28 Sze Dwa Bratanki: The Future of V4
CEID organised a conference with four panel discussions on Polish-Hungarian relations in partnership with the Corvinus Society for Foreign Affairs and Culture (CSFAC) and the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) supported by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Hungary and the Polish Institute in Budapest. The main purpose of the conference was to enhance foreign policy cooperation between Poland and Hungary through emphasizing the main points of convergence and common interests, while also identifying the roots of the existing differences in order to find potential strategies for their settlement.
Speakers of the fourth panel discussion were:
Ms. Anita Sobják, Senior Research Fellow, PISM
Mr. Dariusz Kalan, Coordinator of the Central European Programme, PISM
Mr. Andrzej Sadecki, Research Fellow, Centre for Eastern Studies
Ms. Zsuzsanna Végh, Research Fellow, Centre for EU Enlargemenet Studies
The following text is a summary of the discussion:
The aftermath of Ukraine:
From a Visegrad perspective, the crisis in Ukraine constituted simultaneously a considerable security challenge and a great opportunity to demonstrate unity. Unfortunately, this opportunity was left unexploited. Although there was broad consensus on the necessary actions to be implemented with regards to the crisis, Visegrad countries failed to speak with one voice. Divergent approaches towards Russia overshadowed the fact that all V4 countries agreed on supporting Ukraine after the annexation of Crimea, including the authorization of gas reverse flows, the granting of humanitarian aid and other types of assistance. The common perception of a fractured Visegrad cooperation, in which Poland stood alone against the common will of Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic was misleading. Internal divisions within states interfered with such an oversimplified interpretation. The major discrepancy was stemming from different threat perceptions across the region. While in Poland’s assessment, the threat posed by the violation of fundamental international legal norms outweighed economic interests, the rest of the countries saw the situation through the lens of their strategic agreements with Russia – such as a loan worth billions of Euros for the extension of the Paks nuclear power plant in Hungary. Still, the apparent disaccord over sanctions remained rhetorical, and eventually all countries gave their consent to the punitive measures against Moscow. Of course, the new geopolitical situation in Eastern Europe has had negative repercussions in some of the traditional fields of cooperation, such as enlargement policy. The Eastern Partnership programme has always been unanimously supported by V4 countries, constituting one of the most significant points of convergence in regional foreign policy thinking. In light of Russia’s rather harsh response to potential EU enlargement into its self-declared sphere of influence, the EaP project and its major goals had to be reevaluated.
As a conclusion, although the unique momentum for proving the relevance of the V4 format was lost, the foundations of the multilateral cooperation framework have remained intact.
Refugee crisis: unity without morality?
The rejection of the European Commission’s proposal to redistribute a certain amount of refugees based on country specific quotas might have finally brought the Visegrad countries together, but this ill-fated collaboration rests on highly questionable moral grounds. Their joined attempt to securitize the issue in order to create a hostile environment that ensures public support for their anti-migrant policies is not only unethical but also destructive. In lack of a common vision about how to tackle the critical situation created by the mismanagement of increased refugee influxes, blocking the only viable solution on the table is everything but productive. The framing of refugees as migrants, the refusal to recognize the existence of a humanitarian crisis in Europe and the relentless construction of walls all make this great unifying moment seem less glorious. And the disturbing fact is that it could get even worse if the right-wing Law and Justice party – that considers Viktor Orbán as a role model – wins upcoming Polish parliamentary elections in October. While there are speculations about a strengthened bilateral relationship between Poland and Hungary in case of a PiS victory, dramatic changes in the course of Polish diplomacy are not likely to happen. Most probably, the new leadership will continue the somewhat neutral policy of its predecessors meaning no explicit criticism (of the Hungarian government) but no substantial engagement either. It appears that the Polish president conceives the so-called Intermarium concept as his primary foreign policy strategy.
V4: factual value vs. perceptions
Unrealistic expectations coupled with underestimated achievements have led to the severe deterioration of V4’s public image. The caveat between the factual value of the Visegrad group and common perceptions derives from the lack of visibility and the pessimistic attitude of political elites. Many successful cooperation schemes have been implemented so far, but they were unmatched by public recognition because they have never become part of the general discourse. The focus has always been on the apparent deficiencies and the assessment of the whole initiative has been intoxicated by the sense of disappointment due to the miscalculation of expectations. Unfortunately, the negative political discourse in the region fuels widespread feelings of disappointment, frustration and pessimism amongst the people. Conservative ideologies and radical views thrive on this dismal rhetoric and the lack of political newcomers constitutes a fertile soil for anachronistic and regressive solutions, such as Orbán’s idea of an illiberal democracy. Such disillusionment is also reflected in Poland’s endeavor to search for alternative alliances. Therefore trust building measures in order to reinforce internal cohesion and increased investments in PR activity to shift the biased focus of public opinion need to be introduced. In addition, the upcoming Slovakian presidency of the Council might be an important opportunity to reiterate the value of the Visegrad cooperation and to highlight common V4 interests in the EU.
Although divisions have been brought to the surface by the crisis in Ukraine, these discrepancies have for long existed without significantly harming the efficiency of the collaboration. Indeed, when the Visegrad platform was created in the 90’ies it was deliberately built on the principle of flexibility, placing relatively few constraints on member countries. Many consider such resilience to be the major strength of this political constellation. The lack of a general obligation to formulate common positions enables the decision-makers to more effectively advance their cooperation in those fields where they can actually work together.
After all, Visegrad countries will have to reevaluate and clarify what they expect from each other and from the whole cooperation framework. When realigning their priorities they will hardly be able to escape the dilemma of conciliating efficiency with morality. As the case of the refugee crisis shows, we are capable of speaking with one voice; the only question is whether we like the tone.
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