ECHO TV - Future of Europe

Recent V4 survey: The citizens trust the alliance

According to a recent survey, more and more people are familiar with the V4. The director of Médianéző, Bánk Levente Boros, and Péter Virovácz, the leading analyst at ING Bank explains to us what the data means and how strong the V4 identity is.


According to a recent survey, more and more people are familiar with the V4. The majority of Visegrád 4 country citizens trust the alliance, which is referred to by experts as the economic engine of Europe. We will further elaborate on this in today's broadcast. I wish you a good evening. Welcome. Meanwhile, at a Berlin-based event on Tuesday, Slovak Minister of Foreign Affairs Miroslav Lajčák announced that if his country does not join the UN's global migration agreement, he will resign. By phone we connect with our correspondent in Bratislava, Titusz Németh. Hello Titusz!

The minister has justified his decision by claiming that the planned agreement of the UN is only a political statement that lists the possibilities of managing migration but does not oblige the acceding countries. However, the xenophobes are making it look quite different. In the meantime, Robert Fico, President of Smer, also reacted and said that the minister must by all means remain in office. Can we say that Lajčák is blackmailing the government? 

Hello, Anett! After all, this can be the case. Meanwhile, Peter Pellegrini stated in Brussels that Slovakia would not attend the summit in Marrakech if participation itself would result in any obligation for Slovakia. However, the Slovakian party has not yet fully refused to participate in the summit. Pellegrini called on Foreign Minister Lajčák and Secretary Parízek to find out what it would mean to Slovakia if it represented itself on a lower political level at the meeting and if it would voice its comments on the spot. Ultimately, Lajčák found this as an acceptable solution and stated that he does not insist that he take part in the Marrakech meeting.

Another topic that concerns Slovakia is that at the fourth meeting of the Hungarian–Slovak Joint Economic Committee, Levente Magyar, Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, spoke about the fact that Hungary and Slovakia have accomplished several achievements in their bilateral relations in recent years.  Specifically, which areas did Secretary Magyar talk about, in which areas was progress made, and in which areas is a closer cooperation necessary in the future?

First of all, he was talking about transportation cooperation. As we know, in Komárom, there is a plan for a large bridge, but at the same time it is true that, although the Hungarian–Slovakian economic relationship, as well as the foreign policy within the V4, is pretty positive, Slovakia and Hungary still have disagreements that could endanger their relationship. The Slovakian law on citizenship and the Slovak language law are instances of that. Another example could be the “flag law,” which was adopted by the Slovak Parliament with a definite anti-Hungarian sentiment, and it mostly affects sports events.

We have been waiting for an agreement or resolution concerning these issues between the two countries for years. Titusz Németh from Bratislava, thank you very much for the information. Let's return to the topic that I mentioned in the introduction. The popularity of the Visegrád cooperation is increasing. This is apparent at least from recent research carried out by the Nézőpont Institute. The awareness of the V4 in the four concerned countries is cumulatively high; 86% of the respondents had heard about the alliance before the data was collected. But, let's see the details.

Most of the adult population in the Visegrád countries know the V4 and think that their country is better able to enforce its interests within the framework of the alliance, according to a telephone survey that was carried out in the four countries by the Nézőpont Institute. The familiarity with the Visegrád cooperation in the four countries is very high cumulatively, as 86% of the respondents had already heard about the alliance prior to data collection. The Czechs and Slovaks are the most aware of the alliance; 91% and 88% of them, respectively, had heard of the cooperation. The research also revealed areas in which the V4 citizens would like to deepen the cooperation between their respective countries. According to the respondents, the V4 countries should cooperate more closely in highway construction and scientific research, and the respondents find the coordination of tax policies the least important. But, tourism, industrial policy, and energy policy are also important points of cooperation. Visegrád citizens are confident about the development of the region. The most optimistic are the Hungarians; 49% of them think that their country will be in a better position within five years, but 34% think that the situation will deteriorate over the next half decade. An optimistic view is shared by 48% of the Czechs and 47% of the Slovaks, while in Poland 42% are optimistic and 39% are pessimistic. The majority of the population in all four states believes their countries can more effectively enforce their interests within the V4 than on their own.

In the studio I welcome today's guests, a political scientist and the director of Médianéző, Bánk Levente Boros, and Péter Virovácz, the leading analyst at ING Bank. The introductory question is short: is the so-called V4 identity developing or has it already emerged?

In the political sense, it does seem that the V4 people are finding common ground. The "political sense" must, however, be interpreted by keeping in mind that there was government will and intent for finding common ground on the side of all the four countries and to focus on what connects them and not on what divides them. There have been periods when these countries considered the EU and NATO integration as a competition among each other, and, as the reporter said, sometimes other tensions also burdened the bilateral relations. One could also say that the picture of an external enemy is what connects these countries, but I would prefer to approach it as the V4 having a common future in mind. Definitely on the political level, but more and more so on the social level as well, an idea is being formed that we share a common historical past—we can call it the communist past or the experience and heritage deriving from that. And, we have a vision for the future, not only for the V4, but for Europe as well, which is an innovation, as a matter of fact, because nobody else has such a vision or a strategic idea for the development of the EU or European integration. Therefore, this is a lucky situation that has emerged, as we here in Central Europe not only encourage cooperation with one another, we also have a suggestion in what direction Europe should be governed in the future. This debate has reached a certain level where the V4 countries do appear as factors.

Meanwhile, we are showing the viewers, as you can see on the LED wall next to us, the results of the survey in numbers and percentages. Let me return to what we started the conversation with: does a V4 identity exist, and if so, in what form does it exist? And, the most interesting statement might be that it does exist despite the fact that the four countries have completely different political situations and completely different governments. So, let's clarify what the V4 alliance is really about—to what extent is it an economic cooperation?

I think that economic cooperation is definitely necessary. If we look at the four countries together, they can represent a big power together in the European Union, and it is worth looking at the numbers if we want to see the position of these four countries. I will try to not overwhelm the viewers with the numbers though. The V4 countries make up roughly 13% of employment in the EU, so they do represent a decisive factor in this respect; if these countries cooperate, they can achieve certain things. From the economic perspective we can say that the V4 countries represent one of the driving forces in the EU’s economy, since with their 4–5% economic growth, they are ahead of many member states. Therefore, I think it is desirable for these countries to unite their forces and try to achieve a better bargaining power both in economic and political issues.

Let's stop here for a moment and have a look at the future. To what extent will this economic cooperation be a constraint in the future for the Visegrád 4 after Brexit?

Indeed this is a very important question. It is worth taking into account that the British exit will affect these countries in different ways. But, it should be emphasized that every country will be affected negatively, as commercial relations will weaken. In this respect, Hungary will probably be affected to the largest extent, since we have intense relations with Great Britain in the area of production and services. Suffice it to think of the role Hungary takes in air transport, or in different communication areas and various complementary services, such as shared service centers. In the case of these additional activities, Hungary has been increasing its relations with the UK. Therefore, it will be worthwhile to find new "pillars" in commercial relations for these countries to deaden the consequences of Brexit.

Turning back to the research, we are showing some graphs to illustrate that 86% of the V4 citizens are familiar with the alliance, 82% of them would remain in the EU, and 77% of them reject refugee quotas. Is it obvious that basically the migration crises, and naturally parallel to it the increased number of news reports on the topic, have raised the awareness of the V4 cooperation?

The Visegrád countries are starting to act as a reference point within the EU, even in economic issues. They are the leading countries in Europe in terms of economic growth and how much their inner and outer deficits increase or decrease, etc. And, they are very disciplined in these matters. It would surpass the time limit of the show if we were to compare them with Southern European countries, and if we were to understand why they are different. Nonetheless, it would be worth examining this question. But, we have to see that the V4 countries became flagships in various regards, and they can even be examples for Western European countries. But, if we approach the question from the angle of how the V4 countries were ultimately united, then the answer is obviously the migration crisis, which made them realize that they can more powerfully represent their interests jointly than they would separately. And, we were in the lucky situation that all four countries uniformly rejected the issue of migration, or more precisely, illegal migration, contrary to the Western European countries, which are accepting migrants. And, the V4 experienced that if they are able to take a common position, then the Central European opinion cannot be discredited. And, if we are able to achieve success in this case, then we will be able to do so in other cases in the future.

How much this is the case can be seen on the level of citizens as well. Your political scientist colleague, Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, said earlier that 63% of the citizens of the Visegrád 4, so nearly two thirds, think that national interest can be much better enforced against Brussels or the EU if at first there is a coordination between the V4 countries. As Ágoston Sámuel Mráz put it, the majority of the V4 is on the side of cooperation and not on the side of separation.

Yes, and if we go back a little bit to Brexit, from a political point of view or from an economic policy point of view, the Visegrád countries are “obliged” to cooperate because with Brexit they lose a partner that had been supportive in many areas, for example in agriculture or innovation policy. So, it is no coincidence that these countries are now trying to really tighten and enforce their own economic policy interests, because it is one of advocates that will leave the EU. From now on it will be very difficult to enforce the interests on their own, so they have to make their voices better heard. Due to the growing economic growth of the V4 countries, it is increasingly less possible to ignore them. If we look at how enormous their role is in the production chain today, we see that there is hardly any product in Germany that does not contain some Czech, Polish, Hungarian, or Slovak element or added value. So, from this point of view, it is crucial that these countries can work together.

The V4 citizens are confident that the future will bring developments. These figures or these percentages show not the cumulative result, but the citizens' confidence in their own countries’ economic or political development. Here, Hungary is exceptionally optimistic. What is the reason for this extremely high optimism?

It is worth to look at how the population thinks about the future in different periods. In Hungary, the population has never before thought of the future optimistically. Therefore, it is very interesting that now almost half of the population says that they are optimistic about the future. Why wouldn’t they be? Unemployment is at a record low, and wages are increasing by double digits. Its economic growth is one of the strongest in the EU. In addition, the growth in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia is also strong. So, all of this helps us to have a little more optimistic of an attitude for the next five years and to believe that we can have a say in our future at the EU level.

I would add that there is a value ​​that the V4s and especially Hungary can represent. This is a question of political stability, which has recently become a value in the European Union. Here, we can think about the weakening of the president and the domestic crisis in France. Or, we could think about some internal political problems in certain V4 countries or Merkel's downfall, etc.—not to mention the migration pressure, which considerably stirred up the status quo and everyday life. And, if, contrary to these tendencies, a government can demonstrate political stability, then citizens feel a sense of trust. Where there is instability and a situation in which people don't know who is governing and what will happen in two months—see the case of Romania—there is reason for pessimism.

I would like to continue the thought you raised about Macron. In spite of his decreasing political support in France, he has enough energy to try to disrupt the V4. What I want to say is that Brussels will not ignore these numbers, this data. Does the intensified V4 cooperation also mean that Brussels' political power will weaken?

At the very least, the strength of Brussels will not be as strong as it used to be. Brussels and Western Europe are accustomed to the practice that the French–German axis (and recently more so the Brussels bureaucrats) decides what would shape the future of European integration. And, for many years, Central and Eastern European countries have been treated as a kind of little brother who has been told what direction he should follow. Well, this has changed and turned since Macron has become weak in the domestic political scene. These days he is facing intense demonstrations at home; unfortunately, fatalities have been reported. This also means that he is looking for an escape, and the way out in French politics over the past 20–30 years has been Europe: the president escapes to European politics and tries to cover up his failure at home with some success achieved at the EU level. So, this is the way out for him. But, next year's European Parliamentary elections are an important and unusual element in the story. The elections will be followed by the formation of a new European Commission, which also implies that the future of Europe will be decided. Or, at least the influence of the former leading powers, France and Germany, could weaken, and they are afraid of that prospect. In this regard, if we simplify the issue to power politics, then now the V4 cooperation is a threat to the Western dominance in the EU. From our point of view, of course, this is an opportunity and an advantage, but the Western concern that Central Europe will be strengthened is understandable.

Could Macron's disruptive intent be successful in any of the four Visegrád countries? Slovakia always comes up in this context as it is invested in various groups. On the one hand, it is a member of the eurozone, and on the other hand, it has a commitment to the V4.

In my opinion we can practically say that the influence of France is becoming weaker. If we just consider the economic side, it is evident that 5–10 years ago the influence of France was much more serious over the Central European region. For Germany, it is still the case, but not for France. So, we can be less concerned about France exercising some economic retaliation in the region. So, this is perhaps more of a matter of political bargaining rather than one of economic and economic policy issues.

In any case, all of this shows the direction or the dominant orientations of the campaign for next year's European elections. Péter Virovácz and Bánk Levente Boros, thank you for the analysis and for coming to our studio. Dear viewers, we will see you next week with the news of the Visegrád 4. On behalf of my co-workers, I thank you for your attention and goodbye.


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