Visegrad foreign ministers mark 25th anniversary of group's founding

Péter Szijjártó, Witold Waszczykowski, Lubomír Zaorálek, Miroslav Lajčák, photo: CTK

The foreign ministers of the Visegrad Four (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary) met in Prague last week to mark the 25th anniversary of the group’s founding. The talks at Prague’s Černín Palace revolved around past achievements and future goals and carried a strong commitment for the alliance to intensify cooperation.

Péter Szijjártó,  Witold Waszczykowski,  Lubomír Zaorálek,  Miroslav Lajčák,  photo: CTK,  photo: CTK
At a joint press briefing each of the ministers said a few words about why the alliance was important and where they see untapped potential. Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski had this to say.

“The Visegrad group for us is a very natural political environment, we have organized life in this region in the framework of the Visegrad Four for 25 years and it is a very successful story. The Visegrad group is a kind of a gem not only in our part of Europe but it could serve as a model of cooperation also in other parts of Europe. So we will try to continue what is good during our presidency which starts in July of this year and we will try also to discuss openly with our friends how we can improve cooperation within the Visegrad group and how we can improve cooperation between the Visegrad group and other partners, other countries and other institutions. We consider Visegrad to be a kind of hub for further cooperation in the region, we agreed that there is no reason to change this institutional group, not to enlarge the group, but there are other possibilities to expand our cooperation beyond Visegrad and concentrate on concrete initiatives such as economic initiatives, infrastructural initiatives, ecological initiatives, we can build roads and railroads together, we can concentrate on how to preserve the environment in our region and also I think it is time to start stronger political and even military cooperation of our group together with partners in the region. We have common experience, we have a Visegrad battle group and we can use this experience of creating the battle group to create some other political/military institutions – for instance we can contribute to European efforts to build a common border guard so our experience could be used also by the European Union.”

“Criticism is good news for us, because if we were not important, if we were not significant, then we would not be criticized.”

The V4 anniversary events in Prague were inevitably overshadowed by the migrant crisis in Europe. The group has consistently coordinated its foreign policies on the issue, in order to bolster the position of the individual member states at EU summits. The most recent Visegrad summit in Prague raised the ire of Germany for outlining a back-up plan for the migrant crisis should Greece and Turkey fail to stem the flow of refugees in the coming months. The criticism levelled against the Visegrad group did not pass without comment and it was Hungary’s foreign minister Péter Szijjártó who was the most outspoken of the four on the subject.

“What we can say now and here for sure is that after 25 years Visegrad cooperation has become a brand; a brand which is widely recognized not only in Europe, but globally as well. It stands for what we say, what position we represent and what we think about the future. There has been heavy criticism and bashing of the Visegrad Four recently and I want to make very clear that this kind of criticism is viewed as an honour by us and the critics encourage us to engage in even stronger cooperation. Actually, the criticism is good news for us because if we were not important, if we were not significant, then we would not be criticized, for sure. So the more and more criticism of this kind, the more courage on our side. No one – and I want to underline this – no one should tell us whom to cooperate with, what to think and what to say. We are grown-ups and the four of us will decide on what issues we want to cooperate, on what issues we want to represent a common position and what that common position will be.”

Miroslav Lajčák,  Witold Waszczykowski,  Lubomír Zaorálek,  Péter Szijjártó,  photo: CTK
“What we Hungarians think – and I think this is shared by all of us – is that Europe and the EU has never faced so many serious challenges since the conclusion of World War II. Under these challenging circumstances it is very important to be honest and to be straightforward because if you are not honest and if you are not straightforward and you are captured by political correctness and hypocrisy you will never find a solution to these serious challenges. And since the Visegrad countries have always been straightforward and honest this kind of approach is of the utmost importance from the European perspective when it comes to the issue of whether we can tackle the challenges we are facing or not. So I think that Visegrad cooperation is a source of strength for Europe. And it is in Europe’s interest to have strong Visegrad cooperation because the four of us represent an approach which is helpful in overcoming the challenges.”

It is not unusual for the Visegrad Four states to invite representatives of non-member countries to their summits if an issue discussed concerns them. Despite fostering close contacts and cooperation with countries in their neighbourhood, the Visegrad Four have no plans to expand the alliance. Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák:

“The V4 remains the most stable and efficient platform for cooperation in Central Europe.”

“When the Visegrad group was formed the goal was to stabilize the region, to promote democratic values, to speed up our Euro-Atlantic integration and to support mutually advantageous cooperation and we have succeeded in all this. The V4 is now a recognized brand, a dynamic and successful regional grouping and remains the most stable and efficient platform for cooperation in Central Europe, it enjoys high international credibility. We have also agreed that the V4 needs no reconstruction, an enlargement of the V4 is not on the agenda, we would rather speak about fine-tuning, about addressing the right issues and bringing the V4 idea closer to our citizens. The 25 years of the existence of the V4 shows clearly how useful it is to put cooperation before confrontation, mutual understanding before national stereotypes and solidarity before prejudices.”

The events accompanying the meeting of foreign ministers at Černin Palace included a conference by Visegrad think tanks called “Think Visegrad” and a thematic exhibition prepared by the International Visegrad Fund. Moreover a panel of eight eminent personalities assessed the Visegrad group’s past performance and made recommendations for the future. At the press conference following the talks Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek revealed what some of those recommendations were.

Lubomír Zaorálek,  photo: CTK
“The Czech presidency decided to initiate the launch of a panel of Eminent Personalities as a gift to the 25th Visegrad anniversary. This panel was tasked with producing an independent report about the state of the Visegrad group 25 years on and the panel also made some recommendations with regard to the future. Allow me to briefly outline them. The first is to continue to cultivate political trust and dialogue based on tolerance, realistic expectations and respect for each country’s perspective. This is the basis for further economic cooperation and integration. The second recommendation is to stimulate transregional flows of goods, services and capital as a way of augmenting our countries’ competitiveness; the third recommendation is to preserve the flexibility of the Visegrad institutional structure – ie. not to create any further bureaucratic institutions, but to rather upgrade the mechanism of implementation to ensure that political agreements are followed up by concrete actions. Another recommendation is to step up diplomacy and media outreach to promote the Visegrad brand and Central European culture, to strengthen Visegrad’s external relationship in a way that allows for greater differentiation and more intensive modes of engagement with key partners. And the last recommendation is to play a strong cohesive and positive role in EU affairs with a special focus on reviving the stalled political momentum behind the Western Balkan enlargement process and the Eastern Partnership Programme as well as contributing towards a rules-based inclusive and sustainable security order in Europe.”