Nowak for Warsaw Business Journal: “Visegrad Group makes life easier”

Come February 15, few Czechs, Hungarians, Poles and Slovaks will consider themselves “Homo Visegradicus,” as Hungarian historian Róbert Kiss Szemán optimistically termed it. But as it turns 20, the Visegrad Group (V4) might have a chance to renew its sense of purpose.

It is generally agreed that after a slow start the group helped to coordinate the four countries’ accession to NATO (in 2004 for Slovakia and 1999 for the others) and to the EU (in 2004). But once the task of integrating into the Western alliances was completed, the organization found itself without a concrete reason for being.

Uncertainty in Europe and concern about the relevance of NATO might provide just the right environment for a renewed sense of purpose, argued Marko Papic of American intelligence firm STRATFOR.

“Because of this uncertain geopolitical situation in Europe we see a lot of geopolitical groups emerging, or, in the case of the Visegrad Group, reemerging,” he said.
According to him, there are three principal areas where cooperation between the V4 states could bear fruit: energy, defense and European policy.

But while the V4 nations have recently issued a common declaration to reduce dependence on Russian gas and aim to present a united view to the EU, it is not clear exactly how energy cooperation will materialize. Some projects cited by V4 nations, such as Poland’s LNG facility, are planned for local consumption rather than export. Others, such as the Nabucco pipeline, remain in the concept phase.

It is also unclear if steps taken by the group to enhance security cooperation are backed by sufficient political will to succeed.

Even if the group does not make big political waves, it provides a useful platform for cooperation within the EU on practical matters such as energy and environmental issues, according to Bartłomiej Nowak, executive director of Warsaw’s Center for International Relations.

“It does make life easier,” he said.

But one of the Visegrad Group’s most enduring problems, said Mr Papic, is that it is not composed of equals. Poland, with a population larger than the other three countries combined, inevitably dominates the alliance. And just how much Warsaw is willing to work at overcoming divergent national interests remains to be seen.

From Warsaw Business Journal by Alice Trudelle