Future of Europe: The potential of the V4 alliance

editor: REMIX NEWS

Welcome to the new, ECHO television magazine. Surveys show that the majority of Hungarians do not know much about the economic and political life of Central Europe and the potential of the V4 alliance. The purpose of our current magazine program is to bring Visegrád cooperation closer to everyday people and to show its political and everyday use and the fight of the Visegrád countries for their future during the European Parliamentary election campaign. It is my honor to welcome Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás in the studio. Thank you for accepting our invitation as the first guest in our newly launched magazine.

Good evening.

Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said that V4 became a brand in politics. Do you think the V4 is a strong brand today in international politics?

I think if we look at the best cooperating member states, we find that everybody mentions the cooperation among the V4 countries, besides the French–German and Benelux cooperations. It shows that today Europe is also counting on—and should count on—the fact that the V4 countries have recognized their common interests and that they are able to jointly represent them.

If we talk about interest, we often hear that associations are born from interests or values. Do you think the alliance of the V4 is based on interests or values today?

Both, and I think it is necessary to collaborate with each other successfully. Let’s be honest; it is very important that the values are the same, but if the interests in the long term and in many questions are different, then it makes it very difficult to cooperate. In the instance of the V4 countries, it is not the case. These Member States joined the EU in 2004 or later, and we can see countless common interests. The migration triggered a value crisis that is mainly about the identity and about how we want to see Europe in the upcoming decades and what we want to keep from traditional European values. This issue clearly showed that there is and what we want to treasure from traditional European values. It showed that there is a close cooperation between the countries. If you think about the political situation of the Visegrád countries, you can see that no government belongs to the same party. The Czechs are in the liberal faction, the Poles are in the conservative faction, we are in the people’s party, and the Slovaks are in the socialist faction. However, this cooperation is closer than anything else in the EU. It shows well that there are common values in different societies beyond borders, which further strengthens this cooperation.

A few weeks ago, an international conference on V4 was held in the Czech Republic. Let’s see what Jan Kovar, an expert in international relations, was thinking about the topic.

If we take a look at the debates in the EU, most of the coalitions are case-specific, which does not mean that the east and west or north and south are opposed to each other, but that there are certain issues along which coalitions are emerging. The Visegrád 4 can be interpreted along this logic. There are also problems where we have a common view and we can persuade other states to support us. In other cases, however, the political interests of the Visegrád states are not the same.

Minister, are there still any values or issues that can overcome these political interests in the near or in the far future, for example, after the elections of the European Union?

We cannot see what is going to happen in the next decades in this region. If I had to predict I would say that integration will be strengthened in this area. If we look just a few years ahead, I am optimistic because the first most important parliamentary decision of the European Union will be the decision about the next seven-year budget. The Commission had an intention to get it accepted in this legislative cycle, but there is no realistic chance to do so. In this case, we should agree on the seven-year budget, and the standpoints of the four countries are very close to each other, and the interests of the four countries are fundamentally congruent. Migration will remain as a long-term topic in the European Union, but it may change. However, I should admit that it has already changed. It is not just about discussing how to defend the external borders; it is also about discussing what is going to happen to Europe and how Western society can keep its own national values when 42% of children under the age of six are no longer born as children of the majority nation. These questions arise— whether I look at identity or at financial values, I come to the conclusion that the interests and the values of these four countries are the same.

Although this is the case, the political system and structure at the governmental level have been quite changeable in recent times. It is enough to think of the Czech Republic or Slovakia. A couple of months ago, a conference on V4 took place in Budapest, Hungary, and I had the chance to talk to former Czech President Vaclav Klaus. He was very critical of his own country, the Czech Republic, and its current government. Let me show you what he thinks, and then l look forward to hearing the response of the minister.

I think that the inner strength of Visegrád 4 is not so great because although Hungary is strong through the voice of Viktor Orbán, and Poland is strong as well, my own country, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia as well, are weak. I am afraid that the basically non-existent Czech government has no policy that could help the situation, so there is no cohesion of interest in the V4.

It was a strong criticism. The former Czech president obviously wants to send a message to the Czech government. How much can these weak countries weaken the future unity that would be very important, especially during the campaign?

The basis of the V4 is that we do not interfere in each other’s domestic politics. It is different from the operation of the European Union. If we should secretly identify which party or politician we would like to see in the prime minister’s office, of course, we could decide, but we came to the conclusion that it is irrelevant because we must cooperate with the one that was elected democratically. The words of the Hungarian ministers and the Hungarian government are more respected and more severe than the power of the country based on the numbers of its inhabitants and its economic weight. It is because of the viewpoints of the country on the migration crises and partly because Viktor Orbán is the longest-serving prime minister in the European Union after the German chancellor. Poland will always have a prominent role among the V4, because 40 million of the 65 million people in the V4 community are Polish. Mr. Babis has been leading the prime minister’s office of a non-stable government for almost a year. If we look at the current situation or the political personality, we might really feel that the Hungarians and the Polish have a bigger say. However, if a prime minister would run Slovakia or the Czech Republic for 7–8 years and win a third election, but someone in Hungary would be the Prime Minister only for half a year, it would change the situation. In the long term, we can say that these countries are much better at understanding each other than being understood by Western European societies. I think that this is the key point.

A sensitive point of the V4 is the Slovak government crisis and Robert Fico’s resignation. On the 1st of July, Prime Minister of Slovakia Peter Bellegrini took over the leadership of the V4 under those circumstances. We are now connecting Titus Németh, the correspondent of ECHO TV in Bratislava. What are the objectives of Slovakia regarding the V4 alliance?

The aim of Slovakia aligns with the objectives of the previous presidencies. The goals are to achieve the following: 1) a strong Europe that is dealing with the Eurozone; 2) a safe environment, which includes energy policy and migration; and 3) intelligent solutions for renewable energies. In those matters where the viewpoints of the V4 countries differ among one another, Slovakia has only formulated general statements. One of the key objectives of Slovakia is to actively engage in the work of European events and to strengthen relations with the Baltic States and the North, including France, Germany, and the Benelux countries.

Peter Pellegrini, Prime Minister of Slovakia, said when he took over the presidency of the V4 that Slovakia is trying to reach meaningful solutions. What does he mean by that?

There is no specific target area; the Prime Minister Pellegrini always emphasizes the importance of dialogue. He believes that only in this way can concrete results be achieved and can have a positive impact on the lives of people in the region. He always highlights the clear European orientation of our V4 countries, which is indispensable for the whole region.

What is the standpoint of Slovakia in relation to the Article 7 sanctions proceedings against Hungary and Poland?

In Slovakia, this opinion is strongly divided.  Many believe that supporting Hungary would ruin the image of Slovakia. Andrej Danko, President of the Slovak National Party and President of the Slovak Parliament, said that the Slovak Parliament plans to adopt a decision by which Slovakia stands in favor of Polish and Hungarian sovereignty. However, he did not state when it would be submitted to the parliament and accepted. He stated that nobody will harm Poland and Hungary. Prime Minister Pellegrini reacted and agreed that if politicians do accept such a decision, then it should be respected by the government. He found the moves of Poland and Hungary that were criticized by the Sargentini report to be controversial.

Thank you, Titus Németh, for the newscast from Bratislava, and we are counting on you in the future. What does the Hungarian government expect from the Slovak presidency?

We would like to see the implementation of the common goals. The presidency of the V4 is passed on annually, and it aims to support the continuity, since independent programs cannot be implemented within one year. The objectives that have been outlined here and which are clarified by the Slovak government, everyone can agreement with. It was about the relationship with Germany. It is clear that the V4 countries do not want to isolate themselves in Europe. If we talk about the relationship with Germany, it is difficult to measure it objectively, because the German public life and mass information are limited or roughly unbalanced, and the main point is often not visible. The main thing is that the foreign trade of Germany with the V4 countries (where 65 million people live just like in France) is 55% higher than its trade with France. This shows that Central Europe is a key region for Germany from an economical viewpoint. If we look at financial politics, we can see that it is mainly realized in the Central European region besides in Germany. The implementation of energy security is also very important even if there were to be differences in relations with Russia. We have no reason to sympathize with the Russians, but it is still a fact that the Hungarian economy cannot function without Russian energy. We have a much more pragmatic cooperation with Russia, while for Poland, it is an ideologically driven question, which is also understandable. In these questions, we need to find a status quo that is acceptable to everyone.

Is it possible to have some progress in the sensitive issues of the Slovak–Hungarian relationship, for example, in the adoption of the Slovak citizenship law?

We hope that it will be a solution, but it depends on the Slovak parliamentary decision. Once it was very close but failed due to one to two missing votes. However, we need to see how much the Slovakian relationship has changed. I do remember the elections of the European Parliament in 2009, when the Slovakian legislation decided to condemn Viktor Orbán, who was the leader of the opposition and the entirety of Fidesz, for a single sentence. The situation today is that the chairman of the Slovakian legislation considers it necessary to adopt a parliamentary resolution to support Hungary in the situation of the Sargentini report. I believe that this environment may be suitable for settling disputes. We believe that it is not contrary to the interests of Slovakia. There are no differences in the living standards between the two countries, and dual citizenship is accepted worldwide.

On the 1st of July, Slovakia took over the V4 presidency from Hungary. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that there is only one feeling that is better than receiving the Presidency: handing it over. How would you briefly explain the balance of the Hungarian presidency? Could you take the V4 closer to the ordinary people of the V4 countries?

I may be biased, but I believe that the Hungarian presidency was the most pressing presidency to date. It was not just about successfully carrying out the management of concrete programs, but we tried to give a face to the whole collaboration at a European level; and, therefore, the appearance of the Várkert Bazaar was necessary. For the most important questions, not only the prime ministers of the V4s, but also the Israeli or other leaders met. What we have achieved is a good example to follow.

Mr. Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary, said in Tusványos last year that he would find it important to build circles around V4 to include states that can give more power to the current V4 countries but not harm their unity and homogeneity. The question is how realistic is this homogeneity and what countries do we talk about?

The V4 countries will stay as the core of the cooperation, but this does not mean that it would not be a common interest to extend the circle from time to time. Obviously, we talk about those countries that joined the European Union in 2004 or after. After the British exit, there will be 13 countries from the 27 that joined the EU in 2004 or later. So, we talk about the majority of the Central Europe, and here’s a way to expand V4.

Is there any aspiration to have a formal framework for this?

There has been a V4+ Austria for a long time, and there have been several negotiations with other prime ministers lately, but it is a question of whether or not we need to establish a V4+ other country formation and meet annually. It will be the decision of the current presidency and if it works, it can be continued from year to year. It is important to enforce the interests of the V4s countries at the European level that the other Member States do not regard as hostile. We do not have a good chance for this to happen everywhere today, but in Central Europe we certainly have a good chance for it. For the Western European countries, it is easier to negotiate with the presidency once the issues are already settled. This could be interpreted as reinforced cooperation, which is originally a little different, but it is part of the Lisbon cooperation, and it has not happened unintentionally. On the one hand, it can guide the European Union. On the other hand, if it works well, we can join it, and it can make the life of the people from 27–28 countries easier.

Gergely Gulyas, thank you for accepting our invitation.

Thank you for the invitation.

Dear viewers, thank you for being with us.  Please join us next week.


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