Bratislava, 22 January: The region needs a common vision to unleash its potential and make itself more heard in Brussels, say Reflection Group members who introduced and discussed the demosEuropa and CEPI’s report “Central Europe Fit for the Future” in Bratislava during the first instalment of the international series of panel discussions.

Ten years after their EU accession, the Visegrad Four countries can no longer rely on outside help and must set their own agenda. “It is high time for Central Europe to act and high time for the EU to listen to the region,” said Milan Nič, director of the Bratislava-based Central European Policy Institute (CEPI) as he introduced the report in Bratislava on Wednesday.

The report, initiated and drafted by the CEPI and Polish think-tank demosEuropa, is the outcome of a year-long work of the CEEU project’s High Level Reflection Group comprising the region’s leading officials and opinion-makers. It brings twelve practical recommendations for the Central European decision-makers.

The Bratislava session was the first event in the international discussion series about the report and hosted Milan Nič, Paweł Świeboda, president of demosEUROPA; Peter Javorčík, State Secretary at the Slovak Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs; Rainer Münz, Head of Research at Erste Group Bank; Edward Lucas, Senior Editor with The Economist & Senior Associate of CEPI; and Katarína Mathernová, Senior Adviser at The World Bank in Brussels.

Discussing the report’s topics from boosting the natural regional role of Austria, lacking interconnecting infrastructure, and Roma population issues, the panellists called for leadership in developing common regional policies that would transcend individual national interests and differences.

They pointed out to the Nordic countries as an example of a very diverse group that includes the NATO members and neutral countries, EU and non-EU members, Eurozone and non-euro countries, not to mention their mutual past animosities and colonial relationship. Central Europe, long integrated within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, shares similar histories and there is no reason why it could not achieve similar levels of regional cooperation. There is even a potential, the panellists noted, to foster cooperation among various geographical regions in Europe.

Crucially, though, the Central European initiative should be viewed as a regional cooperation complementing the European Union framework. “It is not us versus them,” said Milan Nič. “Central European cooperation is good for both the region and the entire EU.”

The region, the report argues, is the 15th largest world economy and has the potential to grow faster. However, 10 years after the EU accession, it should no longer rely on foreign investments and cheap labour to generate growth and should take a more proactive approach.

The Bratislava event will be followed by presentations in Warsaw (23 January, 2:30PM), and in Brussels (29 January, 8:30AM) co-organised with the think-tank Bruegel.

Members of the Reflection Group are: Josef Christl, Founder & Manager, Macro-Consult, Vienna; Danuta Hübner, Chair of the Regional Development Committee in the European Parliament (and former EU Commissioner for Regional Policy), Brussels; Peter Javorčík, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (MFEA) of the Slovak Republic; Milan Ježovica, Consultant, M.E.S.A. 10 (and former State Secretary of MFEA), Bratislava; Ivan Krastev, Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, and Permanent Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna; Roman Kuźniar, Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of the Republic of Poland; Edward Lucas, Senior Editor, The Economist, London; Katarína Mathernová, Senior Adviser, The World Bank, Brussels; Henryka Mościcka-Dendys, Undersecretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland; Rainer Münz, Head of Research and Knowledge Center, Erste Group Bank AG, Vienna; Milan Nič, Head of Programmes, CEPI, Bratislava; Jiří Schneider, First Deputy Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic; Réka Szemerkényi, Chief Advisor on Foreign and Security Policy, Office of the Prime Minister of Hungary; Martin M. Šimečka, Editor of Respekt news magazine, Prague; Paweł Świeboda, President of demosEUROPA – Centre for European Strategy, Warsaw