Vyshegrad Group - new dimention?

Vyshegrad Group - new dimention?

By Gabor Stier

At the beginning of March a joint meeting of ministers for foreign affairs of the countries from the Vyshegrad Group (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) and member states of the European Union program ‘Eastern Partnership’ (Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine) is to be held in Budapest. Participation of their colleagues from the EU presiding ‘troika’ – Spain, Great Britain and Hungary – is also expected.

Given meeting is one more confirmation of the fact that Vyshegrad Group (V4) last time more and more actively strives for occupying some niche on the map of united Europe. Though on a large scale the epoch of continental formats of communities of states has come already, regional alliances united by common history, close strategic problems and systems of values still remain to be urgent.

Until now there was no information what the specific goal of this event is to be. However, taking into consideration its composition it is possible to suppose that members of the Vyshegrad Group intend to share their experience of convergence with the EU.

Having successfully realized their program – entering the European Union and NATO – this intergovernmental association is actively involving Eastern neighbors in the sphere of its interests. The obvious example is Ukraine. Consensus always existed among V4 countries concerning necessity of further developing cooperation with it, and support of public and expert community just with respect to it was particularly high.

Kiev, for its part, until recently also considered strengthening various relationships with the Vyshegrad Group as an opportunity to accelerate its integration into the European structures. As far back as in September 2000 the Ukrainian side has initiated dialogue in a format ‘V4+Ukraine’ in order to use the experience and authority of the association for moving forward its eurointegrational aspirations.

Last years cooperation of Ukraine with V4 was consisted of maintaining active political dialogue, interaction in military-political sphere, as well as in the sphere of state management and on educational issues. For instance, since 2007 representatives of Kiev took part in meetings of the Chiefs of General Staff. In 2008 Ukrainian Minister of Defense of the Yuri Ekhanurov has declared: "I would like very much the ‘Vyshegrad four’ to be transformed into the ‘Vyshegrad five’.

Аnd in the end of the last year Head of Principal Service on international cooperation issues of the of the President of Ukraine Secretariat N.Tochickiy had a meeting with directors of political departments of foreign ministries of the Vyshegrad Group member states. The participants have agreed with reasonability of intensifying interactions on questions of mutual interest. Therewith the Ukrainian side has noted that cooperation with the Vyshegrad countries is one of the most productive formats of cooperation of Ukraine with the EU and NATO member states in the context of integration into these structures.

Certain interaction took place with other ‘Eastern Partnership’ (EP) members as well. On December 1, 2009 within the framework of the OSCE Council of ministers’ 17th session in Athens the first meeting of the Council of foreign secretaries of GUAM and Vyshegrad Group was held. The sides have discussed the prospects of development of bilateral cooperation and exchanged opinions with respect to their proposals in the spheres of mutual interest, including transferring experience of Vyshegrad countries in developing regional cooperation and integration into the EU and NATO, preparing diplomatic personnel of GUAM member states, presenting GUAM joint tourist product.

GUAM has also expressed its interest in developing cooperation within the framework of flag initiatives of the EP concerning integrated border control, prevention, readiness and reaction to emergency situations of natural and anthropogenic nature, development of regional energy markets and energy effectiveness, assistance to small and medium business, as well as cooperation in the field of transport.

Hypothetically V4 could become an example for the EP members how to carry out the policy with respect to the European Union should there they have a purpose to join it. Maybe one could even speak about something like Vyshegrad Group-2.

However in this case the analogy obviously limps. Firstly, at the moment of creation of the Vyshegrad Group all its members had absolutely clear common yearning to return to the European community. It was shared both by authorities and overwhelming majority of societies. So the Vyshegrad Group was set up for the purpose of coordinating the EU ascension. Besides that they were united also by aspiration to secure themselves from unpredictable Russia.

Eastern Partnership is aimed at extended and intensified interaction with the European Union, and its participants are only trying to find their place in this process. Moreover each of them has its own and on top of everything not firm notions.   

Viktor-Yanukovych Thus, for the moment only Georgia is unambiguously keeps its course to the full-scale European integration. Election of Viktor Yanukovich as a new president of Ukraine has made doubtful its former similar aspirations. Just opposite, after known last year events Moldova is beginning its motion towards united Europe.

Two other Caucasian countries – Azerbaijan and Armenia – for different reasons are not striving for such a variant. As for Belarus, its authorities absolutely evidently would like to limit themselves solely by expansion of economic cooperation, leaving apart unacceptable for them questions of sharing common values.

Besides, each of the EP countries has its own position with respect to Russian Federation, the difference between them being very great. In Georgia it is openly hostile, in Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Moldova – careful, while Belarus and Armenia generally are Moscow allies.

Finally, the EP members have nothing similar to the V4 old history of mutual political relations and cultural communications, cognate geopolitical position and, correspondingly, common geopolitical challenges, close system of values, civilizational priorities and traditions of joint solving strategic problems.

It’s a pity since common policy towards the EU would increase their geopolitical weight in its eyes.

Nevertheless all these differences could be sooner or later overcome should the European Union clearly demonstrated its readiness of principle to accept the EP partners at condition, provided, naturally, that they fulfill the Copenhagen criteria, which it has established itself.

If the EU will not unite the continent into democratic system with market economy, its moral authority will be questioned, and Europe will be neither stable, nor peaceful. But for this it is necessary that attitude to those of its Eastern neighbors who sincerely wants to become a part of such system, to be the same as in due course to the Vyshegrad Group member states.

However both leaders of the principal countries and the EU official persons constantly affirm that the EP program is not a step to membership. As a result it looks more a palliative than sincere desire to involve its participants into real integration processes. And it endangers their political, economic and social stability.

Therefore it is difficult to expect that agenda of the forthcoming meeting will go beyond certain purely economic questions. The aforementioned EU representatives will probably keep an eye on it.

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