July 1, 2022

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From rule of law to energy: The Siege of Visegrad is broken

Our cooperation is weak. One month after its 31st anniversary, the words of the Czech Minister for European Affairs, Mikulas Beck, open a reflection within Visegrad . group. The diversity of viewpoints separating the Magnificent Four (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary) now goes beyond the common interests that, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, led to the signing of the alliance. Since 1993, when the group expanded after the split of Czechoslovakia, it has also been known as V4. In addition to strengthening their role and encouraging the entry of individual states into the European Union, the agreement provided for cooperation in the military, economic, energy and cultural fields. But if joining the G-27 has been a goal that has been achieved for some time and their decision-making weight has gradually strengthened, the current misunderstanding is about other aspects that are certainly not secondary.

Statements he made to the newspaper Economic newspaper By Minister Beck, nicknamed “Mr. Europe” for the avoidance of doubt, his country’s position was clarified. Regarding the rule of law, Prague has decided not to take the same path as Hungary and Poland. “It couldn’t be otherwise,” Beck ruled, given the illiberal shift imposed by Fidesz, Viktor Orban’s Hungarian party, and Pace, Mateusz Morawiecki’s Polish party. Instead, for Prague, the main route to follow should be that of Paris and Berlin. However, until the election of the leader of the Czech Odessa party, Peter Fiala, who took office in December, similar claims were out of the question. In the last elections, President Orban sponsored the election campaign of Andrej Babis, the former Czech president with whom relations were more than good. Therefore, it seems that Slovakia, with the election of Prime Minister Eduard Heger and the break with the populists, is the only one out of the four that still aligns with European standards. However, newly elected Czech Viala’s promise that he would not continue the same path as his predecessor has revitalized Bratislava.

However, the clash, with and within the group, erupted at the European Council in December 2020, while approving the multi-year budget and providing funds for post-Covid-19 recovery. Responding to requests from frugal countries to further strengthen the link between European resources and respect for the rule of law, Visegrad – particularly Poland and Hungary – responded, threatening to veto the final decision. Then the agreement was reached thanks to German mediation.

In particular, government interference in the judicial system was not of little interest in Brussels. The October 2020 Polish Constitutional Court ruling — which made abortion more difficult and which brought thousands of people onto the streets like no one had seen in thirty years — and the Hungarian anti-gay controversy last July, have been condemned. by European institutions as a distinctly illiberal degeneration and have had complex discussions about the recovery fund. In addition, the blame in Budapest did not stop there but also affected the opaque methods of how European money was spent and, in general, the endemic corruption. Doubts that led the European Commission to do so Slips Advance the next generation of the EU and threaten Poland with sanctions if it does not comply with EU laws. Incidentally, the Hungarian president intervened in support of Warsaw, calling Poland “the best country in Europe”, a definition that the other two members do not share.

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“When it comes to the rule of law, Slovaks and the Czech Republic are now somewhere other than Hungary and Poland,” said an official from Bratislava, emphasizing that “the two administrations have a strong interest in strengthening the EU, not undermining it.” So it looks like the alliance is about to be halved, but the alignment varies according to the theme.

Regarding the European Green Deal’s goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050, for example, opposition from Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary has been strong, while Slovakia has not hesitated to accept Brussels’ plans. Budapest does not depend on coal like the other two, but it passed the European package on to its residents as an attempt to thwart Hungarian interests. The other package, the “Fit x 55” package proposed by European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, would also destroy the European middle class and threaten its democracy in Urban.

However, the main concerns come from Prague and Warsaw. Two above all: the abandonment of coal, the driving force of these countries, and the fear of losing part of the CAP funds, to be allocated to the new European Green Project. For Poland, abandoning coal would mean redesigning the entire energy sector. Warsaw is more interested in leaving things as they are, and producing86% of those extracted in Europe. The Czech government of Andrej Babis was added to the government of Morawiecki, which at that time was still in a saddle position and above all to oppose any kind of money transfer and to protect the country’s two nuclear power plants. One of Babis’ last wishes in Europe was to block European efforts to find a solution to this issue, together with Poland. emissions trading of greenhouse gases.

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But only at the end of the year did tension escalate between Poland and the Czech Republic over the Toro mine, on the border between the two countries. For Prague, the lignite mining carried out by the Polish government will not respect environmental standards. In September, the European Court ordered Poland to pay a fine of 500,000 euros per day until the mine activities stop permanently. Prime Minister Morawiecki has already confirmed that this will not happen and today summoned the Polish ambassador from Prague, after his criticism of the mine management. Ambassador Miroslaw Jasinski admitted: “Let’s be honest, the reason for the dispute is the arrogance of some people. First of all, the management of the mine. Then there is the management of PGE – the main Polish state-controlled energy company – and light years later there are the ministries and the prime minister.”

In short, at the moment there is no good blood on the Prague – Warsaw axis. Not that everything always goes smoothly in Warsaw and Budapest. If Poland and Hungary are in fact at the same barrier to defending the inner workings from European interference, they seem too far from allies to choose. As with all countries of that region, when it comes to foreign relations, the first idea goes to Russia, which has an outdated relationship with Poland while Hungary tries to align itself more and more with the Kremlin’s thinking, despite the grievances of opposition parties wary of a shift in Brussels. . In fact, many similarities can be found between Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orban. It is clear in fact the desire of both of them to appear as a strong man capable of maintaining the security and prosperity of their homeland, and defending at any cost against external enemies trying to destabilize it and extinguish its culture.

In rejecting the European liberal model, Urban found a new one in the Russian one, also protected by the sword from external attacks. For the Hungarian president, the European tendency in the face of every problem is to blame Vladimir Putin, who is seen as responsible for all the evil, as evidenced by the Parole by the former German Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer. Whereas, for the German minister, Moscow is primarily responsible for the migration crisis on the Poland-Belarus border of another Hungarian friend, Aleksandr Lukashenko, for Orban, there is no trace of the Russian hand. Poland stands on a very different line, seeing Moscow as a threat, and Minsk as an accurate calculator for destabilizing the European Union. But at the same time, Moraviki’s government was accused by several illegal pushbacks and monopolizing the crisis to strengthen its domestic position.

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Moreover, with the constant energy crisis, Budapest completely threw itself into the hands of Moscow. L ‘an agreement Signed at the end of September with Russia’s Gazprom provides for a moratorium on 4.5 billion cubic meters per year for fifteen years: 3.5 billion cubic meters will come from Serbia and Turkey, and the rest from Austria and Germany, thus bypassing ‘Ukraine’. The fixed price was higher than the market price, but in this way, the Hungarian Foreign Minister assured, that heating in homes and the operation of industries would be guaranteed for a long period of time (2036). But the energy cooperation, which many see as more of a Budapest bow to Moscow than a true partnership, does not end there. In 2014, an agreement between Hungarians and Russians on nuclear energy – which instead Visegrad Group in Europe built Saying yes – it has allowed the capacity of the Paks plant to be increased. On the other hand, Poland has never hidden its dissatisfaction with Gazprom, which is accused of deliberately raising energy prices. When the taps were closed, the value of the fertilizer rose by 79%, putting many Polish farmers in a bind. The Czech Republic has sided with Poland, with MP Tomasz Zdechowski seeing “the need for more cooperation” to counter Moscow.

In the end, in the Visegrad group, everyone seems to be on their own, except for a few. With recent changes of government in Slovakia and, above all, in the Czech Republic with Babis’ farewell, Viktor Orbán appears even more isolated in the coalition, supported only by the Polish Law and Justice Party when it comes to supporting each other in the defense of repeated violations of state right.

However, Orbán does not appear to be concerned. For him there is no division, but only “friction”. In December, he also explained the motivation at a press conference, noting that “of the four Visegrad countries, three are not members of the eurozone” while one, Slovakia is increasingly linked to Brussels. For this reason, the relations between each individual country are different. For the Hungarian president, the differences are part of the game, and therefore: not exactly the best for the future of the Visegrad group, which is now waiting for the Hungarian elections scheduled for April to understand what direction the country will take, and if so, whether to bring them all together again.