The V4 and EU Enlargement: Advocates With Limited Influence?

December 04, 2023
Jana Juzová
3 min read
Photo Credit: European Union
The Visegrad Four (V4) countries—Czechia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia—are among the strongest advocates inside the European Union for enlargement to Eastern and Southeastern Europe.

This agenda traditionally has a strong position in their V4 cooperation, in their bilateral relations with the EU membership aspirants, and in their European policies. However, the success of the V4 countries’ enlargement advocacy is at times limited, especially due to some of their democracy and rule-of-law issues as well as their conflicts with the European Commission and other member states. Despite their domestic democratic backsliding, the V4 countries support civil society, democratic institutions, and reforms necessary for EU accession in the countries of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) and Western Balkans. This support is channeled through bilateral technical assistance, the International Visegrad Fund, and formal and informal means of influence inside the EU. 

This paper looks at the different ways in which the V4 countries support the EaP and Western Balkans countries in their path toward democracy and EU accession at the bilateral, regional, and EU levels, and it provides an assessment of their success. The paper identifies factors enhancing or limiting the V4 countries’ influence on the enlargement agenda inside the EU and offers recommendations to improve their advocacy strategies and ability to support enlargement further. The ability of pro-enlargement member states to use available means to advance this agenda and to build consensus within the EU is of particular importance now in the context of the expected opening of the accession negotiations with Moldova and Ukraine, and before the EU’s attention shifts fully to the 2024 elections to the European Parliament and the formation of the next European Commission.  

The V4 countries should enhance their technical support to the EaP and Western Balkans candidate countries through bilateral and regional means in order to better share their experience with the EU accession process and the necessary reforms. The International Visegrad Fund is a very important instrument in this regard and its funding should be increased. The V4 countries also have a unique standing in the two regions, where they are seen as relatable examples of successful Euro-Atlantic integration. They should use this to openly communicate with the candidate countries about the areas of their EU accession reforms where further efforts are needed. 

The V4 countries should also consider renewing the V4+ format of ministerial meetings with the Western Balkan countries as well as inviting other like-minded member states or representatives of EU institutions. Building wider alliances on the enlargement agenda, beyond the V4 and other Central and Eastern European regional formats, would be desirable for fostering consensus within the Council of the EU. The V4 countries can further influence the agenda by providing more inputs in the form of non-papers and joint statements prior to European Council meetings, either individually or as a part of a group of pro-enlargement member states.