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6:00 PM Visegrad Refining Relationship with Europe

We all want capable and strong Europe, there is no alternative – this statement by Czech Foreign Minister Martin Stropnický opened the session on Visegrad’s vision for the future of European project. Minister Stropnický was joined by his Polish counterpart, Jacek Czaputowicz as well as Slovak and Hungarian State Secretaries, Ivan Korčok and Levente Magyar respectively.

You cannot be half pregnant when it comes to European integration, stated Secretary Korčok. He reminded that the damaging East-West divide started just at the moment when the V4 became vocal about relocation program. He explained that many in the EU stood in awe because no-one expected Central Europeans to have a different position. However, he stressed that this divide is not a real one.

“East-West division is becoming a generally accepted truth and I am totally against it. It is a very dangerous approach.”
Ivan Korčok, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic

Somehow surprising line of argument was presented by his Polish colleague from the conservative government of PiS. Liberal values like four freedoms of the EU are now most fiercely defended by the Visegrad Group countries, declared Jacek Czaputowicz. He underscored that V4 represents the liberal values and the liberal competitive economy that defies policies advanced by protectionist democracies in case of some other partners in the EU. By defending the liberal values – he continued – Poland and the V4 contribute to the economic development of Europe regardless of accepting the common currency or not.

The format of the Visegrad Group has been also praised by Martin Stropnický who asserted that it is not a smaller union within a bigger union. He presented the main value of the V4 as not based on unity of views or positions but as the opportunity to come together and disagree in a familiar circle of states that share common past.

“None of us is Eurosceptic, we are eurocritics.”
Levente Magyar, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary

Since joining the EU and NATO, the countries of the V4 have trailed divergent paths. Still, with the numerous issues facing the region today, the bloc needs to find a coherent message and present it as unified policy to the EU. But do V4 countries have a plan for Europe? The answers from all panellists hinted at smaller role for the European Commission and increased inter-governmental format. At the same time, it was acknowledged that V4 is by far more pro-European on the level of popular support than most other parts of the EU.

Questions from the floor ranged from those referring to internal divisions of the grouping. Current disparities raise doubts whether V4 is too divided to function as a unified bloc. Other questions were perhaps too far fetched for regionally focused panellists who did not come up with satisfactory answer to the question on the outcomes of turbulence around the Iran deal. Matthew Karnitschnig, Chief Europe Correspondent from POLITICO Europe, skilfully handled the debate and Q&A session, that in fact became a coordinated response of the V4 representatives to a well known themes of European discussion.

3:30 PM Populism: Is the Tide Over Yet?

Deciphering economic anxiety at the heart of the phenomenon of populism was the main objective of the session led by political editor of Dei Zeit, Jochen Bittner. A knowledgeable panel of experts made the debate both informative and controversial.

Jakub Wisniewski, Director of GLOBSEC Policy Institute noted that if we consider EU as a good liberal project which should contain populist surge, it needs to change the style of communication. The message should be clearer, shorter and less vulgar. Martina Larkin from the World Economic Forum concurred that the way things are communicated to people is of crucial important. People need to be listened to and have solutions delivered. Otherwise, populist surge will only increase.

“Populism is more about social and cultural insecurity.”
Sophie Gaston, Deputy Director, Demos

The promises made by many populist leaders have not lead to the economic upturn foretold, so the situation for populists might be changing in the near future. That being said, identity politics is still a driving force behind the voting populations and the gap between the haves and have-nots is still growing.

There was an interesting and a diverse range of interpretations of growing amount of data related to populism. Identity politics, economic disparities, technological exclusion and related disinformation were touched upon by panelists and the audience during a very interactive exchange with the audience in the room and through the online forum.
We need to be agiler in governance and involve people more when implementing solutions to governance problems – concluded Martina Larkin.

1:30 PM Trump’s Transatlantic Bond

The transatlantic relationship is in the state of crisis with the US under the Trump administration. Trump has no attachment to maintaining the strong relationship with the Europeans and some of his actions – such as the pulling out of the Iran deal – are harming European interests.

At the same time, there is a growing frustration in the US about Europe and the insufficient investment of the European NATO allies in defence. There were many occurrences of disagreement between Europe and the US in the past, such as the war in Iraq, yet, the relationship prevailed. In terms of concrete decisions the US continues and even strengthens its commitment to the defence of Europe. However, the communication coming out of the White House is clearly antagonising to the Europeans. At the same time, there is a danger of the relationship entering a negative and antagonistic circle in case of Europe’s assertiveness vis-a-vis the US

“We can’t understand in the US why we care more about the European defence and energy security than the EU itself.”
Damon Wilson, Vice President, Atlantic Council

Broadening the issue of Iran deal, Cathrine Ashton has pointed out major blow this decision deliver to the credibility of the US.

“US will need to have an answer for countries who question why it’s worth working with the US on time-consuming deals when it could quickly withdraw despite compliance.”
Cathrine Ashton, former High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy


You can watch the session here.


1:30 PM Education Disrupted: Building Skills in the Age of AI

Written by: Galan Dall Visegrad/Insight

The idea of learning and education being a process we go through when we are young is outdated and wholly unrealistic. Even for those with advanced degrees, it is necessary to continue to learn throughout one’s career or they will be replaced by more capable (and likely younger) colleagues.

To prepare the next generation, we need systemic changes to the way we view and understand education. As an example, some newly-arrived parents might be upset if their child is in a Finnish kindergarten where they perceivably only play all day long: children learn through play, and exemplary teachers know this.

“No matter what technologies, you learn not by reading, but by doing. Moving away from specific subjects to projects. Letting kids run lessons, teachers to facilitate”

Peter Vesterbacka, former Mighty Eagle, Angry Birds

A lively engagement of the audience resulted in a question if the very concept of schools – the rigidness of the institutions – is of any value and whether they will be necessary for the future. Many thought it is possible for schools to slow down the learning process. However, currently, AI is still not developed to a level where it could replace teachers, although it can aid in learning especially in specific areas such as language.

The session concluded that a “proper” education will be in some way personalised to the needs and learning styles of the students. If the student learns the best through watching YouTube videos, so be it. We no longer need to educate with the teleological perspective of trying to achieve the highest test scores.

If we focus on making people well-rounded, able to think critically and work with others, then vocational skills can be learned with nano-degrees which take little time and can be learned when a job or an occupation presents itself.

“Education is about learning how to think and develop the ability to work with others. Training is focused on vocational activities.”

Peter Vesterbacka, former Mighty Eagle, Angry Birds

You can watch the session here.


1:30 PM The Western Balkans Chessboard

• EU is eh most important player in Western Balkans and nations of Balkans EU accession is the priority
• NATO and EU accession is seen as a stabilizing factor for the region and full stability will be achieved when the last county joins EU

Western Balkans are a point of interest for many global players including EU, Russia, USA, and Turkey. Still, the public opinion and economic ties are by far the strongest with the EU. Enlargement is also viewed as a stabilizing factor for the troubled region. Especially since Russia is trying hybrid warfare there as in case of the attempted coup in Montenegro in 2016.

“If the EU does not put enough interest in the Western Balkans, somebody else will fill the gap.”
Predrag Bošković, Minister of Defence of Montenegro

Still the negotiations are being carried out and the progress varies greatly by country. There are many issues mostly connected to rule of law but also many chapters that are greatly economically demanding e.g. ecology or fiscal issues. The countries are determined to fulfil these requirements regardless of high pressure from EU on actual adoption of the rules – something that EU negotiators learned during Romania/Bulgaria enlargement. Still, adoption of these rules is believed to provide a significant boom in economic growth, even in double digits, that would also be a stabilizing factor.

The audience was interested in whether Brexit or current situation in the Visegrad region have any impact on the process of enlargement. While Christian Danielsson, Director General for EU Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, maintained that the enlargement is now treated with more attention as it became politically important proving that EU is still attractive.

“The richest relation right now is the one between the EU and the Western Balkans.”
Christian Danielsson, Director General, DG NEAR, European Commission

There was also a question about the cooperation within region despite the difficult past. The problem is quite hot due to high public emotions but it seems that the points of political conflict are being resolved. Still, the wounds need some more time to heal to provide cooperation between certain countries.

“The border issues are the main issues why some countries try to slow down the accession process.”
Josip Brkić, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina


1:30 PM Middle East in Turmoil: Achieving Lasting Stability
Written by Magdalena Jakubowska, Visegrad / Insight

Numerous civil wars are threatening the status quo in the Middle East region but achieving a more balanced power-sharing system seems far from reach. There are competing interests from all over the world at work in the region, and inter/intra-country tensions flare up constantly which increases the possibility for localised and regionalised conflict. The session led by Steve Clemons from The Atlantic featured keynote remarks by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, Anwar Mohammed Gargash.

Minister Gargash underlined how meaningful the stability in the region is for UEA and how much hard work is put into achieving it. Among necessary solutions for the Middle East, he outlined the need for true alliances and the coalition of like-minded Arab states without the interference of other hostile powers such as Turkey and Iran. Furthermore, military coalitions, cooperation with NATO and stabilisation missions are also crucial.

Minister Gargash sees Middle Eastern diversity as an advantage, not an obstacle. In an effort to achieve this, the region needs governance adjusted to ethnic, religious and historic roots of respective countries.

Among all bad news coming from the region, HE Gargash was optimistic towards long-term possibilities, as well as significant transformation in the Arab world. He underlined this positive message is being popularised among the youngest encouraging them to stay empowered and create better future for themselves.

Catherine Ashton welcomed enthusiastically Minister’s speech and his vision for the region, putting emphasis on diplomatic means and not sweeping any important issues under the oriental carpet. Therefore, the Iranian matters need to be addressed however the dialogue is very difficult and ambiguous.

“As long as Americans have a strategy no to talk to Iran, nothing will be solved.”
Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Sweden

HE Gargash is convinced that the US and Europe are close partners to the Middle East, so they need to work and help solve problems, not only balancing these. He, however, noticed that this may cause conflicts in the Middle East to grow, although there are good intentions which are focused on small things instead of on the long-term and fundamental reform.

General Allen has pointed on the huge gap in between theoretic dialogue and real everyday life. He notices magnificent job of UAE and leadership in the fight against Daesh. He added that the US strategic disengagement in the region nowadays does not mean countries that reform will not receive US helping hand at a later stage.

“United Arab Emirates contributed crucially to preventing Daesh from getting into Bagdad as well as to fighting terrorism and delivering counter messages.”
John Allen, President, The Brookings Institution

The speakers agreed that not intervening but strong partnership and cooperation with the US and Europe may bring strategic solutions.


11:00 AM One Size Does Not Fit All: Multispeed & Multishaped Union
Written by Wojciech Przybylski, Visegrad/Insight

Within the EU, there have been calls for greater unity and there are questions as to whether the recent elections in France, Germany, the V4 and the rest of the continent have suggested that this will be a possibility or not. But to Slovakia and Czechia, the main political battle stage will be the upcoming EU Parliamentary elections, EU budget talks, and the new EU Commission.

In a session chaired by The Economist’s Tom Nuttall, GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum provided one of those rare occasions in Central Europe to listen to a clear pro-EU message delivered by political leaders. Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Vice-President for Energy Union of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič.

“We have to stay united and fulfill promises we gave to our citizens.”
Peter Pellegrini, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic

The opening speech of Peter Pellegrini made clear that Slovakia has a resolute commitment to pursue deeper EU integration and build up on his country’s successful economic development as well as to meet the commitments of NATO and EU membership. In fact, both prime ministers underlined formidable economic performance of their countries.

Slovak Prime Minister reiterated that his renewed government is determined to contribute to deeper integration citing focus on finalising common free market. At the same time, he praised project of common currency and called for further efforts to achieve better management of national finances in order to ensure the stability of the eurozone.

Speakers agreed that the differentiated integration is a fact but it only encourages all parties in EU for utmost efforts to build up their pro-European agenda but even those statements varied in the degree of commitment, specifically when the eurozone membership was highlighted.

Visegrad Group has been praised in respect to coordination on the Multiannual Financial Framework negotiations. To the leaders of the region, it is obvious that talks on the EU budget will be linked to EU policies on asylum, migration, and Schengen and this will put a lot of pressure on the process.

In his opening speeches, Andrej Babis suggested that Europe works towards the Ellis Island model and that the V4 functions well by resisting relocation programs. He pledged that Czechia and regional partners want to be active members and want to be taken seriously. Regretting Brexit, he reminded that the UK was a strategic ally for Central Europe. He opposed the Spitzenkandidat and stronger role of EU institutions in Brussels calling for more say for member countries in the EU Council. By contrast to his Slovak neighbour, Czechia feels no pressure on joining the eurozone from other member states, he concluded.

“Visegrad countries want to be part of Europe, we do want to be taken seriously and contribute effectively in working on issues. Europe needs a reform and we do support it.”
Andrej Babiš, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

In the debate, Peter Pellegrini teased his Czech colleague that if the next Spitzenkandidat were to be Slovak or Czech then he would fully support this method. He also pledged that by 2020 Slovakia will achieve balanced budget and it does its homework by delivering on its EU and NATO commitments.

“In the EU, we should seek progress in every sector while preserving unity.”
Maroš Šefčovič, Vice President for the Energy Union, European Commission


You can watch the session here.


9:00 AM Facing Cyber Futures
Written by: Galan Dall Visegrad/Insight

We have made huge progress in this area, but still, around 140 countries in the world are not at any table discussing cyber security. Huge parts of their populations are already online, but governments have no idea how to protect them. Therefore, digitally advanced nations need to stop looking at each other and start inviting other countries which have no to little security.

“Cybersecurity is being recognized now as part of national security.”
Marina Kaljurand, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Estonia; Chair, Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace

Cyber security is a bit of a misnomer, cyber resilience would be more appropriate and would more accurately describe what is possible in terms of shoring up our defences.

Each country needs to decide where they want to be in the next five years and evaluate what the associated risks are with those stated aims. This is essential because if you do not know what your goals are, you have blind risks. China is one example of a country that does this well. It has transparent goals which have been enumerated on several occasions, and they are able to direct scientific discovery and achievements towards these stated goals while simultaneously placing added protection on these specific areas.

Unfortunately, democracies have the most difficulty dealing with digital risk because of the necessary debate and bureaucracy which slows down the process. To be affective, governments need to act quickly and efficiently.

Internet of things is both a growing area and one that is the most vulnerable. Ideas like resilient programming are starting to join the dialogue, but the truth is with 1 billion lines of code there will always be errors that could be exploited.

“We have to fundamentally change the way we teach computer science. We should teach how to code responsibly,”
Melissa Hathaway, Senior Adviser, Cybersecurity Initiatives, Harvard Kennedy School

The problem is developers do not have money to secure products, so can the corporate world self-regulate and make the market still open to new (capital-starved) entrepreneurs? The answer is yet to be known.

Eventually, the insurance companies will have to write policies for digital behaviour, but the cost associated with them might (currently) be too prohibitive for the market.

Added to that the complication that certain products, driving by AI, will change once the developer sells them to the consumer. The question is who is responsible: the developer, the consumer? It is a problem the insurance market will have to solve.

You can watch the session here.


9:00 AM New Days, New Threats: Adapting NATO’s Strategy

Since the Warsaw summit, NATO members have committed more funds to developing their military and security framework. However, it is time to adapt NATO’s overall strategy to meet the new threats facing the alliance today.

Based on audience poll to kick off the session, 67% of GLOBSEC community still considers NATO very relevant in meeting the 21st-century threats. On the other hand, NATO’s current capabilities fall short of the need to protect all the nations of the Alliance, which means we need to coordinate efforts to maximise their effect.

There is an upward trend regarding defence spending, 8 of NATO members are spending now above 2% of their GDP but most are still falling short of meeting their spending commitment. Moreover, few states spend 20% of the pledged 2% on modernisation as stipulated at the Alliance summit in Warsaw in 2016.

Ambassador Ildem has identified three important components of NATO – the Atlantic command guarding transatlantic sea lines North America and Europe, second is military mobility in Europe and third is about the creation of cyber operation centre.

NATO must also adapt to the new threats that materialised in recent years, in particular, the threat of terrorism, cyber and hybrid warfare. The upcoming NATO summit will deliver new reform of the command structure to meet these threats. Furthermore, NATO must work closely with the EU to deter against the threat of economic energy-related pressure from Russia on the Baltic States and other states in the Eastern flank.

“It is peaceful in the Baltics because we were successful in the Baltics. The same should be the case of the Southern flank.”
Jüri Luik, Minister of Defence of Estonia

Much attention during the debate has been on reinforcing the Eastern flank of the Alliance. There is no doubt that NATO would come to the defence of the Baltic States in case of a Russian attack. However, it is important that the southern flank is also adequately reinforced. NATO must do more to work with partners in the South, in particular, Jordan and Tunisia. This work is essential to the Alliance counter-terrorism effort. Turkey is particularly exposed to the threat of terrorism. Iraq is keen to have more NATO training missions.

“We need to have a proper cooperation with other partners to join the forces countering terrorism.”
Tacan Ildem, Assistant Secretary-General for Public Diplomacy, NATO

“Decision speed is a key essential in the future of NATO.”
Philip Breedlove, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe

NATO presence in the Black Sea is not substantial enough. Turkey’s interpretation of the Montreux convention tends to be too limited to allow for boosting NATO presence.