The Czech Republic recently took over the Presidency of the Visegrad Group with a motto ‘V4 Reasonable Europe’. Can we expect reasonable behaviour of V4 (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) under the Czech lead along with the highlighted priorities? Or rather a consolidation of its spoiler image?
The following year appears to be packed with challenges on the European level. First of all, the period of changes after the elections and new set-up of the institutions, the Multiannual Financial Framework negotiations or consequences of Brexit. The Czech Presidency believes to promote a rational, pragmatic and constructive approach and to tackle the current issues of the V4 countries and Europe.
The main priorities of the Presidency include the integration of the Western Balkan states as well as the development of the Eastern Partnership, supporting innovation and artificial intelligence or focusing on Digital Single Market. It will also promote the cooperation in the V4+ format – means strengthening of the coalition potential with the key partner within Europe, especially with Germany, France, Austria and Baltic states.
The V4 Priorities in the Front
Coordination and promotion of the V4 position in the setting of the future economic and social priorities are pointed out by the Czech Presidency. These steps are expected to accelerate the process of convergence across the EU, especially in term of deepening the internal market and removing the remaining barriers. The agenda, however, does not forget to emphasize that all initiatives should respect principles of subsidiarity and proportionality (i.e. the EU can act in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competences only if the objectives cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States). The main barriers are considered to be the regulations that restrict the free movement of persons, services, goods and capital. It clearly reflects the position of the Group which perceives the regulations coming from the Commission as artificial barriers having a negative effect on the market. It is not surprising that the Czech Republic has resorted to such a priority as 80% of its GDP depends on export. And the other V4 members are on the same page – Slovakia 97%, Hungary 86%, and Poland reaching 55%.
Following these objectives, the Presidency put emphasis on further development of the digital market, appropriate infrastructure and e-governance, or removal of administrative burdens for entrepreneurs. The common interest is to locate the European Artificial Intelligence Centers in the V4 region. While these priorities are shared on the European level and V4 does not deviate, there are concerns or even scepticism about the further social and political development of the EU.
Benefits from the Internal Market YES – Refugees NO
The Czech Republic made a strong statement about overcoming the dividing lines and strengthening mutual coherence within the European Union, through constructive dialogue. On one hand, solidarity and the principle ‘united in diversity’ is mentioned in term of supporting the progress of the internal market. On the other hand, when it comes to migration, very different words have been chosen. Not surprisingly, the Presidency managed to copy all the familiar phrases such as ‘seeking a comprehensive solution of the EU migration and asylum policy’ or ‘strengthening of the external borders along with proper functioning of Schengen zone’. To put it in a nutshell, it cannot be expected anything but the well-known anti-refugee stance.
The Visegrad group is often labelled, especially in Brussels, as a group of xenophobes and Eurosceptics. It could seem like that ‘V4 brand’ has rather a negative connotation. Their conflicting narrative was characterized by refusing German’s open-door migration policy and calling for external border protection and effective management of migration flows. The mandatory relocation mechanism wasn’t acceptable at all. Nevertheless, most citizens find cooperation between the V4 beneficial and more importantly, they also tend to be against the relocation mechanism. As far as common efforts on the EU level are mentioned, citizens believe that their own country is better represented within the V4.
Can there be any reasonable steps under the Czech Presidency? Some could claim that talking about solidarity and coherence among the EU Member States appears to be ridiculous. Given by the offensive rhetoric, there is no sign of backing down. The V4 will continue enforcing their own priorities and make sure that new regulations bring only benefits. However, what was not taken into account while drafting the Presidency’s agenda was a role of the Commission Vice President Vera Jourova. The Czech PM Babis sought a prestigious economic portfolio but von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has offered a portfolio concerning the rule of law. Undoubtedly, it will be interesting to observe how Jourova will fulfil her obligations and admonish the Czech allies – Warsaw and Budapest, who are already under Article 7 procedures. Jourova will be constantly in the spotlight and monitored by those who didn’t accept the Czech Commissioner having such a portfolio and she is more than aware. Anyway, like every other Commissioner, she is supposed to act regardless of the national interests. Therefore, her position could undermine the close relations between Prague, Warsaw and Budapest and to breach priorities set by the Czech agenda.
 EUROSTAT (n. d.): Export of goods and services in % of GDP.
https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/tet00003/default/bar?lang=en, 29. 9. 2019.
 Hörömpöli-Tóth (2017): Most citizens find Visegrad cooperation beneficial, survey finds.
https://bbj.hu/analysis/most-citizens-find-visegrad-cooperation-beneficial-survey-finds_139172, 1. 10. 2019.