2014 was a memorable year for Central European countries when Donald Tusk became the President of the European Council. It was the first time that a post-socialist politician had been given the position while representing Central Europe at the same time. Apparently, the weight of the region has increased since then, although the reasons go beyond the presidency of Tusk.
The Visegrad Group has mostly communicated the decisions made at the EU summit of June 2019 on the leading officials of the European Union as further proof of its success and expansion of its influence. Without denying this statement, the result cannot be defined as a breakthrough for the region, which will have no direct representation among the four most important EU officials.
Tusk will be replaced for two and a half years by the outgoing Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, a liberal politician, who is unlikely to be an enthusiastic supporter of those special interests the V4 is trying to put into effect. The unexpected designated President of the European Commission, Ursula von den Leyen, has been in office in Merkel’s governments since 2005 and is said to be a major ally of Mrs. Merkel. In issues like gay marriage, migration, federalism in the Union etc., she has belonged to the liberal wing of Christian Democrats. It would be surprising if she pursued a different policy as the head of the Commission. Orbán’s praising of her can rather be interpreted as relief over the fact that the worst scenario with Timmermans was avoided.
Basically, the new leading officials of the EU mostly reflect the intentions of the great Western European countries. The European Central Bank will be led by Christine Lagarde from France, the Italian Social-democrat David-Maria Sassoli has been elected the head of the European Parliament, and the man in charge of foreign affairs and security policy will be the Spanish Socialist Josep Borrel, a sharp critic of the Hungarian government.
Worries may arise primarily in Warsaw and Budapest, as these two states have mainly been criticized in the past few years by Brussels and elsewhere. Prague has rarely been attacked, and even less frequently has it happened to Slovakia, with the exception of the Kuciak murder, which received a lot of negative press coverage. Regardless, both the Czech Republic and Slovakia vigorously opposed Timmermans to become the President of the Commission and expressed their wish to have someone in the post who is more friendly towards Central Europe.
In conclusion, it appears that the core-European nations have been able to preserve their influence, with moderate conservatives and social-democrats losing ground. Whether the Visegrad Group will manage to strengthen, or at least keep its position depends on several conditions, including its future economic performance. Another important factor is how the balance between the forces of a tighter or looser integration will develop. Losing positions for Europe against the rising new power centers in Asia, especially China, India, later in Indonesia etc., and demographically against Africa as well, seems to be inevitable, even in the case of successfully deepening integration in the EU. No one can predict how European societies and the political sphere will react to these phenomena and, concerning our topic, how it will impact the fight in the EU between federalist and anti-federalist camps. One thing seems to be clear: as the acceleration of events won’t stop, unexpected situations are likely to occur. For Central Europe it means that provided they remain closely allied and extend their club, with a bit of luck, their maneuvering capacity may be maintained.
Featured photo by Balázs Szecsődi/PM’s Press Office