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The greatest challenge is that EU Member States have different notions of the future

At the forum, Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Slovakian prime ministers Bohuslav Sobotka, Viktor Orbán, Beata Szydło and Robert Fico primarily discussed the crises affecting the European Union, stressing the role of the V4 in finding solutions to these problems.

According to Hungary’s head of government, in relation to the future of Europe there are two markedly different notions, which the example of the migration crisis makes very clear. According to one notion, the world is facing huge mass migration which cannot be prevented, so we must concern ourselves with managing it; according to the other notion, Europe is capable of preventing uncontrolled migration at its borders.

Photo: Balázs Szecsődi
Photo: Balázs Szecsődi

“Europe is powerful enough, wealthy enough and experienced enough to have suficient strength to say: ‘no matter what global migrations begin – for instance, from the South – nobody may enter our continent, our world, without control and without special permission’”, Mr. Orbán said. “Accordingly, we do not want to incorporate migration into our lives, but instead want to curb it, to bring it under control and to exclude it from our lives for as long as possible”, he declared.

Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka said that migration is one of the greatest problems facing Europe today, but he expressed his firm belief that it will not lead to the collapse of the European Union, adding that in his view increasing populism and public frustration represent a much greater danger. Mr. Sobotka said that he believes the solution can be found in reinforcing trust between Member States, continuous dialogue and increasing solidarity.

Mr. Orbán expanded the list with three further crises. Firstly he spoke about the fact that since 2008 the Western elite has been incapable of underpinning its policies with economic success, and as a result a crisis of legitimacy has developed in Europe: people can no longer identify with the policies of the elite. Secondly he mentioned the crisis of Western democracy, because there is a huge gap between how the elite and the general public view the situation. According to Mr. Orbán, the third crisis is the failure of European foreign policy, based on the export of democracy. “We intervened in Iraq, Syria and Libya, but these states do not exist today; we have to all intents and purposes dismantled them. This is precisely one of the reasons why many people have lost hope”, the Hungarian prime minister highlighted.

Slovakian prime minister Robert Fico declared that there is currently a danger of “fragmentation” within the European Union. “At the moment there is a greater chance of fragmentation than of deeper integration”, Mr. Fico said.

Photo: Balázs Szecsődi
Photo: Balázs Szecsődi

Polish head of government Beata Szydło stressed that the splitting up of the European Union into smaller groups and “coalitions” was unacceptable. “Europe needs dialogue and we must listen to what every Member State has to say”, she said. The Czech prime minister added that Prague will be initiating a debate on the future of the European Union. “I highly appreciate the Czech presidency’s proposal to hold a Central European debate, and it is within this dimension that we are attempting to understand our European future”, Mr. Orbán noted.

Following the public discussion, the prime ministers left the Hradčany, Prague’s Castle District, for the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where they held a V4 Summit at which the Czech Republic symbolically handed over the rotating presidency of the regional coalition to Poland. The Czech Republic has been President of the Visegrád Group since July 2015 and the office will be held by Poland for the upcoming twelve-month period beginning on 1 July 2016.

At the press conference following the summit, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán stressed that “This has been the most difficult twelve months in the history of the cooperation of the Visegrád countries and the V4 has come out of this difficult and complicated year all the stronger for it.” Mr. Orbán thanked the V4 – and particularly the Czech prime minister – for helping Hungary handle the migration crisis during the past year and for standing by the Hungarian administration in its political disputes with the European Union.

According to Mr. Orbán, the V4 is a success story and is currently the engine of economic growth within the EU. “Without the V4 there is no economic growth in the European Union: there is only stagnation, or decline”, he highlighted.

The four prime ministers unanimously declared the Czech presidency a success and praised the planned programme of the Polish presidency.

In a joint statement issued following the summit, the V4 prime ministers rejected the distribution of refugees based on quotas and called for the stronger protection of Schengen borders. Their joint standpoint is that the compulsory resettlement of refugees would only create a further incentive for migration and divide the Member States of the European Union.

The four countries of the Visegrád Group would like the United Kingdom to remain a member of the European Union and they think it is important for NATO and the EU to effect tighter cooperation to assure the security of the Baltic States.

The V4 supports Ukraine’s efforts to stabilise the country’s security situation, a prerequisite of which is the settlement of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine; the group maintains that the European Union should allow Ukrainian citizens visa-free entry.