Global Analysis from the European Perspective. Preparing for the world of tomorrow




Central Europe’s opinion is falling (as yet) on deaf ears

An amiable mood has held sway over years in the European family. The Western countries went to great lengths to teach their eastern counterparts what capitalism and democracy were all about, and the East European nations obediently let themselves be dictated to. Western Europe would provide the finances for the development of Eastern Europe, and the latter would comply with the imposed precepts. The European unity flourished and no one expected the children to ever voice their political opinion. Recently, however, this idyll has been somewhat marred.

At first it turned out that one relative (Greece) could not stand on its own, next another relative (Great Britain) filed for divorce. Such news has an impact on each family. A comfortable and supportive home threatens to disintegrate and the children are getting the impression that their parents are by no means infallible and that they do not seem to have everything under control, and, to top it all, that the parents are losing their head.

This crisis revealed one thing: the children have grown up and will not let themselves be ordered about. 27 years after the collapse of their communist governments and 12 years after they joined the European Union the Eastern European countries are beginning to loosen the West European grip, and voice their own opinion. What’s more, they regard the older relatives as too senile to pursue a policy that can competently deal with the current difficulties. It is obvious that the guidelines the elder relatives have adhered to have failed to solve problems. The family idyll is for all practical purposes over.

Strong dissent arises from Central Europe

The western media still tend to disregard the opinion voiced by Central European countries; nonetheless, these nations are increasingly more self-confident in making known their views and attempting to jointly overcome the current crisis.

The once low-visibility Visegrad Group (also known as V4, a loose cooperation between Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary), which is 65 million people strong who inhabit an area of approx. 530.000 km², is about to regain its political clout, especially in advancing the interests of its members particularly when these go counter to those of the European Union.

The increased cooperation of this group has been noticed by no less a figure than Angela Merkel, who at a Visegrad summit sought to win prime ministers of particular member states over to her policy.1)Geschlossen gegen Merkel, FAZ 2016-08-26.To no avail. The V4 intends to use the next EU summit in Bratislava, which will be hosted by one of the V4 member-states, to work out a joint solution to the “migrant crisis”.2)Visegrad group to table proposals at Bratislava summit, EurActiv 2016-09-2016.

The V4 is already holding some political sway over a number of countries. As the Austrian presidential candidate, Norbert Hofer, visited the Czech President in Prague, he supported both the idea of having a Union within the Union“3)FPÖ-Kandidat Hofer: Will an einem Modell der Union in der EU arbeiten, Radio Praha 2016-09-12.and its political stance. It is no secret that V4 within the framework of the V4+ Project is planning on enlarging the group by inviting to it Austria and Slovenia.4)Do jednání Visegrádu se zapojí i Slovinsko a Rakousko, Ceska Televize 2014-04-03.

Countries of this part of the continent have their own views on the ‘migrant crisis’ and the future of Europe that are entirely other than those held by Berlin. During the Krynica Economic Forum held in Poland, which was attended by all four prime ministers, Hungarian leader Viktor Orban received the honourable title ”Man of the Year“ from his Polish counterpart Beata Szydło,5)Viktor Orban named ‘Man of the Year’ at Krynica, Radio Poland 2016-09-07.a decoration previously given to John Paul II, Lech Wałęsa, Donald Tusk and lately Jarosław Kaczyński. Jarosław Kaczyński took part in a panel discussion with Viktor Orban, after which they declared for all Europe to know a cultural counter-revolution.6)A Nationalist Eastern Europe Could Reshape the EU, Bloomberg 2016-09-07.

The more this cooperation between the V4 states is increasing, the more intense is the hysteria of the countries centered around Brussels. Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said that Hungary should leave the European Union because Budapest suppresses the freedom of the press and the independence of the judicial system.7)Luxembourg foreign minister: Hungary should leave EU, Politico 2016-09-13.It’s not the first time that such harsh judgement has been passed on a Central European country. The same has been said about Poland when the latest elections there allowed for forming a strong government which self-confidently began to follow a collision course with some of Brussels’ proposals. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe is still examining the rule of law in Poland.8)Die Venedig-Kommission kommt erneut nach Polen, Radio Poland 2016-09-09.

The European Union only expresses concern about democracy in particular member states when the country in question democratically voices its opinion that goes counter to Brussels’ expectations. The moment Czechia and Slovakia had rejected the proposed quota of migrants, Germany’s Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maiziére said in a ZDF interview that the European Union must curtail the flow of money to those countries which do not accept migrant quotas. He himself was in favour of such a move which, he said, originated with Jean-Claude Juncker.9)Nechcete uprchlíky, dostanete méně peněz z fondů EU, ozývá se z Německa, Noviky.cz 2015-09-15.

The V4 is beginning to exercise considerable clout that is to be reckoned with, not merely because of its geopolitical location, but also due to the growing importance of “Mitteleuropa”. The V4 member states have an awareness of their importance and so they are trying to pursue their own policies, e.g. towards Ukraine.

Eastern European countries do not wish to always unreservedly toe Brussels’ party line; they want to be co-opted to European policy-making. And precisely this self-confidence is perceived in Western Europe as a kind of criticism of the European Union, which is by no means so. East European countries still see themselves as members of the European Union, but a union where their opinion does not fall on deaf ears.

References 

References   [ + ]

1. Geschlossen gegen Merkel, FAZ 2016-08-26.
2. Visegrad group to table proposals at Bratislava summit, EurActiv 2016-09-2016.
3. FPÖ-Kandidat Hofer: Will an einem Modell der Union in der EU arbeiten, Radio Praha 2016-09-12.
4. Do jednání Visegrádu se zapojí i Slovinsko a Rakousko, Ceska Televize 2014-04-03.
5. Viktor Orban named ‘Man of the Year’ at Krynica, Radio Poland 2016-09-07.
6. A Nationalist Eastern Europe Could Reshape the EU, Bloomberg 2016-09-07.
7. Luxembourg foreign minister: Hungary should leave EU, Politico 2016-09-13.
8. Die Venedig-Kommission kommt erneut nach Polen, Radio Poland 2016-09-09.
9. Nechcete uprchlíky, dostanete méně peněz z fondů EU, ozývá se z Německa, Noviky.cz 2015-09-15.

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