ALONE, none of the Visegrad Four countries can be such a critical force that it could eliminate risks affecting the region or create a qualitatively-new situation for further development, Gábor Iklódy, state secretary and political director of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. The Slovak Spectator spoke to Iklódy about the challenges that the Visegrad Four countries face and the prospects of the grouping in the 21st century.
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 Hungary define as priorities?
Gábor Iklódy (GI): The cultural, educational and the civil society aspect, also thanks to the International Visegrad Fund, is a very important and dynamically developing element of our cooperation. However, the V4 is a much wider consultative and cooperative framework which has already become a brand within the European Union. We strive to effectively represent our common interests in the European Union or to make an active contribution to the development of EU policies. The four countries regularly consult about issues on the EU agenda as well as coordinate their approach to other significant topics.
The Hungarian presidency, which started in July, will focus on the integration of the western Balkans into the Euro-Atlantic structures while maintaining the commitments to the EU and assisting the takeoff of the Eastern Partnership initiative. We wish to invigorate consultations in issues of energy policies and energy safety, as well as the development of North-South road, railway and energy corridors and connections with the use of EU funds. We would also monitor where we stand on common ground regarding the future of EU cohesion policies as well as in making use of EU resources more dynamic. More intense cooperation in the integration of the Roma community is on our agenda as well.
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?
GI: The Visegrad countries have a shared interest in the democratization of neighbouring regions, especially the western Balkans and our eastern neighbours. The V4 countries have transformational and transitional experiences relevant for these partners. Then the V4 is an important forum for sharing experiences about regional cooperation, since cooperation between the regions might work as an important engine for the development of these regions.
The support provided by the International Visegrad Fund is also an effective tool for sharing integration experiences. With the use of the fund’s resources we are able to run Belarusian, Ukrainian and western Balkan scholarships while with the help of the fund we have started a programme to support building democracies in Belarus, Serbia and Georgia.
The multilateral dimension of the Eastern Partnership could also provide a good framework for the transfer of V4 experiences and for the coordination of support for our eastern partners.
TSS: Despite the fact that V4 countries are culturally very close, history not only unites them, but also sometimes divides them – an example is the current tension in relations between Hungary and Slovakia. How can Visegrad cooperation help to solve these problems?
GI: It is absolutely true: the Visegrad countries are bound by historical and cultural heritage. Yet, it also is true that we are competitors in some of the areas. But it is quite important for us to see that alone none of our countries make up such a critical force that it alone would eliminate the risks affecting the region and would create a qualitatively-new situation for further development. Now when we all are seeking ways out from the global economic crisis at political, institutional and economic levels, the key question remains whether our region is able to represent a common value system. Or perhaps the question also could be: what form do we wish Central Europe to have in 10-15 years? No one else will do this work for us inhabitants of the Visegrad Region.
If we admit that, then we can assess the weight of responsibility and where to focus our energy. Yet, this will not solve the disputes existing within the region, for example in the Slovak-Hungarian relations. But what it does is help us understand how senseless is the view which wants to see one nation as the enemy of the other and which assumes that we can solve our problematic affairs only by ‘conquering’ the other or by exchanging messages.
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?
GI: The problems of the Roma community living in Europe, most of them in deep poverty at the margins of societies, enduring segregated housing and schooling conditions, must be approached through measures coordinated at the regional and European level. The cooperation then should be strengthened in harmony with this intention.
The Hungarian presidency’s focus is a joint proposal for the social integration of the Roma community and improvement of their access to European Union resources while these efforts should pursue the application of the principle of equality of chances in access to the support. The prime ministers at their Krakow meeting have already decided about the creation of a working group for the elaboration of the proposal. The group could meet for the first time in September.
TSS: Currently, the issue of climate change and environmental protection has become one of the biggest global problems. In the beginning of July, V4 environmental ministers met in Krakow. What was the result of the meeting? Has any agreement been reached on a joint approach by the countries?
GI: Environment ministers of the Visegrad Four countries stood up for an ambitious, new and all-embracing global agreement at the December Climate Conference in Copenhagen. They stressed that the process of shaping a joint EU stand represented at the conference will require further efforts. While acknowledging the necessity of obligations on emissions reductions, V4 countries maintain that efforts of the developed countries must reflect the financial strength of particular countries as well as their responsibility flowing from their share in pollution.
Regarding cross-border waste management, the department heads agreed that though the volume of the illegal waste transports has not increased since the countries have joined Schengen, not much progress have been noticed in returning waste illegally transported to V4 countries back to the countries of the waste’s origin. In order to solve the problem, the V4 countries will turn with a joint proposal to the European Commission. Meeting the air quality directive presents considerable challenge for all the Visegrad countries, thus the V4 welcomes the extension of the deadline for application of the directive.
TSS: Migration – currently issue No. 1 in western European countries – has not yet been defined as such a problem in V4 countries and has not been a part of public debate. However, experts say that soon migration will essentially affect all central European countries. Is this a potential issue for further Visegrad integration? Should the V4 countries seek common solutions for the whole region in this sphere?
GI: It is necessary to bolster the cooperation of V4 countries in the area of migration, since the countries, almost to the same degree, must face the migration challenges coming from the east and the southeast, first of all challenges of illegal migration and organized crime. Thus it is crucial that the geographical balance is kept within the migration issues, which are gaining even more significance within the EU: along with the interests of the southern member countries, which are more impacted by migration, attention is paid to the interests of the eastern and south eastern regions as well.
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.