Visegrad Four leaders see strength in adversity

Robert Fico, Beata Szydlo, Bohuslav Sobotka, Viktor Orbán, photo: CTK

Probably the toughest year the Visegrad Central European grouping has ever faced. That was how one prime minister described the conditions facing the Czech presidency over the last 12 month at a closing meeting and press conference in Prague. The Czechs now hand over the baton to Poland with Warsaw vowing to continue where Prague left off.

Robert Fico,  Beata Szydlo,  Bohuslav Sobotka,  Viktor Orbán,  photo: CTK
The Visegrad Four grouping of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland have had a challenging year to say the least. Some even wondered whether the grouping still had much meaning when Poland broke ranks in September last year and agreed on a one off mandatory reallocation of immigrants across most of Europe. Poland had long stood by its regional Visegrad partners but came under immense pressure from Germany and collapsed.

But as they say, a week is a long time in politics and following the elections in Poland which brought the Law and Justice Party to power, the Visegrad Four are now even more united on EU immigration issues.

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka referred to the challenges of the migrant crisis during his press conference on Wednesday.

“Our presidency of the Visegrad Four was dominated by the ongoing theme of the migrant crisis. The states of the Visegrad Four from the start stressed the need to find systematic solutions to the causes of immigration. And we also underlined the need to protect the outer borders of the European Union. We have built up a respected position within the EU and have also tried to contribute to the search for effective common European solutions.”

Photo: Robert Cotič / CC BY 3.0
The Visegrad Four leaders repeated again in Prague their opposition to any formal mandatory EU mechanism for allocating migrants across the member states.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo declared that Warsaw intends to continue on most of the themes and policies that have been pursued by the Czechs. Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban said the Visegrad Four has emerged stronger from the trials of the last year and is a stabilising force in the EU.

And it’s fairly clear that most of the Central European leaders believe they have largely been vindicated by how the migrant crisis has panned out in the EU, in particular the tougher line now being taken by Berlin.

But the regional grouping is focused on more than just immigration. The Czech prime minister outlined how they will soon be pushing Brussels for more help for conflict hit Ukraine.

Photo: European Commission
“The Visegrad Four states are also focusing on the people who are fleeing the military conflict in Eastern Ukraine. In the Spring of this year in Ukraine there were more than 1.7 million people who have been resettled internally and are facing difficult conditions. We today signed a joint letter to the presidents of the European Commission in which we ask them to allocate funds for the creation of a regional programme for development and protection of Ukraine.”

The Visegrad Four states have offered to take the lead in setting up and managing the specific help that might result from this initiative. The grouping is also reinforced over the next six months from the fact that Slovakia has the EU presidency and therefore is a significant agenda setter for the 28 member states.