The Visegrád Group (V4) is one of the key regional foreign policy priorities of Poland. There are a lot of challenges which require a common, coordinated response or approach. There are various assumptions about the V4 efficiency (pros and cons), but still, this regional union has a very practical importance for member states.
Let’s take a look at the Visegrád Group from general point of view and define why this regional actor matters.
The Visegrád Group is a political cooperation agreement signed in February 1991 by Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, on the eve of the fall of the Soviet Union. Initially nicknamed the “Visegrád Triangle”, the group changed its name in 1993, when the division of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia brought the number of members of the new “Visegrád Quartet” or “V4” to four.
The countries that make up the block have shared a common history for most of the last century. After gaining independence with the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, Poland and Czechoslovakia were then occupied by USSR and Nazi Germany in 1939, while Hungary entered the war in 1941 alongside Italy and Germany. The arrival of the Soviet troops and the end of World War II led to a short-lived freedom, interrupted by inclusion in the Warsaw Pact in 1955. The decades of Soviet domination and political alignment with Moscow were interspersed with the tragic experiences of the Hungarian uprising of 1956, the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Polish political crisis of 1968.
After the fall of the Soviet bloc in 1991, the four Visegrád countries turned to the west. Between 1999 and 2004 the V4 members joined NATO and put forward their candidacy for entry into the European Union. In 2004, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary joined the EU, along with Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus: it was the most important EU enlargement in terms of number of new states and population interest.
The four Visegrád countries have been among the most dynamic economies of the European Union for years. Compared to the lower labor costs than in Western Europe, V4s have entered the manufacturing and industrial supply chain of the single European market, especially in the automotive sector. A significant figure is the number of cars produced in Slovakia: 198 per thousand inhabitants, the highest value in the world.
The numbers give a good idea of the liveliness of the economies of the Visegrád countries. The Czech Republic is the EU State with the lowest unemployment rate (2.1%) while for the entire Visegrád group the average figure is 3.9%, against the European average of 6.5%. In the investment field, the V4 countries are particularly attractive: foreign direct investments in the four countries weigh on average 51% of the national GDP, against the European average of 45%.
Another example of Visegrád cooperation is the Visegrád Fund, a fund which provides funding for scientific, cultural, and civic development projects.
The presidency of the V4 is an annual rotation and the country that employs it also hosts the meetings between the four. The V4 aims to cooperate on various fronts, from investments in infrastructure to domestic policy, from technological research to the regulation of immigration cooperation, from cultural exchanges to European politics.
An area in which cooperation is particularly structured is that of defense, where the Visegrád Group wanted to create a framework for shared investments and joint exercises. Moreover, in 2016 the four created a “Visegrád Battlegroup”, an intervention force formed by more than 3,000 soldiers from the four countries, within the framework of the European Union’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP).
If the economic performances of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary seem to travel on parallel tracks at similar speeds, that the four countries actually share, a common political identity will remain a matter of debate. For example, the V4 foreign policy remains heterogeneous on some crucial fronts, such as the relationship with Russia: on the one hand, Viktor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary and Milos Zeman, the President of Czech Republic, have an attitude more open to Moscow, while on the other hand, Poland looks at the Kremlin as a threat and has repeatedly insisted on having the American military presence on its territory.
As a conclusion, it can be said that nevertheless the differences in the foreign policy priorities or sympathies inside the V4, this regional union serves as an effective tool for regional cooperation and as a famous Slovak researcher Grigoij Mesežnikov notes: “ The Visegrad Group is based mostly on a common destiny of four nations that were parts of different states in the past, but today they live side by side as sovereign democratic states, whose security is guaranteed by the Euro-Atlantic community.”
The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Tbilisi or The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.