On 18 January 2016, CEPI presented the results of an extensive regional survey on foreign policies trends in the four Visegrad Group (V4) countries – the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. The survey, coordinated by the Czech Association for International Affairs (AMO) along with CEPI and other partners (CENS CEU in Budapest and IPA in Warsaw) collected data and analysed opinions of more than 430 state officials, researches, journalists, politicians and businessmen on EU issues and foreign policies of their respective countries.
At the CEPI event, also regional perspectives on the EU and V4 future were discussed by Pavol Demeš (GMF), Martin Bútora (Advisor to the Slovak President) together with CEPI Director Milan Ničand AMO Research Director Vít Dostál.
Presenting the survey results, Mr Dostál underlined that foreign policy elites in the Visegrad countries generally expect unstable and troubling times ahead. Perceptions of priorities on the national and the EU levels overlap to a large extent, with energy, migration, and instability in the EU neighbourhood among top 3 issues in all V4 countries. Also, all of them consider Germany as their most important partner, followed by the United States (except in Hungary). Weighing in on perceived influence of the V4 grouping on the EU level, Slovaks came out of the survey as the most enthusiastic, while Poles as the most sceptical on this matter. “Slovakia is the smallest of Visegrad countries, it therefore sees the V4 group as a force multiplier, and views it as having significant influence in Brussels,” Milan Nič commented on the Slovak results.
One V4, Not Two V2s?
Martin Bútora noted that a lot of things have changed between the collection of survey’s data in mid-2015 and this presentation. Despite differences, V4 managed to attain surprising unity on the matter of refugees. Lots of experts therefore started viewing the Visegrad Four as “not too welcoming” to say the least. Anti-Brussels and anti-Muslim rhetoric have been on the rise, public moods have been shifting. “We have entered an era of distrust,” said Mr Bútora. “Distrust towards national, European and global institutions,” he added. V4 now faces the challenge of avoiding to be viewed as a saboteur to common EU migration policies. Mr Bútora was also worried that with their current attitudes, Central Europeans will encounter significant obstacles in achieving their goals. He also expressed concern about the possibility of a chasm developing within the Visegrad Group. More precisely, while the survey results interpreted intra-V4 relations as excellent, Hungary came out as a somewhat problematic partner. Combined with the recent developments in Poland, Mr Bútora warned of the possibility of ‘two small Visegrads’ evolving within this regional grouping.
Milan Nič expressed further concerns that V4 might be drifting away from Berlin and Brussels which is not in the region’s interests. Recent political changes in Poland might have gone too far, while monitoring mechanism by the EC might backfire and trigger even more anti-EU sentiment. Poland, but also Hungary, could thus become even more euro-sceptic, which once again, would work against our vital interests. According to Vít Dostál, however, changes in Poland are not as permanent as those that have already happened in Hungary. “The Polish government has been doing things that are completely different to what PiS leaders had promised before the elections. People are reacting, this won´t last long,” commented Vít Dostál, adding that Poland´s neighbours should not add fuel to the fire.
How Do We Keep the UK in?
Many factors have hampered further EU enlargement, which has officially been slowed down. “People have put it off their maps,” Mr Demeš reacted to an audience question. A more urgent question these days is not how to get new member states, but how do we make sure that the United Kingdom will not leave the EU. Mr Bútora therefore suggested that the V4 countries coordinate on the issue of social benefits and adopt a joint compromise with London.
NATO, Security issues
The survey´s results have uncovered another interesting challenge. NATO importance came out particularly low in Slovakia. “The challenge is to say that we are NATO, and NATO troops are also our troops,” Mr Bútora commented.
Another interesting issue was elaborated on by Pavol Demeš. In an era of hybrid war, public opinion matters more than ever, as instruments of hybrid war influence our foreign policy. It is therefore unpleasantly surprising, how little we base our policies on actual data, Mr Demeš noted. The Slovak Ministry of Defence, for example, has virtually no data on the public opinion on the military. In the context of hybrid war, this has been viewed as an almost shocking negligence.
The results of the study were presented in the run-up to the Slovak Presidency in the EU Council, as well as the forthcoming NATO summit in Warsaw. Both events are going to be crucial for the Visegrád Group, which in 2016 celebrates its 25th anniversary.