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Corvinus Master Lecturer Delivers Keynote Speech at 1st Visegrad Conference

Christopher Walsch of the Institute of International, Political and Regional Studies delivered the keynote speech at the 1st Visegrad Conference held online on 3-4 June.

Christopher Walsch of the Institute of International, Political and Regional Studies delivered the keynote speech at the 1st Visegrad Conference held online on 3-4 June.


1st Visegrad Conference

3rd and 4th of June 2021
Venue: online (zoom)
Institute of World Economics
Centre for Economic and Regional Studies
Hungarian Academy of Sciences
The programme of the conference is available at http://www.vki.hu/news/news_1644.html

Christopher Walsch: The Central Europe of the Visegrad Group. Achievements and deficiencies of an emerging actor in the European Union

Keynote speech, June 3rd, 10:35-11:35 hours


Introduction: research question, hypothesis
1 The Visegrad states in NATO and EU: historic achievements
2 Visegrad cooperation 2004 to 2014 and beyond: agendas of regional interests
3 Since 2015: power struggles between “Brussels” and national capitals
4 Eroding credibility and missed chances: deficiencies of V4 cooperation
Conclusion: don’t break the camel’s neck – V4 in the European Union in the 2020s

Societies in the four Visegrad states (V4) gained political freedom in 1989 and with it legitimate and accountable governments that can be democratically controlled. Economically the transformation to market economies came at a high price: recession and stabilisation in the early and mid-1990s was followed by economic growth of which mainly few well-connected domestic in-group elites and foreign capital owners profited. The bulk of labour and the retired impoverished. The prospect of and eventual membership first in NATO and then in the EU, which became a reality after a mere ten to fifteen years into the transformation, were the overwhelming strategic goals that could be realised. The severe economic hardships of half a generation of citizens in the V4 states are paying off since 2004 and have done so with increasing speed and volume in the 2010s. It is likely that in the 2020s an upcoming generation in V4 states even more so can reap the rewards of past economic hardships and of being integrated into Euro-Atlantic structures.

This contribution asks to which extent and in which ways V4 states were successful in achieving their aims of integrating into European structures. Could they realise aims of economic modernisation, of development and welfare for their citizens after a good fifteen years of EU membership? What is the role of the Visegrad Four regional cooperation scheme in this respect?

The argument will be developed on the basis of the following hypotheses. On the level of the international institutional setting, V4 profits from strong external stabilisation through the NATO and EU frame. NATO provides the indispensable security and the EU provides substantial and reliable cohesion budgets that cut across election cycles. At the same time V4 governments have a near free hand in all policy areas and spending due to a toothless sanctions regime on behalf of (NATO and) the EU. Such encourages freeriding policies of members. Domestically, individual V4 states remain at the front edge of being cost-competitive within the EU. V4 governments adhere to the capitalist logic of the internal market. Three of the four continue to use a sovereign monetary policy as a tool in this respect. Despite EU cohesion funding, which continually and reliably supports national V4 budgets in the area of four to five percent of an annual GDP over a long period of time (2013-2020 and 2021-2027), V4 societies continue to struggle with partly poor infrastructures, partly poor state services in education and health, marginalisation of peripheral rural areas, with state-capture of corruption accused elites and democratic backsliding, which combined result in lower welfare and emigration.

The regional format Visegrad Group operates at an internal-external interface. The cooperation format boosts common external interests and remedies some domestic shortcomings. Both aims are reached in the given EU frame. Since 2004 a constructive role, a veto playing role, and a dimension of missed chances can be differed. First, Visegrad cooperation partly plays a constructive role in policy areas which have an external dimension (e.g., a heightened V4 profile vis-à-vis other regions within or beyond Europe) or which relate to transnational issues (e.g., the development of infrastructures that cross borders). Second, the Visegrad cooperation format has achieved an important veto-player role in the EU in identity-relevant high-politics policy areas, e.g., the stance towards a common refugee and migration policy. Third, Visegrad cooperation can be perceived as a format of missed chances since accession of the four countries to the EU in 2004. Non-existent coordination in important economic policy areas related to the role of labour and the Single Market contributed to the continued relative weakness of the four states in the face of international capital.

In conclusion this contribution states that current V4 states’ governments enjoy full EU budget support for the time of at least the next two upcoming national elections in every one of the four countries. At the same time, they struggle domestically with decreasing accountability and with problems of an EU-wide (ir-)relevance, which some of their governments created themselves. Whether V4 states can avoid marginalisation within the EU depends domestically on the scope of V4 states’ veto policies, and in the EU as a whole mainly on the stance of Germany and the extent to which euro sceptical parties (among them the governing parties of Hungary and Poland) cooperate in the likely future.

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GEN.:2024.06.13. - 21:09:27