The pandemic and the process of overcoming its effects will be a significant focus of the Polish Presidency. It will permeate many areas and aspects regarding the decisions yet to be made. Hence the motto: ‘Back on track’.
The main task imposed by the crisis is a return to the path of rapid and sustainable development. This is reflected in the objectives of the Polish presidency; of which, one being the “return to normalcy” but with/through an increased emphasis on health and science. It is broadly accepted that the coming year will be a time to recover from the crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed upon the EU and its Member States, particularly within the socio-economic realm. The pandemic has put the functioning of societies to a severe test. The response – medically, socially and economically – to this pandemic will have a major impact on the development of individual countries, regions, the EU and the world. It goes without saying that much of the Polish presidency in the V4 will concentrate on recovering from this pandemic. V4 countries will have to actively cooperate to bring socio-economic life back on track in the region and in the EU. Building the reputation of the Central European region and the V4 as a flexible, reliable and constructive partner remains an ongoing task. Therefore, constructive dialogue is essential in these difficult times while gestures of solidarity and goodwill are equally appreciated.
Three additional objectives continuing the activities undertaken by the V4 countries under previous presidencies are:
- A strong V4 in a strong Europe
- People-to-people contacts – It is important to point out that during the Polish Presidency of the Visegrád Group, key final decisions determining the size and structure of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-2027 will be made. These decisions will affect the Cohesion Policy and its implementation system. An important element of the Presidency will, therefore, be the coordination of V4 activities concerning MFF negotiations and the setting of the Cohesion and the Common Agricultural Policies.
- Digital V4 – e-V4. Here, critical areas for the V4 include:
• Digital issues regarding solutions for working from home
• Artificial intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity
• Climate change
• Inclusion of the EU gas market
• Energy cooperation
• Electric mobility, power generation and storage projects
• The EU neighborhood policy
• Cooperation with the V4's international partner organizations
Other important tasks, in conjunction with the European Union, relate to the following problem areas: climate policy, migration policy, labor market in a situation changed by Covid-19, future of the EU integration, Brexit and its consequences, and the EU enlargement policy.
From the V4's point of view, it is imperative to develop the closest possible transatlantic cooperation (initiative/agreement/treaty?). The Polish presidency will also give appropriate attention to regional cooperation in the Three Seas Initiative as a framework linking the V4, EU and transatlantic cooperation.
Cooperation regarding security will be tantamount for the V4. This cooperation will concern the development of a coherent V4 position on key defense policy issues discussed at the NATO and EU fora.
Apart from the pandemic, another important agenda falling within the tenure of the Polish Presidency is the 30th anniversary of the Visegrád Group and the 20th anniversary of the Visegrád Fund's establishment. It is important to remember that the Visegrád Group was established on February 15th, 1991 in Visegrád, Hungary (originally titled the V3 as the Czech Republic and Slovakia were still united until January 1st, 1993).
During the inauguration of the new political format, the host of the ceremony, Prime Minister József Antall, said: "We do not want to create an organization that would be an alternative to other European organizations. We are to exist and meet in parallel with other organizations, but coordinate our cooperation. In the West, we are not expected to act against them, but to move jointly and severally towards Europe. A good example for us can be the Pentagonale as an organization with a loose structure, whose goal is to develop cooperation between the Member States."
The final resolutions referred to the fact, among others, that V3 is not a "closed regional structure", that it does not intend to expand its group, that its main goal will be "solving specific tasks, common problems". Of course, such a primary task was accession to the European Union and NATO. In the matter of accession, the rivalry of the V3 governments appeared almost immediately.
During the meeting in Prague in May 1992, Antall asked quite a dramatic question at the time: "What unites us?" The answer was that both history and geography, as well as the transatlantic security system. The consistent conclusion was: "cooperation is in our mutual interest."
Soon, however, the division of Czechoslovakia took place, the V4 stagnation deepened, all the more neither Klaus nor Meciar hid their negative attitude towards the Visegrád Group.
One cannot keep silent that, apart from races to the Union and NATO, the V4 countries also competed in the economic sphere, for example by seeking foreign investors. It is assumed that the crisis covered the period 1994-1999, in which no meeting at the V4 summit took place.
Skepticism proved wrong
Then came the return to closer cooperation. This was to some extent associated with accession to NATO and the emerging perspectives of V4 countries joining the European Union.
In 2000, the only V4 institution up to that time was founded – the Visegrád Fund. However, after 2004, there were doubts and skepticism about the desirability of the continued existence of the Visegrád Group. Significant for these trends was the article by Géza Jeszenszky in 2007: "Should we forget about Visegrád?"
Skeptical voices, at best skeptical about the lack of future or even V4 agony, have been very common since the mid-nineties. Such voices, not so ominous, but critical, are still spoken of today, despite the fact that in the last decade two important stimuli have appeared that are conducive to the consolidation of V4: the economic crisis in 2008 and especially the migration crisis in 2015. Closer cooperation began with a growing awareness of the importance of V4 both among Member States and externally. Along with subsequent joint speeches of the Visegrád Group on key issues and even those less important, the V4 brand strengthened, and the organization itself became increasingly independent of current political trends in the Member States (see current situation). There is also increasing resistance to external – and sometimes internal – attempts to destabilize V4, such as dividing Poland and Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Therefore, when discussing the format of "two nephews", we must always keep in mind the context of V4. Polish-Hungarian relations should deepen cohesion and harmony and strengthen synergies in the field of V4 activity. In turn, reflection on the status and future of the V4 should be accompanied by concern for its harmonious relations with the European Union.
The bibliography of works on the Visegrád Group is, as we know, extremely abundant. The authors undertook all sorts of problems, highlighted various aspects of the formation's functioning, however, enormous redundancy goes hand in hand with the severe lack of publications relating to some fundamental issues., I would read with greatest interest, for example, a study on the relationships between "horizontal structures": V4, the Three Seas, the Carpathian Strategy, the Eastern Partnership, the Bucharest Nine, and the Central European Initiative as well as the Slavkov Triangle and the Weimar Triangle. Systematic studies on coherence in the functioning – in various fields – of the Visegrád Group could be equally fascinating and have significant performative potential. For example, preparation and continuous updating of a detailed "road map" of the V4 industry and manufacturing in terms of their complementarity, the boundaries of "inevitable competitiveness," the possibility of cohesion in creating their own joint brands with an international and global dimension, the search for cohesion in trade within the Group and with EU and non-EU markets.
We hope that the Polish Presidency, despite the fact that it has to be implemented in an exceptionally difficult period of the global pandemic, will contribute to strengthening and rationalizing cooperation within the V4 format.