The beginning of July 2016 marks a special period in the history of the Visegrad Group. The countries forming the Group will undergo a number of important developments. This is therefore a good opportunity to find out more about the four countries in question.
A new framework for the relationship between the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, known as the Visegrad Group or the V4, was established in 1991. The objective at the time was to promote the European integration of the four countries. Even though accession to the European Union has been completed, the organisation has not cease to exist as a political entity.
The Group was created following the break-up of the Soviet Union. Cooperation between the four countries focused on the construction of democratic systems and accession to NATO and the EU. The intensity of this cooperation varied over the years and there were periods of complete stagnation. For example, between 1993 and 1998 the members suspended the group’s activities, with each focusing on their own efforts to achieve EU / NATO accession. Following this period, cooperation was resumed. Nevertheless, this has wherever possible always been on an ad hoc basis, given the differences among the members. This was made easier given the non-institutional character of the organisation. Apart from the summits between the Prime Ministers of the four countries and coordination meetings during the European Council, mutual cooperation depends largely on the circumstances.
Recently, events have favoured increased cooperation between the Four. The Joint Statement of the Prime Ministers on the 25th Anniversary of the V4, celebrated in June this year, acknowledged the challenges ahead and stressed the V4’s determination to continue to work actively in an atmosphere of partnership, trust, mutual respect and solidarity. In the Joint Statement on Migration, published after an extraordinary summit in Prague on 15 February 2016, the heads of the V4 states exchanged their views on the migration challenges facing the European Union.
A key date for two of the countries is 1 July 2016. The date marks Slovakia’s turn to take over the rotating seat of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. On the same day, Poland starts its fifth Presidency of the Visegrad Group. The Slovak Presidency’s main objective is the strengthening of the economic union and the priority of the Polish presidency for the upcoming year is to ensure that the V4 retain a strong voice within the EU. Following the outcome of the UK referendum, the V4 have jointly advocated a European Union of 27 countries that have stronger ties, based on trust. Among other challenges, wealth creation remains the main issue and creates a divide among Member States. Further integration in the Single Market is needed to help address this problem. At the same time, there is a palpable feeling shared among the V4 that somehow this process has not been totally successful and needs to be addressed and improved. Slovakia, the only V4 country to have adopted the euro, will have an important task of translating the needs across the lines during their Presidency.
While the members of the Visegrad Group may have differing interests, there is one priority that brings them together: military defence and cooperation in order to improve security in the region. From 8 to 9 July 2016, the modalities of this priority will be discussed during the next NATO summit in Warsaw. In the view of NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, this will be a landmark summit because of the rapidly changing security environment, to which the Alliance has to respond. The threat of instability on the external borders of the EU is spurring the need for military cooperation in the Visegrad Group’s region. The countries share a strong Transatlantic link, with all of them welcoming the presence of the NATO’s forces in their territories. During the Czech Presidency, the four countries continued to build the permanent V4 military structure. The first V4 EU Battlegroup has also been set up. The meeting in Warsaw is expected to develop other possible areas of cooperation for the future, e.g. the joint airspace protection.
The V4 has emerged as a non-institutional organisation, but is increasingly present as a separate agent in the European and global politics. The upcoming year, with all its challenges, will certainly reveal more about this partnership.