Narrowing Perceptions Meet Sustained Disunity – Part 1

Key threats as seen in Visegrad

Zsuzsanna Végh
28 August 2017

This paper was written for the ‘V4 for Europe — Developing positive scenarios for Europe’s future’ workshop, organised by the Hungarian Europe Society in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Budapest on 16 May 2017.

Whereas foreign relations and security concerns have gained a broader and comprehensive understanding under the EU’s latest strategy on the matter, the focus and joint communication of the Visegrad Group on security have become unprecedentedly narrow, centered around the question of migration since 2015. The perceived unity around migration, however, masks the persistent lack of mutual understanding about the crucial role of Russia in the region, and the diminishing joint action e.g. on the pursuit of energy security and diversification. Through the examples of the V4’s approach to migration and Russia, this discussion paper seeks to highlight some trends and discrepancies concerning the security concerns of the four Visegrad countries as a group over the past two years, and argues that their long-term threat perceptions continue to be out of sync despite the seeming unity in the short term. Consequently, uploading their preferences and interests to the EU level as a block remains to be a challenge.

Broadening and narrowing perspectives

The years 2014–2016 marked a radical shift in the international environment in which the European Union operates, including the overall security situation both within the Union and in its immediate neighborhoods. The on-going crisis in Syria, the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East, the continued instability in North Africa and the crisis in Ukraine including the Russian annexation of Crimea, as well as Russia’s hybrid challenge all pose uncertainties to the members of the EU and to the integration as a whole. The review of the European Security Strategy (ESS), adopted in 2003, therefore had to take into consideration a dynamically changing environment, and indeed necessitated the fundamental re-thinking of the EU’s foreign and security policy, moving away from the optimistic notion that “Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free”[1] characterizing thinking a decade earlier.

On the contrary, the deliberations about the new strategy in 2016 worked with the premise that the world is “more connected, contested and complex” than before, which necessitates the EU to act in the spirit of “principled pragmatism” in its external relations. In line with the above understanding, the Global Strategy for the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy (EUGS)[2] developed a comprehensive approach to the policy field both in terms of geographical and sectoral issues, thus broadening the EU’s focus compared to the ESS. The key priorities of the EUGS, listed as the security of the union, the state and societal resilience of the eastern and southern neighborhoods, relations with cooperative regional orders, and global governance in the 21st century, present an all-encompassing vision about how the European Union should position itself in the world.

A closer study of the strategy reflects numerous (traditional) priorities of the Visegrad countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), among others, for example, strengthening cooperation between the EU and NATO, increasing energy security or contributing to the stability and security of the EU’s immediate neighborhoods, especially the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, the public joint communication of the Visegrad Group over the past years leaves the impression that thinking about security followed opposite dynamics in the V4 and in the EU overall. While the EUGS reflects a broad understanding of security, and essentially openness to proactively addressing the challenges arising across the globe, the Visegrad Group’s focus has become increasingly narrow and self-centered. Following the peak of the refugee and migration crisis in 2015, the joint communication of the V4 starts to create the impression of a single-issue cooperation centered on migration, while important challenges, like the energy security of the region, appear to be falling on the wayside in terms of common interpretation and joint action. Furthermore, while challenges posed by Russia have been undoubtedly rising since 2014, the four Visegrad countries continues to be unable to align perceptions and actions on this vector, which at the same time represents a long-term and complex concern for the European Union.

Zooming in on migration

Over the past two years, the Visegrad Group has come into the European limelight through positioning itself in stark opposition to the Commission’s proposal for handling the refugee and migration crisis, and more concretely the relocation mechanism of asylum-seekers from front-line states (Italy and Greece) to the rest of the Union. Two countries of the group, Hungary and Slovakia, have taken the decision about the relocation quota to the European Court of Justice in December 2015, the trial of which has just started in May 2017.[3] Despite the time passed, however, the matter has not faded from attention. On the contrary, the issue of migration incontestably dominates the joint agenda of the Visegrad Group.

The common Visegrad take on handling the crisis has adopted a highly territorial approach by underlining the importance of protecting the external borders of the Union arguing that only this can ensure the functioning of the Schengen zone and the possibility of the freedom of movement. These, as the Visegrad countries argue, are the very foundations of the EU and damaging them could have strong negative economic, social and symbolic impact.[4] At the same time, it emphasizes the need to keep refugees and migrants out of the European Union, and presents them as ‘illegals’ who pose a threat to the security of the Union. The discourse adopted by the Visegrad Group over the past two years has heavily and indiscriminately securitized the inflow of people, using and abusing also the terrorist attacks that had taken place in France, Belgium, Germany and the UK to strengthen this message.

The second part of the article to be published on 30th of August.

Zsuzsanna Végh is vice-chair of the Hungarian Europe Society. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Hungarian Europe Society or its members.


[1] A Secure Europe in a Better World. European Security Strategy. Brussels, 12 December 2003. Accessed at https://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cmsUpload/78367.pdf

[2] Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe. Global Strategy for the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy. June 2016. Accessed at http://eeas.europa.eu/archives/docs/top_stories/pdf/eugs_review_web.pdf

[3] Zalán, Eszter. “Hungary and Slovakia challenge EU quotas at the EU’s top court”. EUobserver, May 11, 2017. Accessed at https://euobserver.com/migration/137857

[4] Joint statement of the Prime Ministers of the Visegrád Group Countries on migration from February 15, 2016. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic. Accessed at http://www.mzv.cz/jnp/en/foreign_relations/visegrad_group/documents/joint_statement_of_the_prime_ministers.html

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