For a while, it seemed that the coronavirus would support Visegrad Group cooperation, similarly to the 2015 migration wave. Once more it could have been a protective alliance to resist a political threat, in the absence of a constructive solution.

In turn, it would seem to deepen the feeling of mutual trust and coordination of policies between the rulers of Poland, Hungary, the Czechia and Slovakia.

When Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recently closed the Hungarian border, several phone calls from fellow prime ministers were enough, and suddenly the strict ban did not apply to Slovaks, Czechs and Poles but only to other EU nationals.

Disproportionally more difficult

Slavkov Triangle Meeting

But the Slovaks have now decided to disrupt this Visegrad unity and ranked the Czechia among the “red countries” with a record growing number of Covid-19 cases according to its traffic lights system. For Czechs, a trip to the eastern neighbours will be disproportionately more difficult.

More notably, this decision by the pandemic emergency team came just five days after a declaration during a Slavkov triangle meeting between Austrian, Czech and Slovak prime ministers, during which they declared best efforts to keep open borders “until the very last moment”. That moment came.

Slovakia was thus not subject to political pressure and its expert body decided in accordance with the opinions of experts, while the Czech and Hungarian governments continue to make political decisions about the virus, where experts play only a small role.

We write this op-ed in a nice Warsaw cafe in Poland, a country where the virus has already influenced politics, when it caused a postponement of the presidential election scheduled for May 2020. But in Poland too, the virus is behaving politically correct.

When its occurrence was of political importance, in spring around the presidential election, the number of infected people remained low. But when nothing politically important happened, the numbers immediately rose. When politicians of the Polish government made difficult decisions about the presidential election, they were not under as much pressure as the Czechs now before the regional and senate elections.

Consistent and predictable

Igor Matovič (by Daniel Garcia)

The Slovak political scene – with the possible exception of the fascists – did not have a similar dilemma this year. From the beginning, politicians led by the president have shown themselves in masks and other means of personal health protection, unlike their Czech colleagues. They emphasised their exceptionally low numbers of infections and constantly warned about complying with basic security measures.

In other words, they do not pursue a “reactionary” policy like the cabinet of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. Slovakia, which changed the government in the middle of a pandemic, is consistent and predictable in its position.

However, domestic Slovak critics claim that the current four-party cabinet, led by the skilled populist Igor Matovič, is inexperienced and is only beginning to test the limits of how far he can go. But when it comes to public health, there is a greater public consensus than in other V4 majoritarian governments.

The whole of Europe is now facing a growing number of infected people. But there are countries where the virus has a chance to behave as if it was politically aware, such as Poland or the Czechia, and then there are countries where politicians, in cooperation with experts, give it a much smaller chance – such as Slovakia.

We should realise this when we growl about the fact that politicians are not doing enough. The response to today’s problem is definitely not a more majoritarian government but a greater compromise of political ambitions with medical facts.

 

 

A Czech version of this article is available in Hospodářské noviny.

Martin Ehl & Wojciech Przybylski

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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