Germany and the Visegrad Countries (V4) Ten Years after the EU Enlargement

Achievements and Current Challenges

29/09/2014 | 09:30 - 13:00 | DGAP Berlin | Invitation only

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Timed to coincide with the first decade of EU membership for Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, the project “European Perspectives: Integration Achievements and Challenges of the Visegrad States after Ten Years in the EU” came to a close with a conference of experts from Warsaw, Bratislava, Prague, Budapest, and Germany. Five policy papers were published as part of the program. They provide an overview of 20 years of Visegrad cooperation in each of the V4 countries and Germany. An Event report.

The Visegrad states – Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary – have been members of the European Union since 2004. Certainly, the past decade has brought major transformations not only to these states but also to the EU as a whole.

The closing conference of the project on “European Perspectives: Integration Achievements and Challenges of the V4 States after Ten Years in the EU” brought together experts from partner institutes in Warsaw (Dominik P. Jankowski, Casimir Pulaski Foundation), Bratislava (Milan Nič, Central European Policy Institute), Prague (Vít Dostál, Association for International Affairs), and Budapest (Daniel Hegedűs, Eötvös Loránd University) as well as Germany (Andrea Gawrich of Gießen) to review twenty years of Visegrad cooperation, assess the results of EU membership, and scrutinize current security challenges. Some forty participants from the worlds of politics, business, and civil society were present.

While EU membership has been fundamentally positive for all of the Visegrad states, the experts did offer strikingly different assessments of how their own countries have developed. Poland, for example, regards the past ten years as a success story not only in economic but also in political terms. Hungary, on the other hand, after its promising start as the front-runner among the Visegrad countries, seems to be turning into something of a “problem child.” For one thing, the economic upswing it had at first experienced began to diminish in 2002 after deficient development of the state budget and collapsed on a massive scale with the 2008 Euro crisis; the economy has barely recovered since. For another, the political reforms undertaken by the administration of Viktor Orban have been criticized within the rest of Europe. For its part, Slovakia today considers its integration with the EU in positive terms, although there were certain feelings of having been “left hanging”after the political isolation of Vladimir Mečiar’s administration 1991–98 and the economic problems that attended it. Despite the generally pro-European attitudes of the population, however, there is little domestic interest in European topics. In the Czech Republic, on the other hand, a palpable sense of Euroskepticism is on the rise. Large portions of the Czech public no longer see the EU as capable of solving problems but see it, rather, as a cause of problems.

Security and defense policy is increasingly regarded as a substantial part of the Visegrad group’s cooperation, particularly in light of the ongoing developments in Ukraine. In all four countries, the crisis is perceived as a massive Russian encroachment on the architecture of European security. All of the Visegrad states help carry the European sanctions [against Russia], but individual states – notably Slovakia and Hungary – have expressed doubt about their effectiveness and usefulness. Poland has been clear in choosing a strong approach toward Russia. In Warsaw’s opinion, those instruments of cooperation and negotiation used thus far have been of little use. While Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic also favor a purposeful course of action, they see great importance in finding a diplomatic solution that brings Russia[to the negotiating table] – much like Germany.The approach is markedly more pronounced in Germany than in the Visegrad states, however; here there is public and political debate over whether Russian interests and fears are being disregarded. In the Visegrad countries, on the other hand, memories of the era of Soviet occupation are still vivid.

In terms of European security matters, the Visegrad states regard Germany’s importance as quite limited. While it is uncontested that Germany is Europe’s leading power in economic terms, Visegrad state security debates consider German significance to be minimal. Despite all of this, the four countries see strong advantages in future cooperation with each other in security matters. For one thing, the financial challenges of security and defense policy will be far easier to manage, and on the other, cooperation offers mid-size and small EU countries the opportunity to obtain greater weight for their interests.

Last week’s conference marked the end of a year-long research project and a series of conferences in the capital cities of the Visegrad states within the framework of a Visegrad Fund Strategic Grant Project. The results of the research were published in five policy papers.

The entire project was implemented by the DGAP’s  Robert Bosch Center for Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia and co-financed by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

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