Monday

23rd Apr 2018

Opinion

Austria and Czech elections will change Visegrad dynamics

  • The arrival of the world's youngest head of government in Austria, Sebastian Kurz, will shake up the Visegrad Group of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia (Photo: Council of the EU)

The victory of the Czech oligarch Andrej Babis in Prague is likely to further undermine the Visegrad alliance. The success of Sebastian Kurz in Vienna and a future coalition with the far-right, with their new ambition to lead in the region, will only speed up this process.

Anticipating that, Poland should present a constructive position in the debate on the future of the EU and start making intensive efforts to take its full place at the EU decision-makers' table.

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.

The current Christian Democrat leader, Sebastian Kurz, is in favour of delaying further integration of central and eastern European countries. He opposes the adoption of the euro currency by new EU members due to the level of economic development and advocates limiting the competitiveness of the EU labour market.

The few of his ideas which would appeal to the current Polish government would include promotion of traditional Christian values and restrictions on the power of the EU Commission – Kurz wants to reduce the number of commissioners and limit immigration from outside Europe.

His coalition partner will almost certainly be the FPO – the far right – whose leader even announced his ambition for Austria to join the Visegrad Group - naturally not to comfort Polish leaders.

Austrian right-wing parties want to join forces to compete for influence on the regional agenda from the perspective of their own Austrian worries, including fears of foreigners (including EU citizens) and building a strong cultural identity for the Austrian 'heimat' (homeland).

However, even the foreign policy of the Austrian left has favoured the weakening of Poland's position in the region. It is not a coincidence that French President Emmanuel Macron chose Austria for his campaign against delegated [posted] workers, where he met also with Slovak and Czech partners, adversely affecting the interests of Poland.

Slavkov Triangle vs Visegrad Group

Meetings in the so-called 'Slavkov Triangle' (Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia) were launched in 2015 by the prime ministers of three Social Democrat parties, of which only Robert Fico remains in power. It will not be a surprise if this format survives, and is strengthened by the new heads of governments.

It would then become a serious competitor to the Visegrad Group in presenting the interests of the countries of the region to the EU agenda. And it will be likely supported by Hungary as both Viktor Orban and Kurz belong to the European People's Party (EPP), and have a similar agenda regarding south-eastern neighbours.

One should also not overlook the long-lasting relationship that Peter Szijjarto, the Hungarian foreign minister, has built up with Kurz, when they were just two junior conservative ministers of foreign affairs.

Weakening?

Moreover, the more Poland, for seven years an informal leader of the Visegrad group, will be in conflict with the main line of the EU, the more the V4 will weaken. The Slovak prime minister Robert Fico has criticised the V4 political line as dominated by the Hungarian and Polish right.

In an interview this summer Fico said that if he were to choose either the V4 or the EU, he would choose a united Europe without any hesitation. Czech diplomats are also switching to such a position.

In the Czech Republic new coalition talks will soon begin between Babis – most likely the new prime minister - and a variety of coalition partners. Despite allegations of corruption and the accusation that he was a secret associate of the communist security services, he and his party ANO 2011 were the clear winners in last week's elections.

Babis himself, a successful investor who owns much of the Czech media and agricultural sector, masks his political appetites under the slogan: "I do business, not politics" - which has gained sympathy from a large proportion of young voters disenchanted with previous parties.

It's not entirely impossible that the coalition would remain in power, becoming a democratic anchor, but it is less probable because of scandals that surround the future prime minister. The majority of other parties are ready for a radical reconstruction of Czech politics.

Expected changes may include the electoral law, the liquidation of the Senate and strengthening of the office of the president. The latter is held currently by Milos Zeman, sometimes described as a 'Russian Trojan Horse'.

Poland losing ground

Polish foreign policy is quickly losing ground. This could be reversed but not without some major changes and some may come rather soon.

According to leaks from within the party, next month the PiS government is expected to change its foreign minister – Witold Waszczykowski.

That would be an opportunity to gain some ground in a region soon to be dominated by other partners unlikely to rely on weak Polish diplomacy to advocate common interests in the EU.

One of the obvious moves for Poland out of this dilemma would be to get involved in the preparations for the upcoming Austrian EU presidency that starts in July 2018. Kurz has set ambitious goals for reforms in the EU, and Poland should at least closely monitor those, if not get involved to find common ground with the Austrians.

At the same time, it should be taken into account that many of Vienna's and Warsaw's foreign policy goals are divergent – just this week Polish President AndrejDuda has hosted Recep Tayyip Erdogan and encouraged Turkey's accession to the EU. A move Austria strongly opposes.

Poland's position would certainly be strengthened was it to set a date for the adoption of the euro. This would require enough courage from the government to cross its own party lines. Without plans to join the main circle of integration the divergence in the group will only increase.

There is a small chance of this, since deputy finance minister Leszek Skiba announced last week that the government is ready to consider the adoption of the euro after eurozone reforms.

This signals a change - but the other V4 countries might be simply way ahead on the same track, especially after the elections this week in the Czech Republic and in spring 2018 in Hungary.

Wojciech Przybylski is editor-in-chief of Visegrad Insight and president of the Res Publica Foundation in Warsaw

Austrian voters reject liberal status quo

Counting continues, but conservative leader Sebastian Kurz is likely to form a coalition with the far-right and could become one of the EU's most vocal critics.

Czech election stalemate on joining euro

Whilst committed to joining the euro in theory, most Czech parties seem to be stonewalling on 'when' in the run-up to the 20-21 October election - and Andrej Babis, favourite to be prime minister, has ruled it out.

Magazine

Visegrad cracks and divisions

The V4 countries have become one of the most vocal and recognised groups within the EU. But 2017 has seen a shake-up in the informal eastern and central European power bloc.

How to reset EU-Burma relations

Europe should go back to its pre-2012 policy, wipe away aid and trade benefits, and tie democratic efforts to the reinstatement of benefits.

News in Brief

  1. Commission will 'not shy away' from Malta killing repercussions
  2. EU Commission opens probe on Alitalia state loan
  3. Paris suspect given 20-year sentence for Brussels shoot-out
  4. Merkel and Pena Nieto praise EU-Mexico trade agreement
  5. Nahles elected new leader of Germany's SPD
  6. Report: EU budget to refocus on South
  7. Audit office: Brexit 'divorce' bill could be billions higher
  8. MEPs urge better protection for journalists

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  2. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  3. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  5. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  6. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  7. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  8. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  9. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  10. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  12. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations

Latest News

  1. Secrecy of VW fraud report 'unacceptable', says MEP
  2. 'Strong suspicion' of corruption in Council of Europe assembly
  3. France tightens immigration law, sparking division
  4. ECJ ruling set to end 10-year 'mouth tobacco' lobbying saga
  5. Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK
  6. MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes
  7. Macron and Merkel pledge euro reform
  8. Obscurity surrounds EU military fund's expert groups

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  2. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  5. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  6. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  7. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  8. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  9. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  10. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  12. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  2. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  3. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  4. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  5. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?
  6. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  7. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  8. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  9. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  10. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  12. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!