The Visegrad group, a cultural and political alliance of Hungary, Poland, Czechia, and Slovakia, just shifted leadership from Hungary to Slovakia. Upon taking over the rotating presidency within the Visegrad group (V4), Slovakia, whose term began on July 1st, has announced its plans to move the focus away from foreign policy issues and instead focus on increasing regional cooperation in developing transport, nuclear energy, low-carbon technologies, green and digital advancements , sustainability, youth mobility, and interpersonal relations.
As Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok said, he wishes to “significantly mute the foreign policy dimension of the Visegrad group,” and in turn focus more on the “shared goals,” rather than the “sharp differences.”
Emphasis away from foreign policy is motivated in general by strained relationships among the group that have emerged in recent years, but more particularly by Hungary’s outspoken dissension on certain platforms. Hungary has been in the crossfire lately over its reluctance to support Ukraine with weapons, as well as its refusal to cut ties with Russia in terms of energy supply. Unlike Hungary, the other Visegrad members have clearly condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine and supported the EU’s position on sanctions against Russia.
Since the migration crisis in 2015, Hungary and Poland had emerged as vocal leaders of the Visegrad group, openly criticizing the EU’s migration policy. While Slovakia and the Czeck Republic had supported this position back in 2015, subsequent foreign policy issues have shown that there was less unity among the Visegrad states than previously assumed. The Czech Republic and Slovakia had long oriented themselves along the lines of Brussels, while Poland and Hungary shared a different vision of Europe. This division became apparent in the ongoing rule-of-law dispute, one that emphasizes Christian values over the identity politics of the EU.
However, following the Russian invasion in Ukraine, relations between Poland and Hungary have also suffered, leaving Hungary increasingly isolated within the group. The current divisive atmosphere has directly impacted the political unanimity of the V4, rendering it unfit to speak in a collective voice.
“Attempts to ideologically use the V4 brand harms mutual trust and doesn’t contribute to building a strong Central Europe in the EU,” said Mateusz Gniazdowski, analyst at the Center for Eastern Studies, referring to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s outspokenness on his vision of Europe—clarifying that Orbán’s vision should not be mistaken as the stance of the Visegrad states.
Instead, Korčok said, “it is time to focus on specific projects that people in the Visegrad region will benefit from,” which include regional initiatives in areas such as security, defense, the single market, climate change, culture, and infrastructure.
All signs seem to indicate that Slovakia’s presidency will echo the country’s pro-EU stance with a clear commitment to European integration. It anticipates being able to draw upon Czech support, now that the Czech Republic has assumed its EU-presidency term on July 1st as well. A statement by the Czech foreign ministry reads: “We fully support Slovakia in its ambition to resolve the role and priorities of V4 [Visegrad] cooperation in the new geopolitical situation.”
Whatever the outcome of this change may be, with internal divisions within the Visegrad group—due to the war in Ukraine— it remains to be seen whether the V4 will remain an influential block within the EU, or whether its members will align themselves with Brussels.