The presidents of the four Visegrad Group countries - Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic - met for their annual meeting at Lany Chateau, west of Prague, this weekend. The group was formed after the fall of the countries' communist regimes in order to increase their strength on the international stage. Since their accession to NATO and the European Union, however, many have questioned the need for such an alliance today. But after their meeting near Prague, the countries' presidents now say the group has regained impetus. Dita Asiedu reports:
Named after the Hungarian town in which kings of the same four countries used to meet to discuss cooperation back in the fourteenth century, the Visegrad Group - also referred to as the V4 - has decided to re-join forces and battle its common problems in today's Europe. At Lany Chateau, Czech President Vaclav Klaus stressed that the alliance's existence is just as important today as it was when it was formed fifteen years ago:
"The Visegrad Four is a group that was founded on common interests that come out of three main things. We have the territorial demarcation. As Central European countries, we have common neighbours to the east and the west and that leads to similar problems, fears, but also interests. The other is our common communist past, because of which we are similarly sensitive - at times even over-sensitive - to certain issues of today's world and today's Europe. And finally, our relatively young membership of the European Union also results in common interests."
At Lany Chateau, the four presidents agreed to disagree in areas where a common ground cannot be met due to differing national interests. The countries, though, will join forces and fight whenever there is a common goal.
One issue where they found common ground is the battle for reciprocal visa-free policies with the United States. But according to the presidents, the most pressing issue now is entry into Europe's borderless Schengen zone. Though the original planned date of enlargement was October 2007, the European Commission recently said it would have to be put back by at least a year. According to Czech President Klaus, as EU members with common standpoints, it is imperative for the alliance to speak with one voice in the 25-nation bloc:
"All four presidents see entry into the Schengen zone as an absolute priority and would view it as discrimination if it were delayed. In the area of the movement of labour our opinions are also united. But I should also say that Bulgaria and Romania will soon join and the tables could turn, as those neighbouring the new states will have to tackle the problem of the movement of labour differently than the Czech Republic. All countries are no longer under the illusion that 2007-9 are realistic dates for adopting the euro and agree that we're talking about much, much later dates. In the case of an agreement on the European Constitution, though, I do not foresee a common standpoint, as Hungary has a completely different view."
Last week the V4 foreign ministers also met at their regular summit. In a month's time the four prime ministers are expected to meet. However, relations between the Slovak and Hungarian leaders have been tense since Slovakia's ruling coalition's nationalists have been voicing hostile opinions against the Hungarian minority. That could lead to tensions - perhaps putting a dampener on the good atmosphere created by the presidents in Lany.