ECHO TV - Future of Europe

How Emanuel Macron would disrupt the Visegrád 4

Iván Farkas, Vice President of the Hungarian Community Party, talks about local elections in Slovakia, while Eszter Petronella Soós, a political scientist and expert on France analyzes the tactic of Emanuel Macron to disrupt the Visegrád 4.

 “Local elections in Slovakia,” “Macron would disrupt the Visegrád 4,” and “Polish Independence Day.” These are the key phrases for the next 20 minutes. Good evening and welcome. Local elections in Slovakia were held last weekend, which resulted in the advancement of the independent candidates and in the weakening of the government’s largest party, Smer, led by Pellegrini. The Party of the Hungarian Community (MKP) and the Slovak–Hungarian interethnic Most–Híd (Bridge) party also became stronger. By phone we are now connecting Iván Farkas, Vice President of the Party of the Hungarian Community. Good evening.

Good evening to everyone.

Mr. Vice President, the township of Múzsla in southern Slovakia re-elected you as the mayor last weekend. First of all, congratulations on your victory.

Thank you very much.

I know that the party has done the evaluation already. What helped the Party of the Hungarian Community increase its popularity? How did you evaluate the results?

115 mayors were elected from the candidates of the Party of the Hungarian Community. If we include the mayors who were running as joint candidates but on behalf of MKP, then we have a mayor in 136 townships. To evaluate the results, we have to say that the MKP gave the 4th most candidates nationwide, and we won the 6th most mayors in the country. It must be added that the Slovak parties and the Most-Híd, our competing party, had candidates in all of the 79 districts of the country, practically from all over Slovakia, while the MKP had candidates in only 18 districts, where Hungarians live. The key to success was that we were able to mobilize our electorate. In most places we focused on the accomplishments that we had achieved in recent years, both in local and county governments. Our campaign was based on nothing other than our achievements, and we offered a realistic program for the citizens, which, in our opinion, contains elements that are important to the citizens.

The bigger party of the current government, Smer, led by Peter Pellegrini, lost votes. This was expected as the result of the government crisis following the Kuciak killings. To what extent does this explain SMER's poor performance?

Obviously to a great extent, especially in big cities, because the SMER party was in power in county and in district capitals. The party's decline was the most visible in these places. However, this election really shows a tendency; the county elections from last year already showed SMER's decline, which was confirmed by last weekend's local elections. So, the trend seems to be continuing.

The European Parliamentary elections are forthcoming. What do you expect based on this result for next year's elections? What issues will be the topic of the campaign in Slovakia, and what is the particular focus of the Party of the Hungarian Community?

For the Party of the Hungarian Community, the economic and regional development of the southern part of the country will basically be the top priority because these developments are mainly financed from the budget of the European Union. To what extent can our representatives in the European Parliament, the Slovakian member of the European Commission, and the politicians in general mobilize the funds to develop the southern part of the country, the region with a dense Hungarian population? And, of course, migration will be a very important issue. We expect that the political parties or party alliance, be it a wing of the European People's Party, which rejects the migrant phenomenon, will become stronger. We do expect this trend to continue to become more significant after the EU elections.

Iván Farkas, Vice President of the Hungarian Community Party, thank you very much.

Thank you very much. Goodbye.

Does Emanuel Macron want to make friends with the Visegrád countries or does he want to disintegrate the alliance? That is our next topic.

“There is only one European Union, which cannot be divided into Western or Eastern, old and new,” said Emanuel Macron during his visit to Bratislava after having negotiated with Andrej Kiska, Slovakia’s head of state.

Already at the announcement of the visit, guesses were made that the real aim of the Central European tour is to disintegrate the V4. French newspaper Le Figaro, referring to a close associate of Macron, said that the French president is visiting Bratislava and Prague because he hopes that highlighting the intragroup disagreements within the Visegrád group will be well received. Macron wants to take advantage of the opportunity to achieve a closer relationship, because he cannot have a bad relationship with each state in the region. Hungary and Poland cannot be the destination because of the populist drift of Budapest and Warsaw. But, with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the situation is different. They are less controversial and their stances are not as crystallized as those of their two ultraconservative neighbors, Le Figaro concludes. According to experts, the French politician could not turn the Visegrád countries against each other. Körké, the Slovakia-based Hungarian news site writes that Peter Pellegrini, President of Slovakia, has been trying to avoid to be obviously supportive of France in the most important issues. Czech President Andrej Babis announced at a press conference that he would not choose between Macron and Orbán, because he finds new divisions unnecessary after Brexit. Analysts believe that although the interests of Central European states are identical in most EU issues, from time to time we witness efforts that aim to disrupt the V4. Next spring's EP election could not only overwrite the continent's political force, but the results could also have a major impact on the future prospects of our region.

We will try to analyze the tactic of Emanuel Macron with Eszter Petronella Soós, a political scientist and expert on France. Welcome in the studio. Good evening.

Good evening.

Let's cut to the chase. What is Emanuel Macron's goal with the V4?

Right after taking office, the V4s became a focus of Macron's presidency. We remember his tour about posted workers and the new directives concerning them. At that time the official French communication was that the goal was not to divide but to bring as many Central Eastern European member states as possible behind the French proposals. Back then they said that they wanted to avoid the appearance of the Western–Eastern divide. To give a little background, I think it is very important to understand that the consequences of the 2004 EU enlargement in some parts of the Western population are not popular because they meant the appearance of social dumping and the appearance of a cheap Eastern workforce. There was an internal political logic behind the fact that Emanuel Macron began his activities with this directive. This is one of the issues that can be understood from a French point of view.

The other one is that Macron made a promise to try to visit every European capital. We can see that the visits to Warsaw and Budapest are being procrastinated. A year ago, Macron's visit to Hungary was being planned. It seems that the V4 is a flexible cooperation, and when it comes to common interests and common opinions, this alliance can act together relatively smoothly, but when there is not a common interest, then naturally everybody represents his or her own national interest. Macron tries to play with this. We've seen him trying to use another group in the Council voting, the Slavkov cooperation, which is composed of Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Austria.

Let us clarify one more question. I wonder what the demand is today for the two-speed Europe. And, the other question is, if the goal of Macron's last visit was to disrupt the countries of the Visegrád Four, what are the most obvious signs of his attempts to disintegrate the alliance?

These questions are related. The two-speed Europe is one of the central elements of Macron's European program. The idea here would be that the eurozone has a separate parliament, a separate minister of finances, and a separate budget. Obviously, Germany's accordance and enthusiasm would be essential for this plan. So far, this is limited because Germany would have a restrained interest in excluding its own economic hinterland from core Europa. This is basically the case, and it is clear that the situation in Slovakia is very different because it already introduced the Euro in 2009, but the Czechs still hesitate.

Is this a reason for Slovakia to be invested in belonging to core Europe?

The Czechs have hesitated several times. They are talking about whether or not a V2 + 2 formation is possible in this case. I would very much like to point out that the issue of the eurozone is an issue of oscillation in the V4, but in other cases, this block is able to act in a coordinated fashion. Honestly I believe that the real question about the euro zone and core Europe is whether or not the Germans are willing to invest money in it. This is a very important question of this election, and following the election it can be back on the agenda. I am in an awkward situation as an analyst, because there is a German chancellor who announced her resignation from the CDU, and we hear a lot about, and it is my feeling too, that Angela Merkel might not complete this cycle.

My instincts also say—and the various statements we hear and the various processes we see also reinforce this belief—that the weakening of Angela Merkel can also cause Macron's weakening. Do you agree with me?

If the next chancellor has a very orthodox position on the eurozone question and does not show any flexibility—and remember that German citizens have not been enthusiastic about spending German money on other countries since the Greek crisis—then Macron's program on Europe might suffer a huge setback. This is why this is a very important election for Macron. He will need to send a group to the parliament that has the capacity to exercise pressure. This is his investment in the elections.

Petronella, back to the point of Macron's purpose of disintegrating the V4. Do you think that his attempts were met with reception in the affected countries of the V4, I mean primarily Slovakia and the Czech Republic, whom he tried make his allies against Poland and Hungary, the conservatives?

I think that this is more about the countries’ interests. The Czechs and the Slovaks may be separated on the issue of the eurozone. Russia can be another question. I think that in certain cases, and first of all I am thinking of migration, this block can effectively act together, even though there are small differences in politics, and an instance could be the Slovakian refugee policy. However, when it comes to voting and to representing the common interests, then these countries can cooperate. There are different legal proceedings going on in the case of posted workers, and there seems to be coordination even from the side of member states who back then showed receptivity in rhetoric. This I can explain with a very simple reason. Since nobody yet knows what Europe will be like after next May, what can and what cannot be done, it is also reasonable that some Member States want to leave the doors open.

Macron is the most unpopular French president of all time. Sometimes he is looking for allies, and other times he is kicking or passing through others. Shall we remember his remarks from last week or his speech at the World War Centennial? Is it correct to say that he makes mistake after mistake, based on, as you just said, the logic of “on the one hand, on the other hand?” Could you elaborate on this a little more?

These are two separate issues, and one of them can easily be resolved. If we look at his main messages of the past week, and especially at the speech on the 11th, I believe you were referencing that one, I think that it fits in with the narrative that Macron has built for the EP election: the confrontation of progress and nationalism. He had an interesting discussion of what the difference is between nationalism and patriotism. As far as making mistake after mistake, it has been true since the summer. Since it turned out that Benalla, Macron's bodyguard, was beating up protesters in the beginning of May, Marcon has indeed been handling domestic politics poorly. I think that the Benalla case was kind of a turning point.

At the EP session in Strasbourg, Angela Merkel said that we need to consider creating a European army. Earlier, Emanuel Macron also had mentioned this as well, and Viktor Orbán also raised the same possibility in his 2016 speech in Tusványos. Going back to Macron, what could his real intentions be? We have already clarified his domestic political situation, but where does he see himself in the future, and what does he pursue at the European level?

Macron gave a speech last September in Athens in which he explained that he saw Europe as a system of geopolitical relations. He thinks that Europe should be strong and sovereign vis-á-vis other super powers. This reflects what the Hungarian Prime Minister says about Europe being rich but weak, hence the demand of the European army. There is a geopolitical vision, but of course there is a narrower national interest, and this is the interest of the French military industry. Emanuel Macron told CNN in an interview that he did not want the EU to spend the joint army and defense budgets on American weapons. It is not difficult to see the interests of the French military industry behind this statement.

Of course, the USA and Russia will not leave this idea without comments, and their responses are still awaited. Eszter Petronella Soós, thank you for coming to our show.

Thank you.

 “Hungarians and Poles know what it means to fight for freedom, so they can appreciate freedom and will not give it up in any circumstances,” said Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, yesterday at the occasion of the Polish Independence Day. Here is the report from Zselyke Jámbor-Miniska.

“The proclamation of the Polish republic is a great celebration not only for the Poles, but also for us Hungarians who have done our part in the freedom struggles of the Polish people,” said Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade in his greeting speech at the reception of the Polish Independence Day in the Museum of Fine Arts. The minister emphasized that although we earned our freedom through self-sacrificing struggles, both nations are continuously being attacked. Today, those attacking us are those who want to create the United States of Europe. Today, those attacking us are those who want to change the composition of the European population. Today, those attacking us are those who want Europe to enter into a post-national, post-Christian era. Today, those attacking us are those who want us to forget our national identity, our religious and cultural traditions. But, we do not accept this.

Ambassador of Poland Jerzy Snopek talked about the importance of preserving traditions and stressed that Poles are still vulnerable to their own sovereignty because of bad experiences.

We are well aware of the value and the price of Polish independence, of which we are just celebrating the centenary, and this is very important to us. Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the reacquisition of Polish independence. We appreciate the support of the Hungarians because they were standing behind us.

The support of Hungarians is also appreciated by Joanna Urbanska, Director of the Polish Institute, who says that not only diplomatic events strengthen Polish-Hungarian relations but also events of institutions, such as the Polish Institute in Budapest.

Our main goal is to nurture and strengthen Polish–Hungarian relations, a friendship that is based on fate and common values. This is reflected in all of our programs. We try to point out that the Hungarians have always supported us in our freedom fights, and even now, in the most dramatic and difficult situations we count on them, count on you.

At the end of the ceremony, Hungarian politicians who have done much to build Polish–Hungarian relations were given awards by Jerzy Snopek. Minister of Justice László Trócsányi and István Tarlós, Mayor of Budapest, received the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. Zsolt Németh, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Hungarian Parliament, was decorated with the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit. Richard Hörcsik, chair of the Committee on European Affairs, was granted the Knight's Cross by the Polish ambassador.

Ladies and gentlemen, this was today's show on the V4 - The future of Europe. Next week, Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will be the guest of our show.

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