25 years after the foundation of the Visegrad Group is a good time to evaluate its role and to take a look at its current functioning within the EU. A historic goal of the group was already fulfilled, as all four states; Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are now members of the EU and NATO.
The Visegrad Group played an important role in 1998 when it strongly supported Slovakia, which was internationally isolated after the government of Vladimír Mečiar. Slovaks could thus catch up with the integration process. Later, they showed their will to grow in a regional context, but also to be credible, even if sometimes also difficult partners within the EU (particularly in the negotiations on the EU budget, or in pursuit of national interests).
The Visegrad Group did not focus only on their interests, but also responsibly took on a regional role. Its support focused on the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership countries. European integration of those countries is a long-term priority on the Visegrad group agenda. It is no secret that Slovenia has tried for a long time to become a member of this regional club. This only demonstrates the weight and prestige of the club.
Regional partnerships have a very strong tradition in Europe. Whether Benelux, Nordic cooperation or the Visegrad Group, all of them serve to strengthen the EU further. They create a balance especially between small and big countries. Every community needs such healthy tension, because it forces players to make compromises and seek the best possible solutions for the whole community.
Unfortunately, any positive result of the Visegrad Group´s cooperation is currently overshadowed by its attitude to the migration crisis. The policy endorsed by the Visegard Group on the issue rightfully raises a concern. This attitude neither solves the problem, nor does it defend the countries and their citizens, as leaders of these countries like to present.
The refugee crisis and its impact are not a short-term phenomenon. The problem will not be solved, on the contrary, it will deepen if they are not willing to listen to each other and patiently seek for a common solution from the very beginning. The consequences can be fatal for the entire community.
The attitude of the Visegrad Group portrays them as fair-weather Europeans. They do not yet have the tools to deal with bad weather. Unfortunately, this is the reality, although the reasons of this attitude can be different, from historical to mental or political.
Historically, it is well known that ethnicity was often a source of unrests in Central Europe. From a psychological point of view, the former Soviet bloc countries are still closed societies. There is a lack of education and a lack of system methods on how to integrate people from other cultures. We should not forget that these countries still have a huge problem with the integration of their Roma minority.
Thus, it is difficult to imagine and even more difficult to implement the integration of people from completely different backgrounds. However, the most likely reason for this attitude is politics.
The leaders of these countries selfishly abused the refugee crisis in order to gain political capital. Many of them have built their whole electoral campaigns and long term strategies with a sole purpose: to remain on the political scene for as long as possible. They do not struggle with the fact that, more than 25 years after the fall of communism, they have created a new enemy and they have showed their resistance to Brussels, in a manner that certainly pleases Russia.
Regarding the quotas, there has already been a lot said. The Visegrad group countries, but also others who refused the quotas system should realise the fact that it is a temporary redistribution of burden, not a long term solution for migration.
The proposed redistribution is very favourable for small countries. If they show a will to share the burden now, they will help create a space for a more conceptual, long-term solution for migration. Unfortunately, the quotas themselves put us into a vicious circle.
Instead of focusing on protecting the EU external borders and seeking solutions how to prevent further immigration waves into Europe, we have focused on how to punish those who will not accept the quotas. I believe the latest proposal of the European Commission in this regard will increase the gap among EU countries.
We all know we have a problem. The question is, where should we start tackling it from? Firstly, we should respond to three basic questions: Do we want to remain in the European club? What kind of club do we want? Are we willing to invest in this club? If so, it’s time for a compromise.
The older members should listen more and try to understand the arguments of the new member states. I know that reconciling the heterogeneous interests of a large community is difficult, but this is the only way to keep the EU project alive. It is also important to show political will and initiative on the part of small and new members.
Slovakia taking over the rotating Presidency of the EU this July is a good timing to do just this. They have an excellent opportunity to come up with solutions on migration issues and to build wide EU support for them. Denouncing and rejecting proposals is not a sustainable strategy: we must show that we are not only recipients of EU policies, but also initiators and contributors.
Former Soviet bloc countries should inherently insist on maintaining a common European future. Regional cooperation is good and necessary; it can be meaningful and beneficial but only when its enforcement is not only regional, but also European. We should not forget that countries like France and Germany will cope with crises more rapidly than the rest of Europe. Small states near Russia however could quickly find themselves back to where they once were. I do hope that this will not be the case.
- This article first appeared on Martenscentre