Central Europe’s shores reach three seas and that – as demonstrated by the Polish Trimarium (literally Three Seas) initiative – is quite meaningful. Another defining trait of the region is that for the better part of the last 300-500 years our fate has been decided by the elites of other power centers or empires.
Central Europe is also the buffer zone and the clashing ground of German and Russian interests and for the past century it hasn’t had a capital of any of the European powers. It is painful to admit that after such historical precedents as the Hungarian Kingdom or the mighty Jagellonians we have been denied self-determination.
With the collapse of Communism, the region’s states became part of the Western European economic and alliance structures, offering a modicum of justice and security guarantees against the re-emergence of Russian imperial ambitions. But what we did not do was to become equal partners in this Europe. We mumbled our way through these institutions with a good dose of awe.
But that is also changing. My Western European friends have lately been quite surprised to see that instead of obediently following the cues from the major power centers, countries such as Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria or Latvia have their own proposals regarding the future of Europe and the functions of the Union.
But now that we have found our own voice and the Budapest and Warsaw express is running at full steam, we have a historic opportunity. But this opportunity also means added responsibility, especially for the region’s political leaders. In order to carve our own path, we need some signposts.
First: we should not be afraid to listen to our constituents. These are hard-working and clear-headed people who can prove themselves at home or abroad, from Austria to the United Kingdom. So we should represent their stance, be it about the overall reform of the Union or the way the migration crisis is mishandled in Brussels.
Second: Central European leaders must seek closer economic cooperation and – as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán put it – invest in one another’s economies. We should also use this historic opportunity to develop critical infrastructure: oil and gas pipelines, roads and railroads, 5G internet connections, air and water highways.
Last, but not least, we should promote the further enlargement of the European Union towards the Balkans and later towards Eastern Europe, to improve bot security and create welfare.
And the Visegrad Four is a good example. It does not need new members, but its model of cooperation should be a blueprint for the entire Central European region: value-based cooperation and focusing on common interests instead of pointless political posturing while jointly promoting our best interests in our relations with other regions.