Experts speaking at a Association for International Affairs (AMO) public debate said that the Visegrad 4 group has not failed as a concept, despite the fact that its members have offered diverse reactions to the crisis in Ukraine.
Three experts representing two independent think tanks and one governmental analytical office spoke at the September 9 AMO conference in Prague. The event was organized as a part of the project ‘Central European Perspectives: Integration Achievements & Challenges of the V4 States after 10 Years in the EU,’ which is co-funded by the International Visegrad Fund.
The event opened with remarks from Vít Dostál, director of the AMO Research Center, who said that that there has been quite an interesting exchange of opinions after a rather provocative article by Edward Lucas about the alleged lack of purpose of the Visegrád Group.
Daniel Hegedüs from the German Council on Foreign Relations agreed with Dostál and added that some of the comments on the V4 were too pessimistic. The V4 does not need to ‘be buried’ just because there are different views on the crisis in Ukraine, there is a lot of space for practical cooperation within the V4 on other issues, he said. It also needs to be taken into the account that the V4 was never formed to tackle issues such as the crisis in Ukraine. Regarding the ‘illiberalism speech’ of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Hegedüs said that this is a part of a ‘symbolic conflict’ Orban seeks to have with important EU institutions, as it improves his negotiating position towards the EU. It also serves his domestic political interests.
Dominik P. Jankowski from the Polish National Security Bureau began his remarks with a statement that Poland still regards the V4 as a highly ‘comfortable’ mode of cooperation and noted that while we cannot expect too much from the V4 format (same as from the Weimar triangle) when it comes to facing Russia, none of the V4 countries have opposed the newest NATO measures taken at the latest summit, which is a good sign. He has also noted that the V4 diplomats basically agree on the analysis of what is happening in Russia and Ukraine, but that the disagreements exist over what the appropriate response to the developments should be. He has also identified anti-liberalism, economic interests, fear of conflict and anti-Americanism as Russia’s greatest allies in the West. While acknowledging that the V4 Battlegroup is a remarkable project, Jankowski said that the security situation has changed drastically and that EU battlegroups, which were formed mainly for peacekeeping and stabilization missions in Africa, are no longer sufficient and that other modes of EU defense cooperation need to be developed.
Milan Nič (Central European Policy Institute) noted that the entire West was caught off-guard by Russia and that the view that the V4 has failed is distinctly Western, while Central European observers claim otherwise. He has also identified the V4 as partly responsible for the successful candidacy of the former Polish PM Tusk for the seat of the President of the European Council. Milan Nič believes that the brand of the V4 is quite good and the regional cooperation will intensify, e.g. because of the need to develop transport infrastructure. As the most immediate issue that the V4 will have to face, Nič has identified the possibility of an energy crisis due to the situation in the Ukraine and Russia. Milan Nič has also expressed belief that Austria and Slovenia will be interested in working with this multi-lateral platform. Regarding Slovak PM Fico’s pro-Russian statements, he believes these are caused by Fico’s political weakness and the fact that he has in fact lost three elections in a row and is seeking to attract voters by controversial and dissenting opinions. At the end of the day, Milan Nič believes, Slovakia will back EU measures against Russia.