Continuity and Change in Polish V4 Policy
Poland has always played a crucial role in the Visegrad cooperation. The last parliamentary elections therefore, attracted significant attention from other V4 countries. On the other hand, it is in the interest of Czech, Hungarian and Slovak political leaders to keep Poland as the biggest V4 “member” on board, so they do not micromanage the composition of its government. Domestic politics in particular V4 countries stopped being an issue discussed on the group level some years ago. This explains the moderate reactions to the results of the Polish elections in the capitals of the other three V4 countries.
It can be argued that Poland needs the V4, too. The Law and Justice party are connected with the Civic Platform through a common desire not to spoil the investment in the almost quarter century old Visegrad cooperation.. The V4 as such found its place in the election campaigns of both President Andrzej Duda and the Law and Justice party. The new Polish government is expected to concentrate on the Visegrad cooperation even more than its predecessor, but the focus will probably be on the deepening of the internal cohesion of the V4. The strengthening of cooperation should, however, not go along with the enlargement of the Group. The Visegrad cooperation will only continue to be effective by remaining in the hands of the four countries. While Bulgaria and Romania – countries that have been mentioned recently – are definitely important countries to cooperate with, the V4+ format was created explicitly for working with non-V4 countries.
The deepening of cooperation should also avoid further institutionalization of the V4. The success of the V4 is also based on its weakness in this respect. It not only enables more prompt reactions to challenges, but also helps avoid possible tensions by concentrating on the most important areas of joint interest, including climate and energy, transport and infrastructure, as well as security and defence. One of the challenges for the Polish V4 Presidency will be how to overcome even more profound differences in the positions of the V4 governments towards Russia in order to develop common policies. On the other hand, the V4 split on the issue of refugee quotas seems to be an issue of the past, since the Law and Justice government will perhaps be leaning more towards the opinions of Poland´s V4 neighbours.
The Visegrad Group – also under the Polish leadership – should not, however, aim to become a repeat blocker of coalitions in the EU, because this would lead to the increasing isolation. On the contrary, the reputation of the V4 in the EU and beyond will to a large extent depend on its ability to generate a positive agenda and innovative ideas that would also resonate among other member countries. The next year will provide a unique opportunity for the promotion of the region. One reason is the 25th anniversary of the V4 and another, the coinciding of the Polish V4 Presidency with the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union. It shouldn’t be long before concrete proposals for action begin to emerge.
Tomas Strazay, Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Central and Southeastern Europe Program at the Slovak Foreign Policy Association (SFPA), coordinator of the Think Visegrad – V4 Think Tank Platform.