Making

Article excerpt


This article presents sketches of a systemic assessment of the foreign policies of the four Visegrad countries. Its ambition is to move beyond the superficiality of merely recounting past successes and failures of Visegrad Group (V4) cooperation, while rhetorically restating aspirations for a utopian Visegrad partnership. To this end it employs the conceptual repertoire of Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA) in order to highlight key issues shaping V4 relations and to examine why, in their foreign policies, these countries do not fully "click," or, in other words, why they are not capable of playing a truly meaningful role together on the world stage. The concepts of role-making, ratification, normalisation (as in prospect theory),2 national identities and the role of interest groups all offer some insights in this respect. The aim is to arrive at a tentative assessment of the Visegrad countries' foreign policy-making peculiarities, with the intention of illustrating and suggesting the possibility of further, more profound research on the subject. To this end, the article also offers a large number of references to guide the reader to the literature available related to the topic.

The Surface: The Institutional Context of Foreign Policy-making in the V4 Countries

All of the V4 countries are functioning democracies, scoring (as of 2010) at least eight or above on the Polity IV dataset scale (Poland, Slovakia and Hungary score ten), and qualifying as "Free" in Freedom House's freedom of the press ratings.3 Less pleasantly, at the same time they fall midway between "very clean" and "highly corrupt" in Transparency International's Corruption Index, as of 2011 (Poland scoring best at 5.5; Slovakia the worst at 4.0).4

Since the beginning of the 1990s, coalition governments have been the norm in all of the V4 countries, not unexpectedly, as they are multi-party parliamentary democracies with partly or fully proportional-representation electoral systems. Especially in the Czech Republic, governments have often fallen before completing their mandate, and in all of the V4 countries governments are often voted out of power. Hungary is a unique case, as the governing party alone controls two-thirds of the seats in parliament, with the ability to use its constitutional or super-majority to change even pivotal legislation without consultation with, or consent from, other political parties-although the current Hungarian government is not the first with a two-thirds majority.5

In all of the V4 countries, presidents as heads of state have a limited role or may be only figureheads, as in Slovakia and Hungary. In the Czech Republic and Poland the constitutions do nevertheless allow the presidents noteworthy competences, and defines their positions in such a way that at least occasionally they can shape, or intervene in, the foreign policy process-as Václav Havel's signing of the Letter of Eight document on the eve of the Iraq War may illustrate.6

Legislatives have varying degrees of oversight over foreign policy-making. The Czech Republic and Poland have bicameral parliaments. In the Czech case, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate jointly ratify international treaties of greater importance, as well as approving the deployment of troops abroad; the same goes for the Polish Sejm and Senate, the Slovak National Council and the Hungarian National Assembly, with some subtle differences-for example, the Slovak National Council "expresses its consent" to the deployment of the country's troops abroad, whereas the Hungarian parliament "rules" on it.7

This in itself, however, does not reveal much that is essential as to the degree to which the nature of foreign policy decision-making in the V4 countries may aid, help or hinder cooperation and the fulfilment of meaningful common objectives. To the latter end, the conceptual repertoire of comparative Foreign Policy Analysis will be used in the following section in order to understand "the sources of Visegrad conduct. …

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