Yesterday, members of the Visegrád 4 (a regional cooperation alliance between Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland) held a meeting with politicians from the European Union’s Eastern Partnership countries in Budapest.
According to the EU’s official description,
The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is a joint initiative involving the EU, its member states and 6 eastern European partners: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. It is based on a commitment to the principles of international law and fundamental values – democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also encompasses support for a market economy, sustainable development and good governance.
The Partnership was established in 2009, and emphasizes multilateral cooperation, the strengthening of institutions and good governance, and greater financial and societal contacts between the EU and the six partner nations.
In Budapest, representatives of these six countries, joined by EU officials and Estonian politicians, met with politicians from the V4, whose group presidency is currently held by Hungary.
Speaking at the event, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó argued that expanding the number of Eastern Partner countries would be “of strategic importance” to the V4.
The Foreign Minister also urged the adoption of a resolution aiming for the “most ambitious and boldest possible” alliance-building strategy at the next EU-Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels. He added that The V4 will also push to ensure that spending on such strategies is not reduced in the EU’s next funding cycle.
Szijjártó claimed that the Eastern Partner countries could help alleviate the ongoing refugee-migrant crisis by curbing mass migration to Europe, and could also help the EU more effectively reach Far Eastern markets. He also expressed his view that the partner countries could help prevent ‘the spread of extremist ideologies that fuel terrorism.’
Discussing the Eastern Partnership’s achievements, Szijjártó highlighted the visa waivers granted to Georgia and Ukraine, as well as the Ukraine-EU association agreement, designed to bring “Ukraine and the EU closer together. That agreement enters into force on Friday.
The Foreign Minister also mentioned successes in the field of cooperation in energy security, emphasizing in particular that linking the southern gas corridor with central Europe would have been impossible without the continent’s Eastern partners.
Foreign Ministers at the Meeting
At the meeting, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowsky expressed his hope that EU member states would support deepening ties with the Eastern Partnership countries at an upcoming summit in Brussels this November.
Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, called the proposal to deepen EU-Eastern Partnership relations a “sign of European solidarity”. He also argued that the entry into force of the association agreement would be “an important moment” because
we are on our way to a European future in spite of Russian aggression.
Klimkin added that deepening relations is the only path that can lead to European Union membership for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.
Lukáš Parízek, State Secretary of the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the November summit would provide both sides with a vision of how to further bolster their relationship. The EU must make clear the reforms it expects the Eastern Partnership countries to undertake, he said, adding that the six partner countries had already reassured the bloc of their intention to introduce necessary reforms.
Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said his country was working with the EU in five specific areas, adding that talks on a strategic partnership agreement were ongoing. He said EU-Azeri cooperation would focus mainly on trade, education, and advancing democracy, adding that the southern gas corridor, which could provide 20 percent of the EU’s gas reserves, would also play an important role.
Representing the Czech Republic, foreign ministry state secretary Petr Gajdušek said his country aimed to boost “practical” cooperation between the EU and its Eastern partners, adding that the partnership would have to lay out a “far broader” plan for moving forward at the conclusion of the November summit.
Georgian Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze noted that his country has been a partner of the EU for close to four years. The partnership allows Georgia to place its products on the single market and its citizens have visa-free entry to the EU. Nevertheless, the end goal, Janelidze emphasized, is full-fledged EU membership.
Vladimir Makei, Belarus’s foreign minister, said the Eastern Partnership was an important mechanism for developing his country’s political and economic ties as well as its energy infrastructure.
Cracks in V4 Unity?
Interestingly, this latest meeting of the Visegrád Group comes as the unity of the Visegrád Group has been called into question. As we have previously reported, last week French President Emmanuel Macron met with the leaders of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, while he currently has no plans to meet with the leaders of Hungary and Poland, both of whom have been quite outspoken in their criticisms of EU leadership and of the “Brussels bureaucracy.”
The meeting took place in Salzburg within the context of the ‘Slavkov Triangle,’ a grouping of Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia which is widely seen as a rival alliance to the Visegrad cooperation (V4).
In addition, some observers have begun suggesting that the countries that once made up Czechoslovakia are prioritizing “relationships” with Western European countries and the Euro bloc (of which Slovakia is a member) over Poland and Hungary’s continued confrontational tone (a theory perhaps supported by the fact that the two countries did not send their foreign ministers to the EU Partnership meeting in Budapest). In particular, Politico reports that a few weeks ago Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was quoted as saying that the “fundamentals” of his policy plans consisted of being “close to the [EU] core, close to France, to Germany.”
Via MTI, Hungary Matters, eeas.europa.eu, ec.europa.eu, Europa.eu, and politico.eu
Images via MTI