Friday

23rd Feb 2018

Magazine

The rise and shine of Visegrad

  • The Visegrad leaders have made their voices heard on the EU stage. From left to right, Robert Fico, Beata Szydlo, Bohuslav Sobotka and Viktor Orban. (Photo: Czech government)

The name of a quiet medieval town in Hungary – Visegrad – has in recent times become synonymous with the word "rebellion" in Brussels.

Others, particularly if they are from one of the four countries in the loose association of the Visegrad Group, might argue that it stands for "alternative".

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • V4 countries are trying to weigh in on the EU's soul-searching process which was launched at a summit in Bratislava in September. (Photo: Kurt Bauschardt)

The group, also known as V4, was formed in Visegrad in 1991 and is comprised of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. It has remained relatively obscure for almost 25 years.

Then the migration crisis hit.

The EU's inability to handle the crisis, combined with a tilt in the power structure within the union after the Brexit vote and increasingly bellicose and eurosceptic leaders in Hungary and Poland, has thrust the group to the fore.

In 2016, V4 leaders have pushed for a change in the EU's migration policy and has refused to accept asylum seekers under the EU's quota system. They also called for reform of the EU after the Brexit vote.

"The V4 basically fulfilled the role it was created for in the first place, to be a powerful lobby organisation." Daniel Bartha, the director of the Budapest-based Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy, told Euobserver.

"It now holds on to a significant number of votes in the European Council to offset Germany."

The original sin

Diplomats refer to a meeting of interior ministers in September 2015, when the four states were out-voted on migrant quotas, as the "original sin" that emboldened the group.

The V4 countries disagreed with the mandatory part of the system - even though in the end Poland, under its previous government, did not vote with the rest of the Visegrad nations - and particularly disliked how the European Commission rammed through its German-inspired proposal.

A year after the migration quotas were introduced, Slovak prime minister Robert Fico declared the idea politically dead. "Quotas today clearly divide the EU, therefore I think they are politically finished," he told journalists while his country was holding the rotating EU presidency.

Eastern EU states were not the only ones that did not like the quota system, but they were the most vocal about it, with Hungary and Slovakia challenging it in the EU Court of Justice.

Strong anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the Visegrad leaders was initially criticised, but eventually the focus of the EU's migration policy shifted from taking in asylum seekers and distributing them fairly, to reinforcing border control and shutting down migration routes.

The issue has finally forced the realisation in the corridors of the Berlaymont, the EU commission's headquarters, that V4 countries could not be ignored.

But as one EU official observed, commission president Jean-Claude Juncker still surrounds himself with a small circle of close aides and is less open to influence from the V4.

The official gave the example of the commission proposal on "posted workers", which would require companies from the eastern EU to pay as much to their workers sent to Western Europe as their western counterparts.

In principle, the proposal makes sense in a single market, and some Western European states have long objected to easterners undercutting local wages. But 11 national parliaments objected to the commission's proposal, the bulk of them eastern nations. The commission decided in July to move ahead with the proposal anyway.

After Brexit vote

The Brexit vote was a shock to the EU, but it reinforced the V4's presence.

It has been interpreted as a vote against the ruling elite and mainstream politics, a public sentiment that Hungarian and Polish leaders have been successfully exploiting. Those two nations took it as a sign that the EU needs to change, and they were ready with an alternative.

"The European Commission hasn't fully understood what happened in the British referendum," Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo told reporters in July, when her country took over the V4 rotating presidency.

"The EU needs to return to its roots. We need to care more about the concerns of citizens and less about those of the institutions."

Similarly, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban said in June that democratic legitimacy for the EU can only come from the member states.

"We have to return to the notion that the basis of the EU is not its institutions, but the member states. The democratic feature of the EU can only be reinforced through the member states," he said after the British referendum.

There is yet a concrete proposal, but in the Slovak capital in September, the 27 member states kicked off a soul-searching "Bratislava process" to explore how the EU could be reformed to win back citizens, and the V4's ideas are bound to be influential.

"After Brexit, the EU's political centre of gravity has shifted towards the east," said analyst Daniel Bartha.

"France has had a declining economy since the early 2010s, so it has been less potent in offsetting Germany's dominance on the continent. New power centres are destined to emerge in the union."

But the V4's rise in EU politics might only be temporary, as many issues divide the four nations and would hamper their ability to influence EU politics.

"The harmony only exists from the outside. Migration is the key issue where the four agreed. On everything else – for instance energy – there is little agreement," said Bartha.

He cited as an example relations with Russia – a friend to Hungary but still regarded as a threat in Poland.

And Slovakia's government has largely muted its opposition to EU migration policy during its presidency of the EU Council.

EU officials have suggested engaging with the "more reasonable" elements within the V4 – Slovakia and the Czech Republic – to separate them from Poland and Hungary whenever possible.

"They need our gestures. It is that moment," argued one EU official.

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2016 Europe in Review Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of Europe in Review magazines.

Opinion

Visegrad members must stick together

Informal coalitions are becoming more important in EU politics, the Czech EU affairs minister says, as V4 leaders meet in Prague on immigration.

Opinion

Duda project could trump Visegrad Group

The US president’s visit to Warsaw, ahead of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, puts a spotlight on a new EU eastern region initiative.

Magazine

Macron: Hegelian hero of EU history?

The election of the 39-year old newcomer injected new hope and dynamism. But the French president still has to find solid allies in the EU and deliver his ambitious agenda at home.

Magazine

In 2018, make Europe great again!

Is the EU back on track to make Europe great again? The fifth edition of EUobserver's Europe in Review magazine looks at the biggest events that shaped the EU in 2017 and prospects for 2018.

News in Brief

  1. EU to double funding for Sahel forces
  2. EU parliament president: 'The immigration problem is Africa'
  3. May to unveil EU departure strategy next week
  4. Pregnant workers may be dismissed, EU court rules
  5. Romanian minister demands anti-corruption prosecutor fired
  6. Luxembourg and Ireland pay highest minimum wages
  7. Freedom of expression under threat in Spain, warn MEPs
  8. Report: EU to increase sanctions on Myanmar

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. Election fever picks up This WEEK
  2. EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy
  3. EU leaders put 'Spitzenkandidat' on summit menu
  4. European far-right political party risks collapse
  5. The key budget issues on EU leaders' table
  6. EU leaders to kick off post-Brexit budget debate
  7. Greek government's steady steps to exit bailout programme
  8. Frontex: Europe's new law enforcement agency?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  3. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  4. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  5. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  8. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  10. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  12. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEJC President Warns Europe as Holocaust Memory Fades
  2. European Free AlllianceNo Justice From the Spanish Supreme Court Ruling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  6. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  7. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  8. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  9. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  10. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society