November 29, 2017
Guest blog post by Vít Dostál and Zsuzsanna Végh. Vít Dostál is a Research Director at the Association for International Affairs (AMO). Zsuzsanna Végh is a Research Fellow at the European University Viadrina and an Associate Researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The Visegrad Group (consisting of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) has struggled with the image of being the EU’s trouble-maker, which it acquired during the refugee and migration crisis. Through 2017, Slovakia, and to a lesser extent also the Czech Republic, has started to send different political signals to the EU than Hungary and Poland, as Prague and Bratislava wanted to be seen as more constructive members of the European Union. At the same time, Poland and Hungary were ready to enter new conflicts with Brussels and some Member States.
To contribute to understanding what the Visegrad Group actually thinks, we have explored the opinions of the European policy communities of the four countries in the “Trends of Visegrad European Policy” project. The results reflect the views held by 450 European policy-makers and opinion-leaders, who answered a 20-questions long questionnaire.
Self-assessment of the V4
The past two years have brought unprecedented attention to the Visegrad Group on the European level – predominantly due the V4’s stance on asylum and migration policies. It also increased expectations concerning its performance both within the Group and among partners. At the same time, bilateral relations with some of the key Western European partners, like Germany or France, have somewhat deteriorated according to the respondents of our survey.
Has the increased attention brought any fruits for the V4 capitals? Visegrad European policy elites’ self-assessment concerning whether the V4 has become an influential and constructive actor on the European level is mostly modest, varying from country to country. While on average 49% of the respondents agreed at least somewhat that the V4 is influential in the EU, only 36% of the Czech and Polish respondents shared this view as opposed to 55% of the Hungarians and 67% of the Slovaks. A similar trend can be observed when assessing the V4’s constructiveness. Although on average 43% agree at least somewhat that the V4 plays a constructive role in the EU, only 30% of the Czech and 40% of the Polish respondents are of this opinion, whereas 48% of Hungarians and as much as 67% of Slovaks agree at least somewhat.
European policy elites also find participation in the Visegrad Group beneficial for pursuing their countries’ interests (72% on average), although there are significant differences among the country samples. 84% of Hungarian and 82% of Slovak respondents share this view, while only 58% of Czech and 61% of Polish respondents see the benefits. Nonetheless, there is a tangible desire to cooperate more closely. On average, 73% of the respondents believe the V4 should strive for joint positions more often, with Hungarian and Slovak respondents being the most enthusiastic (78% and 77% respectively), followed by the Poles (75%), and finally, the Czechs (62%).
As the numbers suggest, there is therefore a clear divide between Poland and the Czech Republic on the one hand, and Hungary and Slovakia on the other, at least concerning the V4’s influence and constructiveness in the EU. This counters the frequently cited picture of a two-tiered Visegrad with the Czech Republic and Slovakia in one group, and Poland and Hungary in the other.
V4’s vision of the future of the EU
When it comes to the assessment of which alternative development paths of the EU could be beneficial for the individual Visegrad states, another type of geometry comes into play. Slovakia, being the only V4 country that is also a member of the Eurozone, is not worried about the likelihood of a multispeed Europe gaining ground in the coming years. They also find it highly probable.
On the other hand, the same development concerns significant segments of Czech, Hungarian and Polish respondents. They consider the “Those who want more, do more”, that is, the multispeed scenario of the European Commission’s White Book on the Future of Europe rather harmful and, worryingly for them, also likely.
Interestingly, the stakeholders of the latter three countries are in unison in evaluating two fairly different scenarios as rather beneficial ones for their countries: “doing less but more efficiently” and “doing much more together”. Although to differing extents, both scenarios suggest deeper integration in the areas covered by the cooperation. Considering that the common image of the Visegrad Group is associated rather with a search for inter-governmentalism and giving sovereignty back to the Member States, it is interesting to see that significant parts of European policy elites in the V4 assess these scenarios rather positively.
Migration policy puzzle
Another divergence between the capitals’ policy lines and the countries’ European policy communities’ views is visible in the area of migration. While Visegrad governments opposed the EU relocation quota, the policy elites have a more divided position. Except for Hungary, the majority of all countries’ respondents agreed at least somewhat that they should take part in some form of relocation. In Hungary, the proposition has the support of 48% of the respondents. Alternative forms of contributions also have a wide support.
Although it was a clear flagship area during the past two years on the political level, Visegrad’s European policy elites do not prioritize migration policy for the future of the grouping as much as one could expect. On average, only every 5th respondent mentioned it, and interest clearly varies among the four stakeholder groups. On the other hand, energy and cohesion policy featured the most frequently among sectoral policy areas where stakeholders would wish to see more cooperation among the Visegrad countries in the coming years.
The research provided a snapshot of views of those, who create, influence and implement the Visegrad Group countries’ European policies. In conclusion, it has showed that the Visegrad Group is not as coherent as it might have seemed in light of its polarizing role in the course of the migration crisis. Moreover, only a minority of the V4’s European policy community supports the opposition to relocation quotas, the issue which shaped national debates on migration policy in the Visegrad countries and produced much of the “toxic” image of the Visegrad brand in the EU. Thirdly, the self-evaluation of the Visegrad cooperation has brought mixed results, as the stakeholders from various countries are divided on whether the grouping is an influential and constructive actor in the EU.
Still, the Visegrad Group is about to stay with us, as hardly anyone wishes to dissolve it among the members of the V4’s European policy communities. However, in order to improve its positions, the V4 needs to fight for a more colorful image than it has right now. As the “Trends of Visegrad European Policy” research showed, there might be more to it than just various shades of grey.