Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Rethinking the Future of the Visegrad Group at a Time of Heated Debate on the Future of the EU

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Rethinking the Future of the Visegrad Group at a Time of Heated Debate on the Future of the EU

Article excerpt

Introduction

Four years into the global economic crisis, the European Union today faces multiple crises that increasingly imply institutional problems and those of democratic legitimacy. The more urgent the need for accelerated European integration becomes the more divided are the Member States. Such complex and tense conjuncture generates the need to rethink strategies, not only at the Member State and EU levels but also at the regional level. This is especially the case for smaller countries or those with limited political leverage in the EU because regional platforms can serve well as forums for consultation and alliance-building and are vital for furthering common positions at the European negotiating table. Amidst such a potent debate on the future of the EU, the Visegrad Group-Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia-is also justified in looking back at its two decades of shared experience, and in the light of that to swiftly assess its present capacities to best profit from this regional partnership.

This paper will first draw up a brief account of the general dynamics of cooperation throughout the Visegrad timeline and then will present and assesses achievements in the most relevant areas in which the four states cooperate, namely foreign policy, European affairs, civil society, energy security, economic issues, and security and defence. This analysis of the V4's activity and potential aims to find out which of the efforts undertaken had or have the most efficacy. The conclusions should then serve as valuable hints of sensible directions for further cooperation for both the short and long terms in order to assure substance in the future of the Visegrad Group regardless of the new constellation of the EU.

Oscillations in the Dynamics of Visegrad Group Cooperation

Launched in February 1991 in the Hungarian town of Visegrad1 at a meeting of the leaders of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, the main purpose of the Visegrad initiative was to achieve membership in NATO and the EU, rather than establish intra-regional cooperation. It is important to note that the initial objectives of the project were joint activities for achieving higher levels of integration in the European and Euro-Atlantic political and economic structures, which suggests that the initiative was predominantly "a political project developed according to a 'top-down' approach."2 That is to say, that behind the ambitions of the political leaders was no citizens' initiative, hence the low level of public awareness about the existence and importance of the regional group throughout the first decade of its operation.

Additionally, despite the otherwise quite intense cooperation of the first few years, the low level of institutionalisation weakened the chances of the format to secure informal rules about cooperation and coordination. This factor, together with the 1993 disintegration of Czechoslovakia and the domestic political developments that followed in the two newly established states led to a slowdown in the operation of the Visegrad Group. Neither the Czech Republic, under the premiership of Václav Klaus (1993-1997), nor Slovakia under Vladimír Meèiar (1992-1998), demonstrated much keenness for regional cooperation. The Czech leaders felt their neighbours' company was a force hindering them from a speedy catch-up with the EU, while Slovakia set offon a "nation-building path" that was less than compatible with the underlying principles of the Visegrad initiative, which are the equal participation of all of the partners and a sense of solidarity.

The end of the 1990s saw a turn in Slovakia's position as well as significant advancement in its prospects for NATO and European integration. Such favourable developments revitalised interest in cooperation, especially since the pre-accession period required increased synchronisation of positions and exchanges of experience. Following that effort, with the 2004 accession of the four countries to the EU, many saw the raison d'être of the regional group coming to an end. …

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