On June 13 2016, the GLOBSEC Policy Institute held a policy debate Visegrad Puzzle- Views from Central Europe in cooperation with the European Policy Centre in Brussels supported by the International Visegrad Fund . The briefing was organized to promote a series of text blogs published within the framework of the project “A View from Central Europe” whose main goal is to intensify policy dialogue between V4 and Brussels-based opinion-makers. Milan Nič, Research Director at GLOBSEC Policy Institute, Adam Balcer, Project Manager for Eurasia program at WiseEuropa Institute, Dániel Bartha, Executive Director at Center for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy, and Martin Michelot, Head of Research at Europeum Institute for European Policy presented the views from Central Europe on today`s most contentious EU topics including Brexit, the Union’s response to the migration/refugee crisis, the leadership role of Germany, as well as the prospects for relations with Russia. The debate was chaired by Janis A. Emmanouilidis, Director of Studies at European Policy Centre.
The panelists agreed that regardless of its outcome, the UK referendum will affect EU politics in Central Europe, not to mention the extent to what it is going to shape both the context and priorities of Slovakia’s EU Council Presidency beginning July 1 2016. In the event of Brexit, the V4 countries will lose their ally who is strongly promoting the prioritization of these topics in EU policies. Brexit would also put into an uncertain position hundreds of thousands of citizens from the Central European member states who live in the UK, with their future status remaining unclear. A potential leave vote could also decide the upcoming Slovak EU presidency that would preside over a divided Council with no pre-written template for dealing with London’s exit. This situation would put many plans for the Council Presidency on the back burner. Dealing with issues such as the EU budget or the digital single market could become a daunting task in light of UK`s exit from the EU.
Visegrad`s response to the migration crisis portrayed the V4 region as a black sheep of deepening EU internal disunity. It is often argued that Central Europe is one group of countries favoring a fragmented Europe. However, the reality is much more complex and nuanced than this black and white image conveyed in Brussels and other EU capitals. This perception of the region is linked to a lack of understanding of its internal dynamics, political position within the EU, and heavy dependence on EU trade and investment. The main issue in the region is not migration, that is often misused in populist rhetoric, but access to wealth. In relation to the migration crisis, Slovakia might want to distance itself from Visegrad and focus on issues where is some consensus among EU members to challenge the recent stereotyping of the region.
Regarding the leadership role of Germany, there is no doubt that strong economic linkages will govern future V4 – Germany relations. In face of the migration crisis, the previous period, which seemed to consist of fruitful cooperation between Berlin and its new partners in the Visegrad Group, appeared to be over. To ease political tension, a focus must be put on the issues of cooperation that can translate into mutually beneficial outcomes and provide new building blocks for our relationship. After UK`s divorce from Brussels is completed, gravitation forces within the EU might move to Germany-dominated countries. This shift might, however, trigger varying responses across the Visegrad region.
The clash over the migration crisis has revived the East-West drift that will remain, not evaporate. The upcoming Mid-term review of the EU budget and pressures to introduce cuts to the EU Cohesion Fund will be the next battles to test fragile European unity.