The EU Summit and the Visegrad Quartet Split
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- The entry of the four Central European countries -- Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia (known also as the Visegrad 4 group, or V-4) -- into the European Union on May 1, 2004, was the triumphant end to a long journey. It was a time for celebration among the quartet of post-communist countries and in the democratic West, which helped these nations achieve their successful democratic reforms. Populations and elites in V-4 countries believed that the membership in the prosperous union would help them to built sustainable growth, tackle corruption, contain populism, and deal with residual problems from their past.
But the current turmoil in the EU has hit these four Europhilic nations hard, both in economic and political terms. Few expected that the European Union’s problems would generate so much domestic socio-economic and political turbulence, generating incipient doubt in the common European project. In my home country of Slovakia, the crisis even brought down the government over deep discord on how to tackle the European financial stability mechanism. Last week’s European summit devoted to the rescue of the eurozone showed more differences among V-4 countries in their approaches toward the proposed reconfiguration of Europe. Slovakia, so far the only V-4 country to have adopted the euro, has opted to throw its lot with the group of the 17 states of eurozone, along with regional power Poland. Slovakia and Poland have called for more German leadership in the EU. On the other hand, the Czech Republic has declared that it will “study carefully” the current situation and likely will not join the “EU 17-plus.” Further still from the EU core, Hungary, under the powerful leadership of Viktor Orban, is fast-shifting to a position similar to the United Kingdom’s, becoming in effect a sort of “continental island” committed to the development of its own European software with roots in Hungarian history.
The decisions made at the recent EU summit will reverberate for years to come. Ever-deeper political divisions, a loss of confidence in the institutions, and growing apprehension have become a hallmark of today. The collateral damage of the process on the V-4 likely will be less regional cooperation among the V-4 group, and potentially even the end of the regional project. The crisis shaking the foundations of the European Union could prove stronger than geographic proximity, shared history, and, until recently, very similar attitudes toward the common European home.
Pavol Demes, based in Bratislava, Slovakia, is a Senior Transatlantic Fellow with the German Marshall Fund.
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