Visegrad Group – A model for regional cooperation

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 3, 2015 10:02

Story Highlights

  • On the occasion of taking on the rotating presidency of the Visegrad Group by the Czech Republic, the Albanian Institute for International Studies organized on Jule 2 a European Forum with the Czech Republic’s top diplomat in Tirana, Ambassador in Bronislava Tomášová. This op-ed is taken from the ambassador’s remarks at the forum.

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Czech ambassador speaks at AIIS European Forum  On the occasion of taking on the rotating presidency of the Visegrad Group by the Czech Republic, the Albanian Institute for International Studies organized on June 2 a European Forum with the Czech Republic’s top diplomat in Tirana, Ambassador in Bronislava Tomášová. This op-ed is taken from the ambassador’s remarks at the forum. Czech ambassador speaks at AIIS European Forum  On the occasion of taking on the rotating presidency of the Visegrad Group by the Czech Republic, the Albanian Institute for International Studies organized on June 2 a European Forum with the Czech Republic’s top diplomat in Tirana, Ambassador in Bronislava Tomášová. This op-ed is taken from the ambassador’s remarks at the forum.

Czech ambassador speaks at AIIS European Forum
On the occasion of taking on the rotating presidency of the Visegrad Group by the Czech Republic, the Albanian Institute for International Studies organized on July 2 a European Forum with the Czech Republic’s top diplomat in Tirana, Ambassador in Bronislava Tomášová. This op-ed is taken from the ambassador’s remarks at the forum. Czech ambassador speaks at AIIS European Forum
On the occasion of taking on the rotating presidency of the Visegrad Group by the Czech Republic, the Albanian Institute for International Studies organized on June 2 a European Forum with the Czech Republic’s top diplomat in Tirana, Ambassador in Bronislava Tomášová. This op-ed is taken from the ambassador’s remarks at the forum.

By Bronislava Tomášová
Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Tirana

It is my hope that nobody in this room is surprised that the Czech Ambassador chose as a subject of her lecture a topic related to the Visegrad Group, an alliance of 4 countries in the Central Europe, whose the Czech Republic is part of.

It is widely known in Albania that the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia like to call themselves as the Visegrad Group, or just the V4. It is also known that all these countries in the Central Europe support Albania on its way to the European Union. But the V4 is much more, and hence I decided to dedicate my discourse at the Albanian Institute for the International Studies to this topic.

I cannot hide at the same time that there is also another reason for choosing this subject. The Czech Republic as of yesterday started its yearly Presidency in the V4 and it does not hide its ambitions in the policies even towards the Western Balkans.
It was on February 15, 1991 when Václav Havel, President of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, Lech Wałȩsa, President of the Republic of Poland, and József Antall, Prime Minister of the Republic of Hungary signed the so-called Visegrad Declaration creating an alliance which during the Czech Presidency in the V4 will commemorate its 25th Anniversary.

The original aim of the establishment of the Visegrad Group was to overcome the difficult past of the totalitarian regimes in all Visegrad countries.  Approaching as quickly as possible with Europe in sense of its political, economic and security system, and through intensive joint cooperation and exchange of experience was the main drive of the alliance.

I still remember the atmosphere at the beginning of the 90ies in Europe: the joy  following the fall of the Iron Curtain and of the bipolar world. Yet, at the same time I recall the fear of Europe from the unknown of the post-soviet satellites. It is not a long time ago when I was looking through a book with published speeches of Vaclav Havel from the beginning of the 90ies.   I found in some of  them frustrated calls towards the EU to open its doors for the new members.

The Visegrad Declaration was signed only 10 days before the fall of the Warsaw Pact. The importance of cooperating within Visegrad to approximate NATO was of the same relevance as the cooperation in the EU integration. Till nowadays the EU and joint defence policies are the pillars of the cooperation among the Visegrad countries.

The history proved that the intensity of this cooperation was nevertheless not always the same. In 1993, just shortly after the approval of the Copenhagen Criteria for the EU enlargement policy and shortly after the split of Czechoslovakia in two states, the V4 countries preferred to follow the fulfilment of the conditions of the integration processes individually. They even developed a certain kind of competition among them.

Only after 1997, when Slovakia was excluded from the NATO invitation due to the internal political circumstances in country, regarded as not enough democratic by the international community, the V4 countries changed the approach.  They were finally aware that mutual support and exchange of experience in the pre-accession negotiations were   crucial to each of them and that together they are stronger. The new approach was particularly helpful for Slovakia, already delayed in its integration processes of the time, and it resulted in the joint accession of all V4 countries in the EU in 2004.

Doubts about continuation of the V4 cooperation after the achievement of  NATO and EU memberships  were removed  in time. The V4 countries represent a strong alliance even after 11 years of their EU membership.  The coordination of their positions in the creation of many EU and NATO new policies and cooperation in the implementation of these policies is a common practice of every day V4 interaction. Sometimes they even introduce their own initiatives towards other Member States of the EU and NATO.

EU Policy

Learning from own experience, the V4 countries strongly and constantly support the EU enlargement process and the open door NATO policy to build a stable and democratic Europe. That is why the Western Balkans and the Eastern Europe are considered as priorities of the V4 countries in terms of the foreign policy.

Maintaining the momentum and credibility of the EU and NATO integration processes is crucial in the understanding of the V4. Yet,  fulfilment of the criteria and a merit-based approach must be the essence of these processes. The V4 countries are ready to share their own experience in the transition and the EU and NATO integration with aspirant countries including Albania.

The access of our partners from the Western Balkans and the Eastern Europe  to the International Visegrad Fund finances  to implement projects in their countries in cooperation with Visegrad partners, the possibility for students from the Western Balkans and the Eastern Europe to apply for the International Visegrad Fund scholarships, and the Expert Network on Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights between the V4 and the Western Balkans and the Eastern Europe countries, are some of the V4 instruments serving to this purpose.

The EU enlargement policy is not the only EU policy to which the V4 countries pay such high attention. Energy security, including the use of the nuclear energy as the reliable source of the environmentally friendly energy, building of the Energy Union, establishment of the EU single digital market, establishment of  the EU unified gas market, and the EU cohesion policy are examples of other important EU policies in the focus of the joint  stance of the V4 countries.

Apart of these policies, the Czech Republic would like to draw a closer attention during its V4 Presidency to the social impacts of newly elaborated EU policies and to the EU tax policies related to the fight against  fiscal evasion.

The EU migration policy will become most probably another new topic of the close V4 coordination as the last June V4 Summit and the European Summit proved.

Defence Policy

The Defence Policy is another field of close cooperation among the V4.

The V4 countries intensively coordinate their positions  within the NATO framework and often come up with joint declarations. One of them is expected to be drafted during the Czech V4 Presidency in relation to the next NATO Summit in Warsaw. Even in the implementation of the NATO policies, the V4 countries cooperate closely. As of now they are for example looking to the common approach in implementing Readiness Action Plan-related measures, one of the outcomes of the last NATO Summit in Wales related to the crises in Ukraine, but not only. All V4 countries always strongly supported the close cooperation between the EU and the NATO in security matters.

The cooperation in the Defence Policy within the Visegrad strongly developed especially after the approval of the Smart Defence Concept in the NATO in 2012. The crises in Ukraine provided a new impetus to this regional cooperation.

In the first half of 2016, during the Czech Presidency in the V4, the V4 Battle Group, serving to objectives of the Common European Security and Defence Policy in case of an armed conflict outside the EU, is expected to be certified as fully operational.  The establishment of the permanent V4 Military Structure (modular force) is foreseen to be used as the V4 contribution to the NATO and EU capacities when needed.

The yearly joint military exercises of the V4 armed forces will be executed every year starting this year. The conduction of joint V4 airspace protection is currently analysed and the agreement on establishment of the Visegrad Group Military Educational Platform has been reached only recently. Even close cooperation in the procurement and production of the defence industry by the V4 countries is foreseen. The V4 cooperation in Cyber Security  will  be also in the focus of the Czech V4 Presidency.

Foreign Policy

Through its almost 25 years of history, the Visegrad Group obtained the status of a respectable multilateral player, not only inside of the EU and the NATO. Joint meetings between different levels of V4 representatives and third parties as Germany, Turkey, Republic of Korea, Switzerland and others to lead dialog on the issues of common interest and look for modalities of joint cooperation are a usual practice.

The meeting of the V4 foreign ministers with the foreign ministers of the Western Balkans are taking place on regular basis every year. The next one will be hosted in Prague on November 13. It will surely be also an opportunity to share views on the progress so far achieved by the Western Balkan countries in their reforms related to the integration processes, as well as in their mutual cooperation.

Internal Policy

Nevertheless, the original idea of the foundation of the Visegrad Group was based on the cooperation mainly within the V4 territories in all possible fields to contribute in the establishment of functional democracies and market economy. Till nowadays, the V4 countries closely coordinate their efforts in building interconnectivity infrastructure, especially in the field of communications, the power system, and the telecommunication networks, with regard to both: links among the Visegrad countries and those with other parts of Europe. The construction of  the North-South Gas Corridor and the expansion of next-generation access networks to strengthen the regional digitalisation are important objectives of the V4 even in the focus of the Czech V4 Presidency.

Environment, flood prevention, tourism, cross-border cooperation and recently, to a greater extent, even justice and police cooperation, are other fields where the Visegrad countries coordinate their policies, exchange experience and cooperate closely.  The trade mark “Discover Central Europe” is for example just one of the new V4 initiatives to promote tourism of all V4 countries jointly at the foreign distant markets.

International Visegrad Fund

Civil society - in the quotation of the Visegrad Declaration - is the key question to the spiritual and material development of the Central European region and an indispensable condition to establish a mutually beneficial cooperation with developed countries and European institutions. In 2000, the Visegrad countries decided to establish the so-called International Visegrad Fund to support civil society  in the Visegrad region as  a major tool to build people-to-people contacts within the V4.

On June 9, 2015, the International Visegrad Fund - the only institution of the Visegrad Group - celebrated already its 15th Anniversary. The Fund started with the amount of 1 million euros. Today it operates with 8 million  euros yearly. The constant  increase of the V4 countries contributions to the Fund, even on the background of the financial crises in Europe, clearly shows the attention the V4 countries pay to building people-to-people contacts within the V4 space and  between the V4 region with the Western Balkans and the Eastern European countries.

Any non-state actor from Albania – NGO, academia, local government, research institute, culture entity – may apply for the financing of a project implemented in Albania in cooperation with partners from at least 3 of the V4 countries. Any Albanian student may apply for a scholarship at any University in any of the V4 countries for Master or Post-Graduate Studies covered by the International Visegrad Fund. But the whole programme offer of the International Visegrad Fund is though much larger and I strongly recommend to visit the web pages of the Fund and look to it in detail. Higher participation of Albanian individuals and entities in the International Visegrad Fund programmes would be very welcome.

Throughout its 15 years of history, the International Visegrad Fund financed around 6.000 projects and approximately 400 semesters scholarships yearly, which all together represent the total amount of 62 million  euros. The Fund gained the international reputation of a credible institution and many international donors such as Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Sweden or the Republic of Korea regularly contribute to the Fund to cover its activities.

Western Balkan Fund

Positive experience from the functioning of the International Visegrad Fund and its popularity among potential applicants,  brought forth the idea during the last Czech V4 Presidency in 2011-2012 to share this experience with the Western Balkans.  A lot of work has been done in this direction so far and we strongly believe that in a very short time, the Western Balkan Fund will be established and start to be operational to create similar opportunities as in the V4 for the youth, non-governmental sector, local communities, artists, academia and research bodies in the Western Balkan countries. Under the same principle as for the projects financed by the International Visegrad Fund, only projects implemented in close cooperation with at least 3 members of the Western Balkan Fund shall be eligible to succeed in the competition.

 

It was in 1335 when the King of Bohemia John of Luxembourg, King of Hungary Charles I Anjou and King of Poland Casimir III met in the Hungarian King Residence in Visegrad to achieve a peace agreement between the Bohemian and Polish Kings in the dispute over the lands under the Hungarian arbitration. The peace achieved among these strong kings in Central Europe opened the door to prosperity of the region in the benefit of its population.

656 (six hundred and fifty six) years later, the descendants of Czechs, Hungarians, Poles and Slovaks revived the history and established a new platform of friendship and cooperation which proved through its history that it is worth to build on and further develop even after the main goals of the foundation of the Visegrad Cooperation – integration in the EU and the NATO – have been fully accomplished.

Each of the V4 countries is a sovereign country, with own national interest, own culture, own mentality and opinions on different policies. We do not agree always on everything among us, but we always put efforts to find a common approach in our acting to ultimately create a reality beneficial to people in all our countries. Looking to the common future requires trust.

“We for Trust” is the slogan of the Czech V4 Presidency.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 3, 2015 10:02