The sixth Polish Presidency in the Visegrád Group (V4) began on July 1, 2020. It will last until June 30, 2021, and its motto is “Back on track.” The slogan refers to the return to the pre-pandemic path of development. The program is based on four main pillars: the policy of the Visegrád Group on the forum of the European Union (EU), the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, integration within the V4 as well as the digitalization of the Visegrád cooperation. This is the first ever Presidency, throughout which the majority of the meetings are held remotely. Despite the undoubtedly difficult economic and epidemic situation, the initiatives of the Polish Presidency shall be assessed positively.
At the beginning, it is worth to note that the biggest challenge ahead of the Presidency is to maintain a common position on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF, the centerpiece of Next Generation EU fund). Hence, in the first months of the Presidency, the Visegrád Group focused primarily on the shape of the EU budget in the next financial perspective (2021-2027) and the fight against the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Furthermore, Poland wants to concentrate on the issues of water management and the fight against drought. This is a problem that has recently also affected the Czech Republic, which has experienced the most severe drought in almost 500 years. In the context of V4 foreign policy, support for transformation and modernization in the countries of the Eastern Partnership and the Western Balkans has been announced.
In the area of security policy, the Polish Presidency intends to continue deepening cooperation with the United States, among others, within the V4-USA format. Additionally, the Visegrád Group will maintain support for the partnership within NATO and its enlargement, precisely in terms of stabilizing the situation of the partners in the East and the Balkans. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland Zbigniew Rau points out that upholding frequent contacts and close cooperation with the USA is a vital task for Polish diplomacy. It is worth recalling that the American administration actively supports the Three Seas Initiative, whose members include all V4 countries. For instance, during the last summit in Tallinn, the United States decided to financially support the Three Seas Investment Fund.
A videoconference of the V4 Deputy Ministers of Internal Affairs took place at the end of July. Consequently, a common position on helping migrants was established. The Ministers agreed on: supporting them in countries of origin and transit, backing FRONTEX to protect the external borders of the European Union and helping EU Member States which are under constant migratory pressure. Moreover, it was highlighted that the V4 countries consistently deny the idea of obligatory relocation of migrants.
At the beginning of September, a meeting of the Ministers of Finance of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary was held, during which a joint declaration on the continuation of economic cooperation was adopted. The meeting concerned, among others, the decision to further combat the economic effects of COVID-19. The Ministers agreed that the area of collaboration should include, in particular, tax matters in e-commerce. This is because the digital market is a key sector, given the current situation. Furthermore, the debate concerned: the fight against tax fraud, global minimum tax, the new EU own resources system and climate neutrality.
The Visegrád Group did not remain indifferent to the crisis in Belarus. During the September summit of Prime Ministers of V4 in Lublin, Belarus was the main topic on the agenda. The Heads of Government called on the Belarusian authorities to free political prisoners and stop violating human rights. They also condemned the torture and brutal treatment of protesters. In addition, they proposed an economic package for Belarusians, covering the IT, infrastructure, energy as well as small and medium-sized enterprise sectors. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced the initiative of the Visegrád Group to introduce visa-free travel for Belarusians. It is worth noting that a few weeks earlier, the Visegrád Group supported Poland’s initiative to develop a geostrategic plan on the EU forum, including economic, military and human rights aspects. In terms of V4’s efforts to counteract the effects of COVID-19, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš informed about the Group’s plans to create a joint initiative with Austria to coordinate the fight against the pandemic.
After several years, at a time of economic crisis, the Visegrád Group returned to the idea of creating a Central European airline. Such a company would be more stable, stronger and could easier to react to market problems in a given country. The initiative is strongly supported by Prime Minister Babiš, while LOT Polish Airlines would receive more than half of the shares in this venture. The initiative is still under consideration, but the president of Prague Airport, Vaclav Rehor, said he had already started negotiations with LOT Polish Airlines to expand its operations in Prague and Budapest. The joint airlines of the Visegrád Group would fill the gap in the region, as neither Slovakia nor Hungary have a national carrier while the privatized Czech airline is under restructuring plan.
In order to facilitate the flow of information and experiences on counteracting the coronavirus among the countries of the Bloc, the V4 Center for COVID-19 Information Exchange was established. The institution operates on the basis of recurrent videoconferences, during which representatives of the Visegrád countries will meet regularly.
Undoubtedly, the current economic and health situation has put the Polish Presidency to a test. The active foreign policy of the Presidency – transatlantic, EU and V4+ has a great influence on the security of the region. What is more, collaboration in the framework of the Three Seas Initiative is actually a platform integrating cooperation within the EU, V4 and transatlantic policy. Relevant development of the digital policy framework will have a positive impact on the economies of the V4 countries where digitalization, automation and robotization are becoming increasingly important. A significant challenge not only for the Presidency but the entire Visegrád Group is to develop a common position on policy towards Russi and maintain sanctions on the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Poland is especially against it, arguing that it is primarily a political project that will undermine the energy security of the region. This position is shared by the United States, which has extended sanctions against those involved in the development of the scheme. On the other hand, Hungary, which has been strongly associated with the Russian energy sector for years, does not oppose the project. The Czech Republic and Slovakia have changed their position over time. Initially, both countries supported the Polish standpoint. However, due to the potential economic benefits from the development of transmission networks, the Czech Republic and Slovakia changed their stance. Despite the aforementioned discrepancies, the V4 countries are able to speak with one voice on issues concerning Russia, as was the case with the joint statement condemning the Alexey Navalny poisoning.
Author: Maciej Tyburski
A graduate of Diplomacy and a student of Eastern Studies with a specialization in China and Russia. He gained his professional experience in the NGOs and public sector. His areas of interest include the politics of the Visegrad Group countries, the Three Seas Initiative, geopolitics and foreign languages.
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