25th Sep 2023

Eastern states stake claim to EU leadership

  • The EU is intellectually lazy and victim of "Pavlovian reflexes" that "makes us say we want a European solution", said Hungarian PM Orban (r), with Slovakia's Fico, Poland's Szydlo and Czechia's Sobotka. (Photo: Czech government)

The Visegrad group - the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland - is the "most stable" part of the EU and is "starting to lead" the bloc, its top politicians said on Wednesday (8 June).

The four prime ministers, Czechia's Bohuslav Sobotka, Slovakia's Robert Fico, Hungary's Viktor Orban and Poland's Beata Szydlo, spoke after a summit of the so-called V4 and participated in a debate at the Prague European Summit.

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  • Szydlo said EU commission monitoring meant little (Photo: European Parliament)

They gave a show of unity and self-confidence at a time where Europe, they said, was facing a risk of "fragmentation" due to the migration and economic crises, the rise of populism and the possibility of a British exit from the EU.

They also suggested that their policies, which many in Europe consider as radical or populist, were a model that Europe should follow.

In recent months, all four countries have been the most vocal opponents of the EU response to the migration crisis.

Hungary and Slovakia have been criticised for their anti-immigrant rhetoric. Poland is since January under a European Commission probe into the state of the rule of law after controversial constitutional reforms.

Czechia’s Sobotka said, however, that the objective of the countries was "to be an active partner for finding common solutions for the EU."

He said Europe should "not succumb to panic and easy populistic solutions" and that it should be "able to bring more balance to public debate and tell the positive side of the story".

Sobotka was handing the one-year presidency of the group to Poland's Szydlo.

The V4 is a "political project but also a group of friends who understand very well what politics is all about," Szydlo said.

She said that most of the crises were created by Europe itself and that the V4 countries were "not afraid" to say it.

Referring mainly to the migration crisis, she said the V4 had a "positive attitude" and was now "starting to lead the way in many aspects".

Hungary's Orban went further and said that "everything is cracking in the west of us".

He said that the legitimacy of the European elites had disappeared with the financial crisis in 2008, while the migration crisis demonstrated the depth of the EU’s democratic deficit.

Never before, he said, was "everything people wanted and everything elites did so opposed".

He also said that western interventions in Iraq and Egypt had brought "problems and dangers to us" by destabilising the region in the name of democratic reform.

Most successful region in the world

Szydlo and Orban were the clearest in describing central and eastern Europe as a model rather than as a troublemaker.

The region is the "most stable region in terms of economy and politics," Orban said.

He ignored concerns over creeping authoritarianism in Budapest and Warsaw.

"Governments are stable, democratic systems are stable, constitutions are voted by the people and stable, democratic procedures are going on," he said.

He noted that the region's economic performance was "far ahead" of the rest of the EU and that without the region figures in the EU would be negative.

Central and Eastern Europe is "the most successful and stable region of the world," he went on to say.

Szydlo said the region was the one in the EU that "understands the best the necessity to start positive policies of strengthening the EU".

She said V4 countries do not see anti-government riots, but she did not mention the regular and peaceful demonstrations in Poland against her own government's policies.

Solidarity, responsibility and sovereignty

"In central and eastern Europe, we discuss things. Even if the rest of Europe doesn't agree they should listen to us," she said.

She brushed off the EU commission's monitoring procedure on rule of law.

"For citizens all these things are not so important, they will not solve their problems," she said. 
She said the EU should not take away any more of member states' sovereignty.

She said that "solidarity, responsibility and sovereignty have to be respected and have to be preserved".

"We ask Brussels to respect the treaties and agreements we signed," she said.

Slovakia's Fico took a more conciliatory tone, as his country prepare to take over the six-month presidency of the EU Council on 1 July.

"The word presidency of the EU mobilises our respect," he said.

He said that the EU did not know how to react to fragmentation and that a deepening of EU integration was not the most likely solution.

He said his government would not be "over-ambitious" during the EU presidency, but that one of its main goals would be to regain citizens' confidence in the EU.

Dublin - a pull factor for refugees

Fico said that some countries had problems accepting the reform of the Dublin asylum system, in which the commission proposes to impose fines on countries that would refuse to relocate asylum seekers from other countries.

He said Slovakia would "do [its] best to give the floor to all who want to take the floor," suggesting that it would side with countries opposing the plan.

In the statement published after their summit, the four leaders said that while "an effective functioning of the Dublin system is a must", the commission's proposal was "a pull factor" for migrants an that it would "further divide member states (and their respective societies).”

They added that the plan would "simply … not work in reality".

Orban said that the EU was intellectually lazy and was the victim of "Pavlov reflexes like biological determination [that] makes us say we want a European solution" to every crisis.

He said the EU had never defined what a European solution was.


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