The Czech Republic identifies with the priorities for cooperation among the Visegrad Group countries (V4), said Milan Řepka, the spokesperson of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an interview with The Slovak Spectator about the changing role of the V4 and the challenges it faces in the future.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): After joining the EU, cooperation among the Visegrad countries shifted mainly into the spheres of culture and education. Which areas of further cooperation by these four central European countries have not been pursued so far? In which fields can the potential of the region as a whole be best used? Which spheres does Slovakia define as priorities?
Milan Řepka: The proposal of the priority areas of Visegrad cooperation is presented by the presiding country of the Visegrad Group and, after consultations and approval from the other countries, the program of the presiding country turns into the official priorities of the Visegrad Group for the next year. Hungary took over the presidency in July 2009 and among their main priorities are Euro-Atlantic integration of the western Balkan countries, the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership, cooperation in the economic development area and several forms of cooperation in the V4+ format (for example with Ukraine, Belarus, Japan or Benelux). As for the departmental cooperation, the leading issues are minorities, energy security and the financial crisis. The Czech Republic supports these priorities set for next year.
TSS: One of the current priorities of V4 countries is passing on their experiences with integration into NATO and the EU to countries which are seeking to join the Euro-Atlantic structures in the future. What can V4 offer these countries?
MŘ: The attention of the V4 countries in this respect is mainly turned on the countries of the western Balkans and countries that fall under the dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy. In this area, the International Visegrad Fund plays a very important role, as its grant and scholarship programmes represent a significant tool to fulfil the aims of the V4 countries to support the democratisation and transformation processes in southeast and eastern Europe with their experiences.
TSS: How has the role of the Visegrad Group changed since it was founded?
MŘ: The Visegrad cooperation was born mainly from the idea to unite forces in the integration process into EU and NATO. As time went by, the V4 became a known brand, which is respected also on the international scene. Presently the V4 countries are partners also within the EU even though their opinions and standpoints are not always identical. What is important, however, is the sole exchange of opinions and mutual exchange of information about our positions and the process of searching for common interests. The cooperation of departments and the cooperation on all levels became obvious for us and it runs quite spontaneously.
Obviously, the character of Visegrad cooperation changes over time as it reacts to the changing political, economic and social conditions not only in the region of central Europe but also within the EU and in the global dimension.
TSS: In the past the approaches of V4 countries (except Poland, perhaps) in finding solutions to problems shared by Roma have been criticised. What is the role of the V4 in solving Roma problems?
MŘ: The so-called Roma strategy belongs to the priorities of the Hungarian presidency of the V4. Its importance was stressed by the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the meeting of foreign ministers in Warsaw in May 2009. The common interest in establishing a working group to deal with Roma issues was then confirmed by the summit of the prime ministers in Krakow in June 2009. The Czech Republic will be represented in the working group by the deputy minister for human rights and minorities.
Disclaimer: The piece is part of the Visegrad Countries Special, prepared by The Slovak Spectator with the support of the International Visegrad Fund. For more information on cooperation between the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia please see the following document.