Germany shares a long list of common challenges with Central Europe. How can they strengthen unity and cooperation? Below are recommendations from a German Bundestag member.

Central Europe is a key and integral part of the European continent. The civil liberties movements in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary in 1989 accelerated the collapse of the totalitarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the unification of Germany and Europe. This confirms how closely connected we are. However, 30 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Western and Eastern Europe still feel disconnected.

For Germany, it is important not only to remember this historical reversal but also to advocate for deeper and more dynamic cooperation with our Central European neighbours.

During delegation trips in the region, I often notice that Germany is expected to demonstrate more leadership when it comes to building bridges between the West and East. The Central European countries often complain about the perceived division of the old and new member states. The anniversary – 30 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain – is a great opportunity to get rid of the old Cold War stereotypes.

In this context, it is also important to recognise that these countries are important partners and not second-class EU citizens. The Visegrad Group is often portrayed as a political monolith blocking European integration. Nevertheless, let us talk about the topics which connect us, rather than those which divide us.

What are the topics which unite us? Germany is closely connected to Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary not only in geopolitical and historical terms.

First, these countries are Germany’s strategic partners and our economies are closely interdependent. In 2018, the German trade volume with the Central European countries amounted to 293 billion euros, which is almost a third larger than the trade volume with China (199.2 billion euros) or the US (178 billion euros).

Second, Central European EU member states are our important partners for the questions concerning the EU’s future. We must strengthen the EU internally, post-Brexit in particular.

Third, the necessary reform of the EU is only possible by means of a unanimous vote, requiring the support of the Central European member states.

Fourth, for German foreign policy, it is important not to develop strategic partnerships only with Western countries, especially France, but also with Central and Eastern European countries.

Furthermore, there is a long list of common challenges that we share with Central Europe, like labour shortage, lack of innovation, digital transformation in companies or support for research and development of artificial intelligence.

Let us work together to find common solutions!

We all benefit from mutual exchange. Therefore, we should deepen our cooperation not only in economic but also in political terms. In order to better know our respective political positions, regular consultations at governmental, ministerial, state level, or the level of parliamentary committees, should be introduced.

Slovak Foreign Minister Lajčák receives Renata Alt

We should recognise Central European countries as our equal political partners. We should generate greater understanding by facilitating exchange programs for young people, students, journalists, researchers and representatives of civil society. Or by investing more in common research projects or recognising academic degrees.

Artificial intelligence and digitisation are key areas for strengthening European competitiveness in a future-oriented way. We should look for innovative solutions and modern technologies together.

In addition, we should develop common projects for a stronger single European market. Let us invest in modern infrastructure networks connecting Germany to the immediate neighbouring countries. We should also strengthen our engagement and constructive dialogue for the common European values like the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and freedom of the press and science.

After all, we all committed to these values when joining the European Union. Moreover, these are also the values the civil liberties movements in Central Europe fought for in 1989.

Eastern and Western Europe are still disconnected from each other. In 1989, common values ​​and the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms were the driving forces of the political change in Central Europe.

Europe has once again been facing decisive challenges which have to be tackled together with our Central European partners. Without distinctions between East and West, North and South. It is the unity of all European states which is the key to success.

 

The statements in the text reflect the personal opinion of the author only.

Renata Alt is a Member of the German Bundestag and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, rapporteur of the Free Democratic Party for Central and Eastern Europe and Chairwoman of the Parliamentary Friendship Group for Relations with Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.


Eastern European Futures

In 2009, the European Union and six of its Eastern neighbours launched the Eastern Partnership (EaP) with the stated aim of building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability and increased cooperation. A decade on, however, progress has been mixed.

Visegrad Insight is published by the Res Publica Foundation. This special edition has been prepared in cooperation with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and supported by the International Visegrad Fund.

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