The government of Prime Minister Beata Szydło may count on the support of other Visegrad Group governments in the implementation of crucial projects related to security issues, energy, transport infrastructure, or refugee policy. However, the V4 countries will not be PiS’s allies in its dispute with the European Commission on the Constitutional Court. On the contrary, they may insist on ending the dispute for the sake of the common interest of the region.
On July 1, 2016, Warsaw took over the presidency of the Visegrad Group. The aims of the Polish presidency may be divided into pragmatic, political, and ideological ones.
The pragmatic aims are the priorities for V4 cooperation, as defined in the official program of the presidency. They concern security issues (strengthening the eastern flank of NATO through presence of allied forces in the region), expansion of energy and transport infrastructure (partly with the use of EU funds), and finally maintaining the Visegrad Group’s position on the system of mandatory quotas for receiving refugees by EU member states.
In this respect Poland may count on the cooperation of all the countries of the region, as these objectives are in line with their interests. All V4 governments reject the mandatory quotas system, for they perceive it as a precedent violating their sovereignty. The governments are also intent on diversifying the sources of natural gas and strengthening the negotiating position of the region against the suppliers, as well as on increasing the region’s energy independence (especially in the face of the plans for building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline promoted by the Kremlin and by corporations from Germany and other Western European countries).
All governments have or may have an interest in developing transport infrastructure along the North-South axis, which will necessitate joint efforts aimed at acquiring European funds for this purpose. Finally, all governments are interested in strengthening the eastern flank of NATO (which in the case of Hungary, Czechia, and Slovakia is not inconsistent with developing economic cooperation with Russia).
This is an area of real actions. In this regard, the Polish government may count on the cooperation of the countries of the region. The problem is that it requires from PiS to abandon its openly declared political and ideological aims.
The political aim is to try and acquire support in Warsaw’s constitutional dispute with the European Commission. And Prague or Bratislava will not give PiS such support, as they have no interest in that whatsoever (especially Slovakia, which is a member of the eurozone and assumed the EU presidency on July 1). The short-term weakening of Poland’s position in the EU benefits them, for it strengthens their bargaining position against Germany.
In the long term, the governments of these countries are interested in achieving a compromise on the issue of receiving refugees (that is adopting the principle that hosting refugees is voluntary) and defusing the tension in the relations with Brussels and Berlin. Unlike for PiS, it is not in their interest to exploit this matter for deepening the ideological division of the continent (which is supposed to strengthen the position of Poland in the region).
Serving the latter purpose is the promotion of the idea of the Intermarium, that is a block of states between the Baltic, the Adriatic, and the Black Sea led by Poland. This block would include the Visegrad Group countries, the Baltic states, Romania, Bulgaria, and perhaps Croatia and Slovenia. In the capitals of these countries these activities are perceived as an expression of Polish megalomania and at best treated with a pinch of salt.
In fact, it is not clear if the Intermarium— the ideological aim of the PiS government— would primarily serve to counter the influence of Russia in the East of the continent or to balance the influence of Western countries in the EU. Is it perhaps to be an alternative to a “German Europe?” There is no doubt that PiS aims at strengthening the diplomatic potential of Warsaw against European powers through enlisting other countries of the region behind it. They will not give their consent to that.
It is worth recalling that the Visegrad Group—contrary to widespread myths surrounding the subject—was not an idea of the local political elites. It was created under pressure from the US, which after 1991 wanted to build a foothold of stability in the space of the post-Soviet and post-Yugoslav Eastern Europe.
Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia took the opportunity and invoked the myth of Central European uniqueness, testifying to their cultural and historical belonging to the West and at the same time making them distinct from the problematic East. From the perspective of Czechia or Slovakia, but also Romania and Bulgaria, Warsaw’s policy emerges as (self) destructive, for it renews the old division of the continent along the West–East axis.
The political and cultural elites of the V4 countries never envisioned any goals beyond the horizon of European integration. Simply put, no country of the region will participate in the creation of a block perceived as an “alternative to Germany.” And no country will accept the “leadership” role of Poland in such a region.
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