1. Eastern approaches diverge the EU
BSSB.BE politico.eu 7/11/2018
Balkans Danube Ex-USSR
The formerly communist members of the EU club — from the Baltics in the north to Romania and Bulgaria at Europe’s edge — are diverging on big issues such as the rule of law and defense.
The weakening of their close ties could most immediately impact the negotiations over the next seven-year EU budget. The last time around, the Eastern bloc took a common position with other like-minded countries on regional funds, wresting billions from the EU in aid.
While some see this differentiation as a natural evolution for a region that was united simply by five decades of Soviet domination and not much else, it also makes it harder for these countries to achieve the many common interests they continue to have, not just at the EU budget negotiating table.
From V4 to V2
The splits have emerged markedly only in recent months. A year ago, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán called the Visegrad group — a club founded by Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary to advance the eastern cause in Europe and known by the acronym V4 — “one of the poles of the European Union.”
Yet as the Hungarians and the Poles have since repeatedly clashed with Brussels over their alleged democratic backsliding, and Orbán resorts now to calling the EU “an empire,” Prague and Bratislava have been notable in their moderation.
“Such position would be only adopted if there is a certainty of voting. We believe that the solution lies in dialogue” — Aleš Chmelař, Czech state secretary for European affairs
“What we see resembles more V2 plus V2, rather than V4,” said a Central European diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Warsaw and Budapest have formed a mutual defense pact — with each vowing to veto any attempt to suspend the other’s EU voting rights under the bloc’s Article 7 disciplinary process. Prague and Bratislava refrain from saying they would do the same to defend their fellow Visegrad members, and instead urge talks to resolve the disputes with Brussels.
For Slovakia, such a position is a chance to restore its reputation as the most EU-friendly Visegrad country, after the murder this year of journalist Ján Kuciak, who was investigating possible links between an Italian mafia clan, Slovakian politicians and the abuse of EU funds.
“The Slovak Republic is supporting a solution based on a constructive dialogue in [the] case of Hungary,” a spokesperson for the country’s foreign ministry said in an email. “The same applies also to Poland … We consider the sanctions as the very last option in case the dialogue fails.”
Similarly, the Czech government, despite sharing a critical stance with Warsaw and Budapest on EU-imposed refugee quotas, has shied away from publicly defending them on the rule of law. Prague says it hasn’t decided how it would vote if sanctions against either country are on the table.
“Such position would be only adopted if there is a certainty of voting. We believe that the solution lies in dialogue,” said Czech State Secretary for European Affairs Aleš Chmelař.
Tomáš Petříček, the Czech Republic’s newly appointed foreign minister, has distanced Prague from Orbán’s vision of “illiberal democracy” and pledged not to shrink from from criticizing other Visegrad group members. “Among partners and allies, it’s good practice not just to assure each other of mutual support but also to talk about things that we don’t just see as positive,” he told Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper last month.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: politico.eu