Author: Maciej Małecki
The Visegrad Group is proof that it is possible to create friendly ties in international politics. These ties connect Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary – the Visegrád Four (V4). The strong relationships are built on newer and older common history, a shared geographical neighborhood, vivid contacts – both social and sometimes even familial, economic cooperation – but above all, an awareness of our common interests.
This community of interests does not mean that we are the same. Getting rid of differences is not what it is all about. The point is that the things in common between these countries with regional roots are more significant than their disparities. It is distinguished by a far-reaching identity resulting from many aspects and confirmed again and again in the context of new challenges. This has been proven against the backdrop of (not necessarily) benevolent pressure of various international players.
For Poland, the V4 is an invariably important framework for conducting regional policy and realizing the interests of the Central European region on the more general, global arena. The creation of the Group and the development of cooperation within its framework is regarded in Poland as one of the greatest political successes after 1989, in addition to the accession to NATO and the EU. The fact that the Group has maintained and intensified its cooperation by passing through different vicissitudes confirms that it also has significant political and practical value for Poland’s partners. The current revitalization of this cooperation is particularly welcome.
The Visegrad cooperation is developed through several areas and formulas. The most visible results can be found in the V4 cooperation at the EU level. Common positions of the Visegrad countries on crucial elements of the EU political agenda – namely the future of the EU, the Multiannual Financial Framework, and the cohesion policy to the issue of artificial intelligence – are carefully noted, strengthen the position of V4 countries and facilitate the defense of common interests. Nonetheless the countries of the Group still face various further challenges.
V4 should become a permanent, essential element of the European architecture and a cornerstone for the broader construction of a common representation of all interests of the Central European region – this part of the continent, as a result of its historical past, has generally been an object and not an actor in international politics.
The Visegrad cooperation is mainly focused on political aspects – based on the cooperation of state, government, and administrative authorities. What is weaker is its social, cultural and precisely security dimensions, the construction of which is both a real challenge for V4 countries and simultaneously a pressing need.
The Visegrad Group should find common areas of cooperation primarily in the field of strategic security. The current geopolitical order is changing and the countries of the region, when grouped into one organization and speaking with one voice, would have a more significant influence on the international arena.
The migration crisis is one aspect of security that requires the close cooperation of V4 countries. The members of the group were able to build common ground for talking about it and dealing with it. The V4 countries should continuously demand the tightening of the EU’s external borders and speak with one voice in the EU against the forced relocation and admission mechanism. However, they must consistently work together to raise awareness and talk openly about the general European opinion and the reasons thereof.
One aspect of security where they should cooperate more closely is in the sphere of energy security, which is crucial for all V4 countries.
Gaseous fuel is the most substantial imported energy raw material in Hungary, Slovakia and Poland. Each country has different energy consumption needs in the energy mix, but the problems they face are similar. Dependence on supplies from the east, the lack of an integrated energy market, infrastructural deficiencies between countries and, finally, the threat of an interruption in the supply of energy resources have a negative impact on the security of the entire region.
This is the reason why energy policy cooperation and infrastructure development projects should be a priority for V4 countries and developed at a regional level. They should jointly respond to the initiative to build the Nord Stream II gas pipeline, which will affect the energy security of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, but also the budgets of individual states, by monopolizing and thus increasing gas prices in Europe.
The answer to this threat may be the promotion of such projects as gas interconnectors at the borders of Visegrad countries (e.g., the Poland-Czech Republic interconnector), the north-south corridor, i.e., the extensive development of LNG, or the Baltic Pipeline project. Diversification of raw material supplies can make a real contribution to enhancing the energy security of all the V4. However, the critical dimension of security here is to increase military capabilities and cooperation in the armed forces of all four Visegrad countries. They should discuss joint military exercises, support for combat capabilities and the exchange of defense experience.
It is also necessary to develop this arrangement for other countries, as in the case of the V4 political format, e.g., an extension of military exercises and technical cooperation to the Baltic States. Closer historical experience, a similar perception of threats and comparable operational requirements of the armed forces of the V4 countries provide a reasonable basis for cooperation on arms and possibly the joint purchases of equipment.
Poland encourages its V4 partners to take a closer look at the initiative of the Regional Security Assistance Programme (ReSAP 2022), which aims to promote the creation of technological sovereignty of the region through closer cooperation between defense industries.
The European Defence Fund (EDF) also opens up new opportunities for cooperation between defense industries in the V4 group. The countries of the Group should be ready to discuss joint V4 projects that could apply for EU funding. Recently, new dynamics have been observed in V4 cooperation. Visegrad countries have great potential for cooperation, which can have an impact on improving security in the region – and in the EU as a whole. It can be seen today that in all domains the V4 countries are in solidarity with one another. The main example of this is the common opposition to the construction of Nord Stream II, or the attempt to shape a single attitude towards the migration crisis. It is, therefore, necessary to overcome the obstacles together, open the door to closer cooperation and eliminate the risks associated with different perceptions of threats which constitute an impediment to real cooperation. The Visegrad Group can and should become an example of building good relations in international politics.
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