On February 15, 1991, the Visegrád Declaration was signed by the leaders of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, officially founding the Visegrád Group, also known as the V4.
The Hungarian castle-town of Visegrád was chosen as the location for the meeting as an allusion to the 1335 Congress of Visegrád between John I of Bohemia, Charles I of Hungary and Casimir III of Poland to discuss ways to enhance their trade and political cooperation.
Signed by Václav Havel, Lech Wałęsa and József Antall a few months before the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the declaration laid the foundations and put in place a long-term framework for the modern forms of political, economic and cultural cooperation in Central Europe.
It was motivated by the desire to eliminate the remnants of the communist bloc, to overcome historic animosities between Central European countries, and to successfully accomplish social transformation and join in the Western and European integration process.
It was especially in the initial period of its existence that what became known as the Visegrád Group played its most important role during accession talks with NATO and the EU.
After the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia became independent members of the Visegrád Group, thus increasing the number of members from three to four.
While Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic successfully joined NATO in 1999, Slovakia – at the time considered a pariah among European democracies due to the authoritarian and kleptocratic rule of Vladimir Meciar – would have to wait five more years to join the North Atlantic military alliance.
All four members simultaneously joined the European Union during the bloc’s great enlargement to the east on May 1st, 2004. To this day, Slovakia remains the only V4 member to have adopted the euro as its national currency, in 2009.
While Central Europe’s “return to the West” policy appears to have been crowned with success by the mid-2000s, commentators have argued that the Visegrád Group has since then lost its purpose, also pointing to the fact that its four members, while presenting a united front on a limited set of issues like migration, remain divided on key economic, political and geopolitical topics (energy and climate, monetary policy, relations with Russia and China, etc.).
Sometimes described as a V2+2 to highlight the gap opposing Czech Republic and Slovakia on one side, and Poland and Hungary on the other, the Visegrád Group continues, however, to work as an important regional platform for Czech, Slovak, Polish and Hungarian leaders to promote joint initiatives in a wide number of areas (education, military, energy…), increase bilateral and multilateral relations on a regional scale, and defend the views and interests of Central and Eastern Europe at the EU level of policy-making.
Representatives of V4 countries meet on a regular basis and at various levels, and the official summit between the four Prime Ministers is organized once a year. The presidency of the Visegrad Group is held and rotates annually. One of the only institutionalised entities created under the V4 is the Visegrad Fund, an international donor organization established in 2000 to promote regional cooperation between civil societies, mainly through grants and scholarships.
The Visegrad Group cooperates closely with a number of its neighbours, particularly Germany but also Austria, Slovenia, Romania or Bulgaria, and has initiated active partnerships with other regional groupings like the Benelux states, the Nordic Council of Ministers or Eastern Partnership countries.
If counted as a single nation state, the Visegrád Group would be the fifth largest economy in Europe and the 12th largest in the world. It has a combined population of approximately 64 million people (nearly the equivalent of France or the UK).
Find out more about Central European history in our On this Day series.