As the Visegrád Group marks its 25th anniversary this year, the four countries that make up this coordinating body face unprecedented challenges amid a growing refugee crisis and the looming impact of Brexit.
How the V4’s member states—the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia—are dealing with these challenges was the focus of a lively discussion held at the 2016 CEPA Forum in Washington.
The panel, moderated by CEPA Senior Vice President Edward Lucas, brought together Lukas Parizek, state secretary of Slovakia’s Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs; Karel Schwarzenberg, chairman of the Foreign Committee of the Czech Republic’s Chamber of Deputies, Szbolcs Takács, state secretary for EU Affairs at the Office of the Prime Minister of Hungary, and Anna Visvizi, Institute of East-Central Europe.
“We had a very painful and terrible history—two devastating world wars, the Holocaust, revolution and misery. We were very happy we eventually got to safe shores,” said Takács. “Make no mistake, we in Visegrád look at the EU and the history of European integration as one of the largest success stories of the 20th century.”
Since the bloc’s 1991 formation in Hungary, all four countries have managed to restructure their economic and political systems following decades of communist neglect.
“You can do that with leadership and good government. But what takes much longer are the changes that transform the mindset of society,” said Takács, adding that “25 years might be long in a marriage, but it’s very short in a historical perspective.”
Slovakia, which holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, has profited more than any other country from European integration, said Parizek, adding that his country doesn’t want “any divisions or double standards” in Europe. “Sometimes, political correctness leads to a dead end, but we always maintain an open dialogue, and we believe our strategic interests in the long run are the same.”
Yet when it comes to refugees, he noted, the V4’s options are limited.
“We want to address the root causes of migration and protect the EU’s borders. We all welcome the EU-Turkey deal and have contributed to development assistance with the funds we’ve established to tackle migration from Syria and Africa,” he said.
While the challenges facing the V4 and Europe as a whole are immense, Visegrád has risen to the task and has emerged as a new leader within the EU.