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The Visegrad countries will remain the first countries among which Slovakia seeks allies

Slovakia believes that in the times of global economic crisis the V4 could support even more regional cooperation among small and medium-sized enterprises and closer contacts between regional chambers of commerce, said Peter Stano, spokesman of the Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry in an interview with The Slovak Spectator. Stano spoke about challenges such as the efforts to help the integration of the Roma community to societies, climatic changes and migration and ways the V4 countries might cooperate in tackling these challenges.

Slovakia believes that in the times of global economic crisis the V4 could support even more regional cooperation among small and medium-sized enterprises and closer contacts between regional chambers of commerce, said Peter Stano, spokesman of the Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry in an interview with The Slovak Spectator. Stano spoke about challenges such as the efforts to help the integration of the Roma community to societies, climatic changes and migration and ways the V4 countries might cooperate in tackling these challenges.

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?

Peter Stano: Culture and education, academic exchanges, cooperation among the non-governmental sector and further development of civil society belong among the most important activities and areas of mutual cooperation of our four countries since the Visegrad Group (V4) was established in 1991. Cultural and academic projects, scholarship exchanges, cross-border cooperation and similar projects have been realised more intensively since 2000 when the International Visegrad Fund (IVF) was established.

Cooperation within V4 has been developed along the lines of sectoral policies – for instance, in the areas of interior affairs and justice, environment, energy, tourism and regional cooperation. It’s not exactly right to say that after the V4 countries entered the EU that Visegrad cooperation was narrowed down mainly to culture. It might seem that the non-formal regional grouping of Visegrad countries is only institutionalised in the IVF, which mainly focuses on academic and cultural cooperation. But this is only one vector of the V4 activities – another two vectors are along the lines of sectoral cooperation and foreign policy.

We see untapped cooperation opportunities in, for instance, the more successful promotion of common pragmatic projects in the areas of science and research or in better promotion of the V4 brand within Europe. We believe that in this time of global economic crisis the V4 could support even more regional cooperation among small and medium-sized enterprises and closer contacts between regional chambers of commerce.

The Visegrad countries will remain, naturally, the first countries among which Slovakia seeks allies within the EU. We are not seeking to enlarge the grouping, but we definitely support cooperation with other countries and groupings.

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?

PS: Yes, the countries of V4 are ready and willing to pass on our experiences from the successful integration process into the EU and NATO. The V4 countries are aware of their responsibility and solidarity with the countries of southeastern and eastern Europe that have started the process of getting closer to the EU and NATO. We support activities and projects that help to develop democracy and build civil society and thus we are helping these countries in their efforts to make political and economic reforms. In this regard there are two lines of intensive dialogue – with the countries of the western Balkans and with the countries of the Eastern Partnership.

From within the V4, sharing Slovakia’s experience from the NATO integration process is the more valuable, as Slovakia has been – thanks to close communication and cooperation with the other V4 countries – the Contact Embassy of NATO in Ukraine for a second term already. There are many other ways in which the V4 counties can help the candidate counties. The transfer of experience happens on both the political and the expert level.

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 Slovakia and Hungary. How can Visegrad cooperation help to solve these problems?

PS: The Visegrad Group is not meant to solve bilateral issues among its member countries. Therefore it is in the interest of all the V4 countries to not burden our constructive and fruitful Visegrad cooperation with the potential divisiveness of open bilateral issues. Maintaining fluent and undisturbed cooperation among the V4 countries is our common interest.

Slovakia does not want negative historical reminiscences to burden the development of contemporary Slovak-Hungarian relations. A mixed commission of Slovak and Hungarian historians is therefore preparing a publication about our common history, which should fulfil an important task to go through and sum up the problems and differences between the viewpoints of the Slovak and Hungarian historiography on past events in central Europe, which should help further work, discussion and cooperation between the neighbouring historiographies.

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?

PS: A common statement was agreed upon by the V4 environment ministers at their meeting on July 9 and 10 in Krakow. They agreed they will cooperate on the preparation of EU positions towards the comprehensive global climate agreement to be discussed at the December UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen. The V4 ministers have resolved to react on the challenges brought about by the issue of climate change in the context of sustainable development for advanced as well as developing countries. They also stressed the need to realise the mitigation measures needed to achieve the long-term 2ºC temperature increase restriction and recognised the criterion of comparability of the reduction attempts for all the advanced countries based on the principles of ability to pay and the duty of the polluter to pay.

TSS: In the past the approaches of V4 countries in finding solutions to problems shared by Roma have been criticised. What is the role of the V4 in solving Roma problems?

PS: Slovakia regards the issues connected with the position of Roma citizens to be an all-European problem and sees its solution in this context. It is necessary to say that perceptions of Roma problems have changed after the EU enlargements in 2004 and 2007 when Roma became the largest European minority. Slovakia is aware that the main responsibility for social exclusion of Roma rests on the shoulders of individual EU member states, but sees the V4 platform as a proper forum for formulating concrete suggestions for the coordination of active approaches to solving the problems of Roma. These suggestions could then help a positive shift in dealing with problems of Roma on the European level.

At the summit of V4 prime ministers which took place in Krakow/Wieliczka on June 3, 2009 much attention was paid to Roma issues. The prime ministers approved the creation of a V4 working group to facilitate the exchange of experiences and coordination of approaches in solving Roma problems. During the ongoing Hungarian presidency, the V4 wants to launch a discussion which would lead to creating a central European Roma Strategy. Its aim should be the improvement of the position of Roma in society also by using resources of the International Visegrad Fund.

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?

PS: Migration is becoming a more and more visible issue on the agenda of the whole EU. For this reason, the EU passed a strategy, the so-called Global Approach of the EU to Migration, geographically-oriented to the south (the Africa and Mediterranean area) and east and southeast from the EU. It represents the common framework for dialogue and practical cooperation by the EU with other countries and includes three dimensions: management of legal migration; a fight against illegal immigration; and strengthening the synergy between migration and development. This approach mirrors the basic change in the global approach to migration, a shift from the approach closely-oriented on security and reducing migration streams to an approach which tries to include all aspects of migration and perceive it as a phenomenon with positive potential. The application of such policies and using the tools of the Global Approach are reflected in V4 cooperation. Slovakia has the ambition to enrich the V4 discussion by also examining the interconnection between development and migration policies.

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

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