Visegrad Group gains stature as countries set EU agenda in 2011
Central European heads of state have just finished two days of bilateral and collective talks in the West Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary. Discussions of the Visegrad regional grouping seem to have been pretty focused thanks in part to the fact that two of the four countries will be setting the European Union’s agenda next year.
Then the four countries were outside of the European Union and NATO seeking to get in. And, in what sometimes seemed like a race to get in first before the door closed, Mr. Klaus did not seem keen then to be held back by any laggards.
Now all four are inside the EU and NATO and fighting their corner. And the message they seem to have learned is that in such institutions a collective voice goes much further than a solitary one. Václav Klaus made these comments at the closing press conference.
The one for four and four for one approach was getting a lot of play in Karlovy Vary thanks to the fact that Hungary will be president of the EU council at the start of next year with Poland following on in the second half. That means that they can make some key calls about what gets prioritized and what gets sent to the back of the queue.
It’s already clear that the priorities will include shaping relations with other countries further East, read Russia and countries of the former Soviet Union, and boosting energy security so as to be less reliant on Russian gas and oil.
So is the Visegrad group on the eve of its 20th birthday in February becoming a much bigger force? That is a question I put to Michal Kořan, head of research at Prague’s Institute of International Relations.
“I think that the Visegrad Group is gaining significance slowly despite the fact that just before EU accession there was big scepticism about the role and significance of the grouping. But especially in the last two years. Many practical projects were carried out. And I believe the Visegrad Group is slowly gaining its own identity as an important sub-regional cooperation and significant sub-regional group.”
But Mr. Kořan cautions against any idea that the four countries will use their EU presidencies to exclusively push a Central European agenda. First of all, while they share many views they are not always reading from the same page. Secondly, such an approach would rebound against them. Mr. Kořan again.