Prague, Czech Republic – “The Visegrad 4 is overrated,” said Mikulas Bek, the man likely to become the Czech Minister for European Affairs in the upcoming government, in a sign of potential trouble for the alliance of Central European nations.
“According to my own experience in the [Czech] Senate, my Polish and Hungarian colleagues have always asked for our help in defending their ideological struggle with Brussels,” M. Bek, a STAN senator and former rector of Brno’s Masaryk University, said.
Is the V4 “overrated”?
“We had a more useful dialogue with the Austrians or Germans”, he added.
His comments, the first from a prospective member of the future Czech government to criticize the Visegrad Group, suggest Prague might invest additional diplomatic efforts with other EU partners and keep a relative distance with the V4.
Other future cabinet members, including next Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS), might however not share his opinion on the matter.
The agreement signed by the five coalition parties mentions the Visegrad Group as an important alliance for the Czech Republic, alongside the EU and NATO. Additionally, the centre-right ODS party that won the October elections and will lead the next government is part of the same European parliamentary group as Poland’s ruling PiS. STAN, for its part, is a member of the European People’s Party (EPP), Hungary’s Fidesz’s EU grouping until it was forced out in March.
If appointed as Minister for European Affairs, M. Bek would oversee the Czech Republic’s EU presidency in July 2022 – its second time at the head of the negotiating table – an event seen by pundits as an important test to assess the upcoming government’s foreign policy priorities and the level of its EU commitment.
It also remains to be seen whether Bek’s nomination will be approved by President Milos Zeman given the two men’s conflictual relationship.
What is the Visegrad Group?
Also known as the V4, the Visegrad Group was founded in 1991 by the leaders of Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary as a cooperation platform to enhance political, economic and cultural ties between the Central European countries.
The platform was also meant facilitate these three (then four) countries’ bid to join the EU and NATO shortly after the fall of communism.
The Hungarian castle-town of Visegrad was chosen as the location for the official founding ceremony as an allusion to the 1335 Congress of Visegrad which saw the kings of Bohemia, Hungary and Poland gather to discuss ways to strengthen their trade and diplomatic cooperation.
Since 2004, the Visegrad Group has remained an important platform for the Czech, Slovak, Polish and Hungarian governments to boost their cooperation and defend their common interests at the EU level. But analysts have long questioned whether the regional grouping remained relevant in light of its member states’ diverging views on a number of key issues.
While Central European countries’ vocal opposition to the migrant quotas at the height of the 2015-2016 migration crisis appeared to give the V4 a new but short-lived momentum, tangible regional initiatives in all other respects remain scarce today.
As a result, experts sometimes refer to the Visegrad Group as V2+2, with the Czech Republic and Slovakia on one side, and Poland and Hungary on the other.