EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

There is no doubt that the European Union has found itself in a quarrel with the rising illiberal democracies of Central-Eastern Europe. Brought to the forefront by key developments that undermine the pillars of democracy in Hungary and Poland and highlighted further by the negotiations on the EU’s budget and the rule of law mechanism that applies to it, there has never been a clearer sign that the EU is again at odds with some of its newer member states.

It is clear that Hungary and Poland are allied in a sense, in which they support each other inside the EU’s framework, by vetoing any mechanisms that would have a large impact on the ruling government’s position and power distribution. Hence why both were against the Rule of Law mechanism and any sort of sanction on either of the two countries conditional on (further) democratic backsliding.

The democratic backsliding experienced in the two above mentioned countries is a dangerous precedent for the whole of the V4 as the former two are as heavily linked as Hungary and Poland, yet they do not try to commit the same moves as Hungary or Poland do. At least, not usually.

Recently, the EU budget veto presented by Poland and Hungary at the EU Council showed a slight fragmentation of the V4, as Czechia and Slovakia showed clear disagreements with the positions of their fellow allies.

If nothing else, it is evident that the V4 is not a strong, but rather a loose alliance of states that share a certain tradition, a common history and culture. Nevertheless, aside from positions on some niche topics, such as migration, the bloc is neither homogenous nor has a strong impact when it comes to politics, especially with regards to the EU. As an example, one could mention the fact that Slovakia adopted the euro before its neighbours, whose economies are stronger.

Similarly, while Hungary and Poland are adopting anti-LGBT positions due to their rather strong adherence to far-right extremism and Catholicism respectively, while Czechia is mulling the adoption of same-sex marriage.

So how come that the V4 has not dissolved yet despite obvious incongruences and differences? There is clearly a dissonance in the politics and regimes within it. Perhaps the governments of Slovakia and Czechia fear that without a strong regional backing akin to what the Nordic states or BeNeLux states enjoy, they would become irrelevant. Smaller states matter less without support, just like small political parties matter less when they are outside a coalition.

And this is just one of the many reasons why the V4 still exists. In certain ways, there is a strong regional cooperation, but to talk of an impact in the sphere of politics, that is less evident, as each state has its unique approach. As far as the future of the alliance is concerned, the upcoming Czech elections will potentially have a strong impact on whether the V4 will diverge further in policies and approaches, or further consolidate given the widening societal polarization during the pandemic.

Obviously, Hungary will look towards friendlier relations with the east, as Orban is more willing to cooperate with Russia than the others. Poland, on the other hand, is keener on cooperating with the US, as it sees Russia as a threat to its interests. This is where there might be friction in the future between Hungary and Poland.

As for the final two members, Czechia is rather happy in going its own way. Czechia has some history of Euroscepticism, which might or might not become an issue further down the line. On the other hand, Slovakia is very pro-EU, what with having adopted the euro, but as always, there are certain issues within the country, like corruption, which make it out in a less positive light than any other western European country.

Clearly, all of the V4s members are unique in some ways, while they also have many things in common. One point of content might be the EU’s green agenda, which would like to see all states go carbon neutral by 2050, however, states such as Poland are still heavily reliant on carbon, while the rest of the V4 has made and will make investments into greener energies such as nuclear. However, this might also change in the future as Poland has made a deal with the US (of course) to construct a nuclear power plant. This just highlights one thing – which is the fact that despite having diverse agendas, there are still areas, where the V4 needs to act in unison – namely EU affairs. Just like the EU’s motto states, all states are diverse, but ultimately, they’re united, and that is doubly true for the V4.

Márk Szabó


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