V4 bloc seeks united front ahead of EU summit

07-09-2016

The heads of government of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic have concluded an informal meeting of the Visegrad Group held in Krynica, Poland. The gathering was designed to cement a common stance ahead of an upcoming EU summit, to be held in Bratislava on September 16, focused on post-Brexit EU reforms. Also present at the “V4+1” gathering was Ukrainian PM Volodymyr Groysman, who received backing from the other prime ministers over Ukraine’s eventual joining of the EU. I spoke with Radko Hokovský, head of the European Values think-tank, and began by asking him whether a common stance is easier said than done for this group.

Robert Fico, Volodymyr Groysman, Beata Szydlo, Victor Orbán, Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: CTKRobert Fico, Volodymyr Groysman, Beata Szydlo, Victor Orbán, Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: CTK “There is an agreement that the answer to the Brexit should not be further, deeper integration of the European Union, but rather a loosening of cooperation and more flexibility. What the prime ministers agreed on in particular is that the European Commission should be more of a technocratic and not political institution. And we have heard for some of the prime ministers that the current Jean-Claude Juncker-led Commission is too political. And one of the examples cited for this was his proposal on the relocation of asylum seekers, which the V4 prime ministers have criticized from the very start.”

What about the idea that has been touted by Czech PM Sobotka about the creation of an EU army? How was that received in the V4, and how might something like that be received by the rest of the EU?

“I think that even though Central Europe, including the Czech Republic, has been critical of some of the ideas for further EU integration, at the same time PM Sobotka and other leaders across the region understand that the EU and European integration bring an added value – especially in the area of security. I think that in general this idea will be accepted, but much more concrete details need to be put on the table.”

Radko Hokovský, photo: archive of Charles UniversityRadko Hokovský, photo: archive of Charles University Could other EU member states resent the fact that four nations have created what might be viewed as some kind of alternative power structure outside of the EU?

“I don’t think so. In fact throughout the history of European integration we have always had some kind of groupings of the member states. For example the very close Benelux cooperation. Another example is meetings held by the large EU states, such as Germany and France. We had these meetings just after the Brexit when representatives of France, Germany and Italy met. But the western European countries do understand that the position of the V4 countries is different in some areas, especially with regards to migration policy.”

Also in attendance at the meeting was Ukrainian prime minister Volodymyr Groysman. Could you sum up the position given by the V4 on Ukraine?

“We heard very strong support for Ukraine, including support for its territorial integrity. That is a very important signal, since some Central European countries have been perceived as being potentially open to the Russian interpretation of the situation. For example, we had a recent meeting between Slovak PM Robert Fico and Vladimir Putin, which was perceived as Slovakia being potentially more receptive to the Russian position. But the statement affirming strong support for Ukraine in the conflict with Russia was very explicit, and I think that is very important.

Photo: European CommissionPhoto: European Commission “The same can be said of the support expressed for Ukraine’s ambitions to integrate into the European Union. And maybe such a position was also a little bit controversial, because there is currently no agreement among the EU member states about Ukraine even joining the EU. This is perhaps, again, another manifestation of an idea expressed by Prime Minister Orbán. In his view, the European Union should be more loose, and more wide. It’s an idea that says that Ukraine, and perhaps other Balkan countries, should join the EU as quickly as possible. This basically corresponds to the idea that the EU should not be so much of a political federation-like entity, but rather a loose and more flexible alliance of countries.”

07-09-2016