What is the significance of the V4 today?

V4 is a regional, flexible consultation and cooperation mechanism that has existed since 1991. The focus is on the ongoing dialogue between the four countries at several levels and in several areas. And this dialogue exists between the governments but also between the parliaments of the countries. The main objective of the alliance is to bring the citizens of the four countries closer together. In the foreign ministries of the V4 there is a department or a working group dealing with coordination. They prepare the individual encounters as well as the professional materials that need to be discussed. In order for the dialogue to take place smoothly one of the countries is always responsible for the coordination, or in other words the informal management of the V4 for one year.


What specific tasks will the presidency entail for Hungary?

We will, for example, present the first proposals on new issues. This is then discussed by the representatives of the four countries and, in the best case, leads to the creation of a consensus, which is then published or constructively integrated into the corresponding EU discussion. Hungary will play the role of an initiator.


And what will be your task as Ministerial Commissioner?

Together with my team I am responsible to make the overall coordination of the presidency successful. The establishment of a special V4 department within the framework of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade demonstrates the seriousness of the approach of the Hungarian government toward the V4. This is not a brand-new area for me, because I was a member of the coordination team during the previous Hungarian presidency (2013/14), which was also a very intense phase with the Ukrainian conflict and other key topics. Contrary to popular belief, the V4 group did not only gain importance when the migration crisis started. Of course, there were times when the intensity of the cooperation was a bit in the background, but there was always a cooperation.


What topics have played a major role in the more than 25-year history of the V4?

The starting point was when the three Central and Eastern European countries – at that time Czechoslovakia was still one country – had set off simultaneously towards the West after the end of communism. All three wanted to become members of NATO and the European Union. These common goals, or the values on which they were based, united us. That is why the heads of government at that time had decided to create this political form of consultation. Their main task was to help each other and to promote the exchange of experience. All three countries were aware that their interests and values are identical. It was therefore obvious to help each other to achieve the two strategic objectives as quickly as possible. In 1999 Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary became members of NATO. Slovakia followed in 2004. Also in 2004 all four countries became members of the EU. Then a phase began when all four tried to find their way in the EU on a more individual level, so our connections loosened somewhat. Over time, however, the countries have recognised that there are common issues, which can be represented and implemented much better together. This process has intensified considerably over the past two years as we four have a relatively similar position on the migration crisis, and this happens to be significantly different from that of many old EU member states. However, I would like to emphasise that there are many other issues in which we work together.


What issues will be on the agenda in addition to the migration crisis?

The motto of our presidency is "V4 connects". We chose this slogan because we would like to emphasise that the Central and Eastern European region – unlike some critical opinions suggest – would like to come together and not divide. We also want to improve and strengthen the cooperation between the four countries. Quite simply because if we work together we can contribute more to the competitiveness and stability of our region. The four of us are all EU members and, of course, very interested in a successful European Union. The main objective of the Hungarian presidency is therefore to strengthen the European Union. In this regard we would like to play the role of the engine in the region.

V4 connects. How do you plan to do that?

We have identified four pillars for our presidency. The first is "European Visegrád". This is mainly about the European consultation process and how we represent our common position on various issues on the EU-level. A very important topic is dealing with the Brexit, because the V4 have a very similar position when it comes to the negotiations and we want to be as effective as possible. It is vitally important to us that the fate and the future of V4 citizens working in the UK are secured and that they will not suffer any disadvantages. Brexit cannot have a negative impact on achievements, such as the free movement of workers. We will also work to ensure that economic relations do not suffer any damage. We want our British partners to remain part of the European security system. Another basic issue is the budget planning for the next EU budgetary cycle. We want the amount of the cohesion funds and the sums allocated to the EU agricultural funds to remain unchanged.


Without the UK?

We are aware that there are different points of view on this. Nevertheless, we will ensure that the position of the V4 countries is heard. We will work to ensure that the decisions will be in the interest of Central and Eastern European countries and that the potential for growth in our region will continue to be used intensively. This is also an interest of the other EU countries.

At present, efforts are being made not only to reduce the level of EU funding but also to link its allocation to political demands.

The two topics have nothing to do with each other. That is why we will work to ensure that the cohesion policy remains faithful to its original objectives. As the remaining regions of the European Union develop, all EU members ultimately benefit. In this context political sanctions have no place, as they would be rather counterproductive.


What are the other issues that will be important during the next year?

Generally speaking, the future of the European Union. In which EU do we want to live? One thing is for sure: despite all the allegations, the V4 countries continue to see their strategic future firmly within the European Union. That is why the developmental direction of the EU is a vital question for all of us.


What about the euro?

All four countries are interested in a well-functioning eurozone. Regarding Hungary, we will join the common currency if both the eurozone and Hungary are prepared to do so.


Can the different positions of the V4 countries towards Russia be dangerous for the cohesion of the group?

No. Just because we are close allies we do not have to be on the same page in every single question. The most important thing is that we talk about our issues and are constantly in dialogue with each other. There can be differences of opinion among friends but this does not necessarily mean the end of the friendship. When it comes to Russia we are obviously aware of the sensitivities of our Polish friends and we pay attention to that during the V4 consultations.


During V4 discussions, do parties concentrate primarily on topics in which a consensus is possible?

No, we talk about all issues. It is not always necessary to reach a consensus. At the recent meeting of the prime ministers of the V4 in Budapest all current issues were discussed.


The phrase “Regional V4” can be heard often these days.

This is the second pillar of our presidency and it means that we are not only concerned with questions of the EU but also with those which primarily affect our four countries. These include infrastructure development, transportation policy and energy diversification in Central Europe. We would also like to have an intensive dialogue with our partners in neighbouring regions, namely the countries of the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership. The aim is to stimulate tourism and economic contacts. All this ultimately also has a role to play in bringing together the citizens of the four countries.


What about education and science?

These are very important issues, which require permanent specialist consultations. The Visegrád Fund, headquartered in Bratislava, finances scholarships even for Ukrainian youth. There are also joint researches financed by the fund, including cooperation with South Korea and Japan, but there are projects in all kinds of subjects, such as culture, education, research, sports and even art. The fund has an annual budget of EUR 8 million, with each of the countries contributing EUR 2 million and the four making a decision together on how they use the money. The main decision criteria is how much the particular project brings together the citizens of the four countries. For this reason preference is given to supporting projects involving all four countries at the same time. To date more than 5000 projects have been financed. It is a personal matter for me to make these projects more popular during our presidency. It is important for the citizens to recognise that the V4 is not only about politicking.


What is the third pillar?

It’s called “Digital Visegrád” and it is about increasing the competitiveness of our region. This is not possible without the inclusion of innovative technologies. There are also digital education projects. In terms of digitalization we want to become even more competitive. We want to create a regional innovation hub and increase the mobility of digital development efforts within the four countries. Our region has to become stronger within the European Union.


To what extent are the proposals of the V4 countries taken into account at the EU level?

Our ability to influence increased significantly in recent years. Some of our shared arguments have been incorporated into European decision-making, such as stressing the need to protect the EU's external borders or fighting against the causes of migratory movements in their countries of origin.


How is this cooperation looked at in the EU?

Within the European Union the V4 countries are not the only regional grouping of states. The Scandinavian countries and the Benelux countries have similar cooperation. There is also a closer link between Germany and France. Therefore such regional voting mechanisms within the EU are something completely normal and they contribute significantly to the efficiency of the decision-making. The countries of the V4 have already been members of the EU for 13 years, all four have successful EU presidencies as a reference, so they can no longer be called new members. We have a right to help shape the future of the EU and we are fully committed to the equality of the member countries.


Could the V4 become V5 or V6 at some point?

There is definitely interest. From time to time the idea of expanding the V4 emerges. One reason for the efficiency of the decision-making within the group, however, is that we work in a small circle and the cooperation between us has proved very successful. The flow of information is smooth, as are the votes. For some questions we also include other EU members. If, however, we were to expand, this could possibly come at the expense of our tried and tested cooperation and rapid responsiveness. But, to answer your question: no enlargement is planned at the moment.


To the outside, the V4 group seems to work well when the countries are welded together by a big problem and their governments have a similar political orientation.

I wouldn’t say that the V4 only works when challenges arise. There is certainly more media coverage in such times but the group also works well when there is no global challenge on the horizon. We try to make the V4 function properly regardless of the governmental constellation in the respective countries, but it is clear that the V4 is doing better when certain countries have similar political orientations. Right now the two largest countries – Poland and Hungary – are in that position but this has not always been the case. Nevertheless, the mechanism worked throughout the years. After all, this is about basic strategic regional interests, which must be effectively represented.


Where do you see the V4 group when Hungary assumes its next presidency in five years?

I believe that there will be a strengthening of regional cooperation in the future. Because of this perspective we have set ourselves the goal of increasing the awareness of our group for the citizens of the four countries, especially among the youth. Our goal is to work even more closely in all areas, simply because the global challenges that we face and have to react to will certainly not disappear. In addition I find it important that we increase our worldwide reputation, which brings me to the fourth pillar of our presidency, "Global Visegrád". This means that we have to position ourselves globally. If we work well together we will be able to be in a better negotiating position in international talks and strengthen our responsibility in global issues.


Is having a joint V4 foreign policy an option?

Absolutely. We will be stronger when it comes to international issues, but "Global Visegrád" also means that the four countries present themselves together to the rest of the world and offer a marketplace with 65 million people. When it comes to attracting investors, research projects or even tourists to our region, together we can achieve more. During our presidency we would like to make the V4 as a brand better known worldwide. This name is intended to play an international role not only in the context of the migration crisis but also in business, research and tourism. There will be joint international performances of the V4 countries at international trade fairs and conferences. Such an approach is, of course, much more cost-efficient than working on these issues separately. Competition is not the good way to go. Tourists from the Far East, when they are here, are likely to visit more than only one of the Visegrád states. For some research projects a critical mass is required, which goes beyond the potential of any one of the V4 countries. Before they can decide for one of our countries, financial investors must be made aware of the entire region. Simply put: the better we cooperate, the better our individual chances are for developing our countries.

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