Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Visegrad Four and the Western Balkans: A Group Perspective

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Visegrad Four and the Western Balkans: A Group Perspective

Article excerpt

The accession of the Visegrad countries to the European Union enabled them to start shaping EU policies and in fact use the EU as a tool of their own foreign policies towards third countries or regions. This new opportunity is directly mentioned in the so called Kromìøíz Declaration, which was adopted shortly after their EU accession. The Declaration clearly says that V4 countries support the continuation of the EU enlargement process and are ready to assist countries that aspire for membership by offering their own experiences, including regional cooperation.1 This commitment concerned both Eastern and Southeastern Europe, though, it was obvious that the Western Balkan countries had a more realistic integration perspective compared to their Eastern neighbours. The Declaration therefore confirmed that the Visegrad Group (V4) will mainly be oriented towards two territorial foreign policy priorities-the Eastern neighbourhood and the Western Balkans.

Support for the integration of the Western Balkan countries to the EU ranks high among the foreign policy priorities of all of the V4 countries, despite the fact that there are certain differences in their interests in the region, and the Western Balkans represent one of the key priorities of EU enlargement policy.2 Taking this into account, one can see that the integration of the Western Balkan countries into the EU national foreign policy priorities of the V4 countries is fully compatible with that of the EU. This is another reason why the Western Balkans have continuously been mentioned as one of the priority areas of various Visegrad Group presidencies.

The main goal of this article is to assess the current and future possibilities of cooperation between the Visegrad Group and the Western Balkans. The article does not analyse the involvement of particular V4 countries in the Western Balkans region or the relations among the Western Balkan and V4 countries, but focuses solely on the role played by the Visegrad Group as such. The focus is on three general levels of cooperation. First, the article analyses the achievements and opportunities of political cooperation. Second, the possibilities for sharing institutional or procedural know-how are discussed. The third part develops concrete suggestions for sectoral cooperation between the Visegrad Group and the Western Balkans. At the end, the article also highlights some problem areas, especially on the EU level, that might prevent cooperation from developing.

Strengthened Position of the V4 in the EU

Before analysing the role the Visegrad Group has played in the Balkans, one has to assess the changing position of the V4 in the EU. By joining the EU, the V4 countries achieved a most crucial policy priority. Since integration was also the top priority of the Visegrad Group, membership in the EU was not just an achievement of individual countries but also for the Visegrad Group as a whole. Though the V4 trademark increased significantly in both Brussels and Washington after its members' accession to both the EU and NATO,3 the Visegrad Group as such was leftwithout a priority whose importance would be comparable to the integration to Euro-Atlantic structures. Although the Kromìøíz Declaration was also accompanied by more concrete guidelines,4 it took the V4 some time to anchor the new priorities and mechanisms for cooperation in policymaking. This very specific "enlargement fatigue" was, however, fully overcome, and the V4's role in the EU-thanks to wisely used coordination and consultation mechanisms-has been steadily increasing.5 Joining the Schengen system may be perceived as one of the most important achievements of the V4 in the post-accession period and one that fully legitimised the will of its member governments to continue to develop cooperation under the V4 umbrella. The list of cooperation areas from 2004 was enriched by new topics, especially energy security, which played an important role.6 The economic crisis from 2009 and the subsequent depth of the crisis brought further challenges to the Visegrad Group. …

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