Good evening and welcome. The V4 will have a summit on February 18th and 19th in Jerusalem. This will be the first time in the history of the alliance that the heads of governments of the Visegrád countries have a meeting outside of Europe. The details of the meeting were discussed between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanjahu at the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, at the beginning of January. We will discuss the significance of the summit with my first guest today, Bálint Rotyis, an analyst for Médianéző. Good evening. Welcome.
The idea of the summit is not new, but what is the reason for the date? Why are the prime ministers of the V4 countries meeting in Jerusalem now?
The significance of the summit from the point of view of the V4 countries is that they are able to publicize themselves again this year and that they are able to demonstrate that their alliance—which wants to be a visible cooperation—can deepen its cooperation in a foreign country as well. The significance of holding the summit in Israel is manifold. On the one hand, it is prestigious, because the V4 can demonstrate that the leaders of other countries are interested in the alliance.
Whom does the V4 demonstrate this to?
I think it has significance within the EU, because now the V4 can show point to one more country in the international arena that counts on the alliance. This can strengthen the power of the V4 to represent its interests within the EU in the next period.
What is the actual benefit of that for the V4? The symbolic significance is clear: this is the first time that they are meeting somewhere else than in their own countries. It is also clear why they picked Jerusalem. This has certain precedents, and if we have time we will talk about them. But, in practice, what kind of political capital can be gained from this meeting, for example, for the V4’s political fight against the EU?
The standpoint of the Israeli government is in many ways similar to the V4’s standpoint. Firstly, this standpoint focuses on national sovereignty. For Israel, it is very important to maintain national sovereignty and to secure national borders. The V4 represents the same standpoint, but it does that within the EU. So, practically, we can say that an alliance is being formed in a global arena that keeps emphasizing the importance of nation states and that the culture and identity of the nation states have to be protected. This can be an image for the future for Europe too.
Political parties in Israel are divided on the issue of the summit. The smaller, centrist parties do not support the summit and do not want it to happen. Let’s look at it from the perspective of the EU. A year and a half ago, when Benjamin Netanjahu visited Budapest, Viktor Orbán said that the EU needs to develop a reasonable relationship with Israel, and if it does not do so, the EU would be punishing itself. What is the relationship like now? What does the EU think about the fact of the summit?
The relationship between the EU and Israel has seen some conflicts recently. The Middle East itself is a problematic region, and Israel, as one of the few stable states of the region, is a key actor. For this reason, it would be in the interest of the EU to maintain a close relationship with Israel. However, the situation is the opposite currently. Within the European region, it is the V4 countries that are the real and significant allies for Israel. Previously, Israel had difficulties to cooperate with the American government as well, but ever since the Trump presidency this problem has been solved. I think that for Israel it is very important to secure the support of those EU member states that are able to bloc, prevent, or persuade the critical Western European countries.
The major source of conflict between the EU and Israel is that Israel has been criticizing the way that the EU has been handling the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Previously, Viktor Orbán said that, on the basis of an Israeli recommendation, a working group would be set up to combat terrorism. What can be known about the work of this group?
The territory of Israel and the Israeli–Palestinian situation are extremely complicated, and it is necessary to have a deep knowledge about it. The question is how we react to this challenge: do we try to intervene in the conflict from outside, or do we act as a mediator? The V4 countries represent the principle in foreign policy that each country should handle its own domestic issues and that there is no need to give outside—and in this case, unwanted—advice to other countries.
I asked you about the tasks of the working group for counterterrorism intentionally, because Viktor Orbán said in connection with the upcoming summit that the Hungarian–Israeli cooperation in security and defense policy should be tightened. What could this cover exactly?
It could refer to Israel’s position on a very dangerous territory; on the one hand, because of its neighbors, and, on the other, because of migration, which can affect Israel too. From this perspective, we have certainly a lot to learn from Israel. There are techniques and methods that we could learn from them in order to ensure our security. Israel is a very developed country in terms of technology and security technology, so the V4 countries could definitely benefit from a working group or cooperation like that.
We will continue this discussion after the summit. Thank you for accepting our invitation.
We are continuing with another meeting. On the invitation of Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will participate in the V4 summit in Bratislava on Thursday. We will discuss this with my next guest soon, but first let’s see a brief summary about the relationship between Germany and the V4.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Slovakia again after more than four years to attend a meeting of the V4 prime ministers in Bratislava. As part of the program, the chancellor will also talk to Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini and Head of State Andrei Kiska. The German chancellor is also visiting Slovakia, because she would like to pay tribute to the Central and Eastern European countries that took part in the fall of the Iron Curtain and the reunification of Germany on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Since the outbreak of the refugee crisis, the relationship between the Visegrád countries and Germany has been tense. The German chancellor has previously criticized the Central and Eastern European alliance, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland, for rejecting the mechanisms for the distribution of asylum seekers within the EU. In her view, it is unacceptable that the Visegrád countries are trying to redeem solidarity with money in the issue of asylum. In October last year, Angela Merkel said during her visit to Prague that although the Visegrád countries are acting together on a number of issues in the European Union, their positions are often different from those of the western EU Member States. Merkel also said that the European Union is already multiple-speed, and it cannot wait for all 27 Member States to cooperate. Although there is no consensus on the issue of quotas between the V4 and Germany, they have similar views on the common European border protection. According to the German chancellor, it is important to strengthen Frontex, and Member States should develop a comprehensive monitoring mechanism to record who is in the EU and who has left Europe.
We are continuing to discuss this topic with István Pócza, a senior analyst of the Center for Fundamental Rights. Good evening and welcome.
Does the meeting tomorrow have a symbolic significance, or does it have practical implications as well?
I think it has a real stake, because they will touch upon various topics, as we heard in the intro. One of the most important topics is perhaps the next seven-year European budget, which is far from being a symbolic issue. The other important and outstanding topic is the upcoming European parliamentary elections, which again has real and practical implications, as it only happens every five years. Therefore, this will be a very important summit between the V4 and Germany. The participating countries will also have discussions one by one, not only together. We are also expecting a press conference to follow the summit.
That is right. Thank you for calling our attention to the fact that it is not only a summit between the V4 and Germany, but also a meeting between the participating countries. Let us briefly discuss the different—more economic than political—interests that tie each Visegrád countries to Germany. You mentioned the next EU budget cycle. First of all, I’m thinking about the cohesion funds. We have heard several times that the Central European region will be a definite loser of the 2021–2027 budget cycle. My question is: can the threat of reducing the cohesion fund be interpreted, on the level of law and regulations, as the EU’s political criminal asset? For the time being, it seems that it can be. But, can the V4 represent a real political power against this?
It is important to see that the question of whether the V4 will be the losers of the next EU budget has not been decided yet. It is true that the EU wants to diminish the expenses.
According to our current knowledge, yes, it would be harmful for the V4.
According to the original plans, yes, the EU wants to decrease the expenses. However, Germany, for example, unlike other member states, like the Netherlands, is pretty flexible in these questions, because it realizes that despite the fact that Germany is a net contributor to the EU budget in the traditional setting, it also gains a huge profit through doing business, for example, with the V4 countries. Actually, German politicians and even the German commissioner in the European Commission admitted that Germany is not a net contributor but a beneficiary of the cooperation. They will definitely touch upon these questions during the upcoming meeting. Knowing the EU regulations and legal background, it is important to state that political debates or political threatening (even if they are disguised as legal questions) and the European Union’s budget are two separate things, and they cannot be intertwined. Obviously, trying to blur the two things together is a political move. It was former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi who came up with this idea, and, unfortunately, it became popular with many other member states.
In contrast, we are facing a reality that includes an economic relationship and economic interests between the V4 and Germany. All of the V4 countries are attached to Germany through multiple economic ties. If we are looking through the most recent media publications, we find headlines that regularly accuse Hungary of considering the EU as an ATM. But, is Germany not the biggest beneficiary of the economic relationship with the V4 countries? During the meeting last year between Angela Merkel and Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister said that the volume of commerce between Germany and the V4 countries is 50% higher than the volume of commerce between Germany and France. What are we talking about then? Cutting back the cohesion funds would be harmful for Germany as well.
Exactly. This is a common interest to maintain economic and commercial relations on the same level. If Germany consciously decides to reduce or eliminate the funds from which German businesses very often indirectly benefit, such as investments and developments, then eventually it would harm itself. And, it would harm not only itself, but the entire economic performance of the European Union. The EU’s economic performance has not been a success story recently. It has been lagging behind the Far East as well behind the United States. So, the EU should focus on making economic changes happen not with political tools—which would result, as I said, in harming itself anyway—but it should make economic cooperation its priority, as it was the original idea of the EU. After that is achieved, political questions could also be discussed, but in a way that does not harm us. Europe, and Germany as well, are not the strongest in IT technology and other areas, and in the future these areas will have to be developed, because as a result, industrial and production relationships could be harmed. France could suffer a setback in this regard as well. So, there are important future interests that should not be sacrificed for the sake of the current debates, and the German–French axis, or the Western European axis should not force its ideas upon the Visegrád region.
By the way, speaking of axis. French President Emanuel Macron earlier brought his “roadshow” to the Central European countries with the intention of dividing them into two groups. Do you think that Angela Merkel could make potential allies within the V4?
Macron’s intention was to turn Poland and Hungary against Slovakia and the Czech Republic. I think that currently this is not a realistic idea, just as it was not realistic earlier either. It is an old, well-proven method to promise different development resources for all the countries, and the result is that these countries become divided politically. The current governments are much more mature than the previous governments. We can think back to the EU accession period in 2004. This was the case back then, but now countries are seeing these initiatives through and do not allow themselves to be fooled. And, the goal is to preserve the unity, because if the unity breaks down, then the power of the region will be disrupted.
This is clear in the political sense, but if we look at these goals in economic terms, Slovakia is forced to pursue a special policy because of its membership in the euro zone. Slovakia must pay attention to also orientate towards the core Europe. Can this duality be represented by Slovakia at the same time? Can Slovakia keep the V4 unit on the one hand, and on the other hand maintain its membership in the core Europe via the eurozone?
Slovakia is not in an easy position. We can refer back to a previous issue; we are in the same position. The EU should not just focus on creating a situation in the euro zone that separates Slovakia from the other Visegrád countries (i.e., by artificially creating economic and financial matters that distance Slovakia from other countries). Instead, the EU should focus on preventing the further strengthening of the idea of a multi-speed Europe, which is already present in the European Union. We have seen, unfortunately, that Merkel is not necessarily committed to this goal. I am thinking here of the agreement they made in Aachen on the strengthening of the German–French axis, which clearly shows that they want Europe to be of multiple speeds, even more than it is now, and that they want to decide the direction of the integration. And, unfortunately, the story is also about the fact that, ultimately, the other countries are excluded from the debate on the future of the European Union. This is also a very important preliminary plan for the meeting, to discuss the future of the European Union. There’s plenty to say about that.
If we are talking about the future, let’s talk a little about Angela Merkel’s future. Her position is weakening, specifically as the party president, but also it is questionable whether she can remain in the chancellor’s position until the end of her term. Could her weakening strengthen the V4 alliance in a practical, political sense?
The problem is that it is not possible to know if you need to negotiate with Merkel or whether you should focus on others now. And, this is not only a problem for the V4s but for other countries too. Looking at the developments in the German party politics, Merkel seems to have been left out of the talks on the future and is increasingly being neglected within the government, even though she is the head of government. So, there seems to be a strong shift of power. Obviously, Merkel is a clever politician. She has a great deal of experience, and she is trying to balance her position in every way until the last moment. I think she wants to set the time and mode of her retirement. This plan could be distracted if there suddenly would be an external challenge or if an unexpected process, like the migration crisis was, happens. In those cases, she would not be able to set the conditions and the time for her resignation.
This is the final word for today. So, tomorrow, Germany–V4 summit. We will follow the events. Thank you, István Pócza, for coming to us.
Dear viewers, this was the show on the Visegrád cooperation. We will, of course, return again with fresh information next week. Goodbye.