Zoltán Massay-Kosubek

The Franco-German leadership has gone. The time of the Visegrád group is about to come?

The German-French leadership is outdated in a way that the strong Kohl-Miterrand or Schröder-Chirac leadership – which could even confront with the United States about the Iraq war – has gone. Merkozy is broken, France is currently in an economic downturn and after two decades of the German reunification, Germany became both economically and politically far the most powerful EU country. Some say, even too powerful for a shaky Union. No major decision is possible if there is a German veto and this German dominance raised further concerns.

The Visegrád Group, also called the Visegrád Four or V4, is an alliance of four Central European states – Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – for the purposes of cooperation and furthering their European integration. The natural question emerges: would these Eastern European countries – jointly with other allies – outweigh the new German dominance and play a dominant role in the EU’s future?

(source of the photo © www.thedaily.sk)

What about the 4 Visegrád countries? How do they perform one by one?

Poland is the most significant Visegrád country whose population alone is bigger than the 3 other partner states together. The Polish economy performed very well recently in spite of the economic crisis; Poland is the only country which produced continuous economic growth in spite of the economic crises from 2008 onwards. With the successful Polish EU presidency, the country proved its maturity to the EU membership. It has potential military capacities which allowed it to go along with the Unites States in recent wars in Afganisthan and Iraq – in the latter case in spite of Franco-German interests.
The weaknesses of Poland are not economic – it is its environmental and public health policy. Poland fiercly opposed the reform of the old-fashioned Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) (to secure subsidies to tobacco farmers), blocked the climate reform (maintaining Poland’s addiction to coal) and was not favour in a strong Tobacco Products Directive due to the interests of Polish tobacco farmers.

The Czech Republic – having had an iconic president (Václav Hável) – became a successful successor country of the former Czechoslovakia. (The collapse of communism required 10 years in Poland, 10 months in Hungary, and 10 days in Czechoslovakia.). The Velvet revolution in 1989 resulted the birth of a new democratic era.
However, the country witnesses its biggest political scandal ever: prime Minister Petr Nečas was forced to resign on June 17 following the arrest of his chief of staff Jana Nagyová (the lover of the Czech PM) and several people close to the government. All are accused of abuse of power and corruption.
Another shadow on the country after the long Eurosceptic presidency of Václav Klaus is the existence of the shameful Beneš decrees – which even prevented that the Czech Republic adopt the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the EU.
Thus, the Czech Republic became one of the most eurosceptic countries – along with the UK – and the not very successful Czech EU presidency (having the resignation of the Topolánek government in the middle of the presidency period) could not really change that perception.

Slovakia might be the island of peace at the first glance. It is true from an economic point of view since the country uses the euro without having strong difficulties. However, from Fundamental Rights point of view, the country puts serious question mark. As regards its Roma population, Europe witnesses the rebirth of new forms of separation ( such as new Roma ghettos in Kassa (Kosice)). However, where the country has clearly homework to do is the collective rights of its largest minority: the south part of the country is populated by Hungarians (8,5% of the total population) but the Malina Hedvig case (where a Hungarian national was beated because of her ethnic origin and instead of protecting her, Slovak authorities charged her by false testimony), the recently adopted language law in Slovakia which was criticized by the Venice committee because of its discriminatory character and the continuity of the Beneš decrees in Slovakia (which condamned ethnic German and Hungarian population guilty as traitor of the state in the II World War are based on the principle of collective guilt which is inacceptable in modern states) generated serious concerns about the full respect of minority rights.

(Slovakia is the only Visegrád country which did not have an EU presidency, yet)

(source of the photo © Roma Scouting in Slovakia www.scout.org)

We examinded the controversial situation in Hungary several times, especially in respect of the recently adopted Tavares-report. (media law, new Constitution, rule of law) In addition to that we may mention the danger of the far-right party Jobbik which is in the Hungarian Parliament and sent 3 Members to the European Parliament and which is surprisingly popular among the youth (every third young Hungarian has sympathy with the Jobbik). One of the country’s most relevant social problem is the segregation of the Roma population which lives in most cases in deep poverty and in some cases it resulted almost civil war. – do you remember the case of Gyöngyöspata? Have you seen the famous film ‘Csak a szél? – Just the Wind? Moreover, Hungary, having a very tragic history – especially in the second World War – is still the home of Eastern Europe biggest jewish community which witnesses the re-birth of antisemitism.

The revision of the Tobacco Products Directive the test case showing that the Visegrád group is still far away from an EU leadership role

The recent joint statement of 6 Eastern European countries – including the Visegrád four – which said that “the European Union should scrap plans to ban characterising flavours and slim cigarettes because they would unfairly impact tobacco growers and processors.” clearly shows that these countries did not understood at all the true interests of European citizens – to have a smoke free, healthy environment – and are not ready to put the European interests in front of their national interests.

Quo Vadis, Visegrád?

Due to its economic and military power, taking into account the common slavic heritage with the Czech republic and Slovakia and based on the historic Hungarian-Polish friendship and alliance, Poland would be the natural leader of the Visegrád group. However, noting the weaknesses and internal problems of the other 3 remaining partner countries, the Visegrád group is not in the positon to shape Europe’s future for the time being.

But all of these countries have learned a lot since 1993 when this alliance had been created, they managed to become an important country group (such as the Benelux or the Scandinavian States) and having said that, they have the full potential to contribute to the European integration process – as a partner and not as a leader – which is already a great thing and a big achievments from former communist and EU candidates countries, I think.

I remain at your disposal.

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