The Visegrad Group is a platform for cooperation of four Central European countries – the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. In the last decades, the organisation has helped the integration of its member countries among developed Western European democracies and into international organizations. At present, it serves mainly as a platform for mutual cooperation and coordination and for strengthening the influence of its member countries in international negotiations.
Though we can trace the roots of Central European cooperation much deeper into history as far as 1335, when the Czech, Polish, and Hungarian kings met at castle in Visegrad in northern Hungary to discuss trade and politics related cooperation, the Visegrad Four, as the group is also unofficially called, was founded in 1991, not long before the disbandment of the Warsaw Pact. Therefore, in year 2016 the Visegrad Group celebrated its 25th birthday.
Immediately after the fall of the communist regimes and collapse of the Soviet Union, representatives of three states met – Václav Havel representing the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic, Lech Wałęsa representing Poland and József Antall representing Hungary. They signed a declaration proclaiming close cooperation between the states on their road to the European reintegration. The countries also cooperated during the challenging transition from communism to liberal and democratic society and market economy. In 1993, when the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic dissolved into two states, the group, at that time Visegrad Three, became Visegrad Four.
The main goal of the Visegrad Group – European integration of its member countries – has started to become a reality in 1999, when the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary joined NATO (Slovakia became a NATO member five years later) and on May 1st 2004, when all four countries of the Visegrad Group became members of the European Union. This opened entirely new possibilities for mutual cooperation between the Central European states in matters of foreign policy.
Negotiations of Visegrad Four occupy very wide area of topics nowadays – from coordination of cooperation in EU agendas and unification of positions in key issues, through questions of energetic, education, to issues of security and armed forces cooperation.
The Visegrad Group cooperation is based on the principle of regular meetings of the representatives of member countries at various levels, from heads of state through ministers to expert groups. The official summit of the prime ministers is held once a year. Documents resulting from the discussions have mostly the character of position papers or declarations and therefore are not legally binding. Only organization created in the framework of the Visegrad Four is the International Visegrad Fund established in 2000. The presidency of the Visegrad Four countries rotates annually, being forwarded on the midnight from June 30th to July 1st. A presiding country from July 1st 2017 is Hungary which took over the presidency from Poland.
Thematic priorities during this presidency are, according to the official programme document, European Visegrad, Regional Visegrad, Digital Visegrad, and Global Visegrad.
The Visegrad Group strives for active cooperation in its activities also with other countries or regional groups. These are for example Benelux countries, Nordic Council of Ministers, outside of the European Union the Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans collaboration might be mentioned. V4 cooperation with Austria and Slovenia operates on a platform called „Regional Partnership“ and cooperation with other countries, such as Germany, works under the V4+ framework. It is the partnership with Germany which is gaining more and more importance. Representatives of Germany participated in Visegrad Four summits since its foundation in 1991, but in light of the events of recent years and due to the geographical location of the V4+, the deeper cooperation of all countries is mutually desired for example in questions of energetic security or currently strained relations with Russia.
More information can be found on the official website of the V4 Group.