The Visegrad four group gravitates towards the edge

The talk of a multi-speed EU has started in Europe. While no one knows what exactly is to be its scope, what it will precisely look like, we all know one thing: the EU cannot continue with business as usual. Because there will be no business as usual.

The EU needs to take serious decisions. It must respond to such challenges as Brexit, the new U.S. administration, the growing interest of Africans in Europe, but also to such threats as the rapidly arming China, the unhinged and nervous Russia, the growing autocracy in Turkey or the nationalism in the Western Balkans and, finally, also to the natural evolution – the globalisation and the advent of the fourth industrial revolution.

In addressing these key issues, the EU needs to stand united and be ready for action. Otherwise it will not be respected and will not have the strength to defend its values and to pursue its interests. The first clear signals suggesting that a multi-speed EU is a real alternative of the future direction of the EU have evoked varying reactions from the various countries.

Two big foursomes stand on two opposite poles: THE BIG FOUR (Germany, France, Italy and Spain) on the one, THE VISEGRAD FOUR on the other. While at the Versailles meeting the Big Four declared their unity in promoting the idea of a multi-speed Europe, the Visegrad Four countries became puzzled and have responded with verbal vacillations.

The clearest position was taken by Hungary, which is opposed to a multi-speed EU, while Slovakia wants to be in the first line of the accelerating Europe at any cost. I am convinced that a better and even existential choice for all the Visegrad Four countries is to stay in the group of countries that maintain the closest cooperation. To stay in the group of countries around the Big Four that will seek and enforce relevant solutions.

However, what I see as a problem is that when it will come to taking tough action, no one will have to ask us whether we want to play the highest European premier league or not. No one will be obliged to ask us whether we are strongly against or passionately for such action. It will be mainly our actions and our conduct that will speak for all of us. And, moreover, our ability and willingness to contribute to finding solutions and bearing the costs of their implementation.

In this regard, the Visegrad Four countries have certain problems. For instance, Slovakia under the government of Robert Fico appears to be much more a “centrifugal” component of the reunited Europe than a component that unites, cooperates and seeks mutually beneficial solutions. Fico’s reaction to mandatory quotas was at first understandable. They were adopted in a hasty manner, apparently without appropriate advance consultations, in a directive manner.

But there had been two problems right at the beginning: first, we failed to show at least an elementary understanding of the fact that immigration suddenly emerged as a critical problem for several countries (Greece, Italy and especially Germany) and, second, we have as yet offered no alternative to the solution advocated by Germany, France and the European institutions. Yet, in the second half of 2016, we held the presidency of the EU Council. Towards the end of that mandate we presented a chimera of “effective solidarity”, which was eventually ridiculed or not even noticed.

Let’s be honest and truthful with one another. The theme of immigration to Europe is probably the biggest challenge for the EU in the coming years or even decades. And it is not mainly about the war in Syria. Africa is a huge continent, and a number of its countries are plagued with hunger, as well as with violence and terrorism.

But it is a very populous continent with a high birth rate. In spite of economic and social hardships, mobile phones and social networks are reaching an ever growing number of inhabitants of African countries who are thus discovering prosperity lying not too far away from their homes. It is not difficult to solve this equation with the above parameters: the result will be further migration pressures on Europe in the coming years.

Because of its attitude and inability as well as unwillingness to contribute to solving this quintessential equation, Slovakia is slowly but surely gravitating towards the edge – an area of diminishing interest for those who bear the greatest burden. Fico offers a similar experience with Slovakia’s stance on Russia and its aggressive policy not only towards its neighbours but also towards the West.

Fico thinks that he is very smart when, regarding the decision to introduce or lift the sanctions against Russia, he says in Bratislava that the sanctions against Russia are stupid and should be lifted, but keeps silent when the actual decisions are taken at the Brussels summit, only to subsequently declare, “I oppose the sanctions, but I did not want to destroy the unity of the majority at the negotiations”.

It is possible that Fico lives in an illusion that he has satisfied both – his voters and Putin on the one side and those who are really concerned about or threatened by the aggressive regime of Vladimir Putin on the other side. But this is a deep mistake: it is well known in Berlin, in Paris, in Brussels and elsewhere that Fico has been a great help to Putin, breaks the unity of the EU, and distinctly weakens Putin’s respect for the West. By doing so, he increases Putin’s appetite. Fico’s actions strongly contribute to Vladimir Putin’s policy of divide et impera!

As regards the remaining Visegrad Four countries, they do not seem to be in the “centripetal” mood, either; rather the opposite. Hungary has announced the abandonment of liberal democracy and is looking for enemies also in academic institutions, such as the Central European University. Concerning anti-Russian sanctions, it holds the same position as Fico.

Since its last parliamentary elections, Poland keeps the European institutions busy with the review of the constitutionality of some of its steps, for instance in connection with appointments to the Constitutional Court. The most consolidated Visegrad Group country appears to be Czechia. 

The European Union is harmed by the opportunism of some of its leaders. They say different things at home and in Brussels. They take credit for the successes, and put the blame for failures on Brussels. However, being a member of the EU and NATO, an ally to the others in the community of Western countries, means not only the right to jointly enjoy its advantages, but also the duty to jointly share and face the difficulties and costs.

It means to be responsive to the problems of the others. Even the biggest and the most powerful ones face problems from time to time. If we betray them at such time, we lose the allies. I am overwhelmed by such feelings at this very time.