Central Europe Activ

I find it a very interesting and also important question to see how similar are the Visegrad countries, i.e. the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia compared to other EU or Eastern-European countries. The more similarities we find in economic performance or structure, or in economic decision, the more likely that the group will share common interests, and it makes more economic and political sense to act as a group against other countries. However, if one or two EU member states are more similar to their other neighbors, they will have a motivation to undermine the V4 group. With my colleagues we are working in such a comprehensive study. We have found some instances, where the Visegrad countries are the most alike in the whole Europe, including non-EU members, but there are very important differences.

Regarding GDP per capita adjusted for the price level, the most important indicator in the EU to assess the development of a country shows that the V4 countries have been in a rather similar economic situation in the 1990s and 2000s. However, Central-European countries could have formed a more similar group. In 1999 the Czech Republic was a positive outlier from the group with a higher income level. Substituting the Czech Republic with Lithuania, we could have got a more homogeneous economic group which would have been continuous in a geographical sense. Further changing Lithuania to Estonia we would have got an even more homogeneous group.

More results and updates here.

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  1. Visegrad Group is not just a group of “similar” states. VG was created 2 years after collapse of the Soviet colonial empire in 1989. 3 states (later 4) realized that they are in very similar historical situation and facing similar challenges: transition post-communist economy into market economy, establishing free trade area (CEFTA), and accession to NATO and EU and Schengen area. This implied an alliance of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary (although some suggested that more natural would be union among Austria, Slovenia, Czechoslovakia and Hungary in relation to the former Austria-Hungary Empire looong time ago). Anyway, all mentioned goals were already achieved and many predicted that this would mean the end of Visegrad Group. But oops! new challenges have arisen and VG realized that there are new challenges and common interests, that were sometimes hard to address in the EU diplomacy:
    1) energy policy: dependence on Russian gas is a problem for central europe, whereas the “Old Europe” does not care so much because they are supplied from other sources, besides countries like Germany have stronger position in trade negotiations with Russia.
    2) lobbying in EU against protectionism and other disfavorable conditions created by some western states. The problem is, that you are not given much credit if you are a small state from the far east.
    3) common security policy, as Russia repeatedly and publicly displays its interest in recreation of its “sphere of influence” in central/eastern europe. This includes espionage affairs, economic pressure, public opinion manipulation campaigns, corrupting politicians, military excersises simulating invasion on Poland and such. The “Old Europe” (especially France, Germany and Italy), on the other hand, do not want to confront Russia in any way.
    4) promoting solidarity in the region, EU and NATO membership for eastern states and Balkans, and projects like the Eastern Partnership.

    Lately, Visegrad group meetings are attended by other states, most importantly Romania, Bulgaria and Baltic states. Reason for Visegrad group is anchored in facing the same challenges, sharing the common history, being treated similarly by others, having similar goals and similar worldviews.
    Speaking about cultural ties, there is strong similarity in languages, namey Czech, Slovak and also Polish, however, English is widely accepted as international language in all central/eastern europe.

  2. I’m trying to research if the Visegrad Group is merely a historical co-incidence or more. I think that in 1993 this was a logical group and nobody question it if it is optimal, or feasible in the long run. For me it seems that it would make sense if the it were bigger and included the Baltic States and Croatia, or possibly even Slovenia.

    Saying this, I also have to add that the V4 has not acted as a group until 2009 and since their EU accession they had very divergent policies.

    The challenges that Vanesa recalls are shared with all former Communist transition countries. It is also important to bear in mind that Slovakia is outright hostile to Hungary and suspicious of the Czech Republic which makes any political co-operation very difficult.

  3. When I read some more about your report, I realized it was actually not suggesting V4 as organization based just upon similarities of the countries, which was my first impression when you wrote about substituting countries with different ones:) But you are right in that similarity and culture may eventually be the deciding factor if V4 cooperation may “survive” the EU integration.
    I also agree very much that broader cooperation among post-communist countries is desirable, it is in fact already running to some extent – most recent V4 meetings have participation of other countries like Baltics, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia etc. This “V4+ group” may prove essential in dealing especially with energy and security issues. It may be an opportunity to coordinate state’s positions and present them to the EU parliament (although it may be problematic because AFAIK regional alliances were sort of banned by Nice treaty, wasn’t it? Still, finding the least common denominator of interests of V4+ countries will be sometimes difficult, but the overal consensus backed by lot of EU countries is not to be ignored. The question is, how much agreement are we speaking about and how it will be put into reality.
    It is my personal opinion that economic performance may be misleading, all post-communist economies are still changing, some faster, some slower – in first years after czechoslovak breakup, Slovakia was doing poorly under Meciar’s government, but now it is the first V4 country having Euro currency (and more importantly, being able to have it). On the other hand, Hungary+Latvia were more affected by the economic crisis than the other post-communist countries. Politics do change every 4 years and so does the economy go better or worse a little and none of V4 countries is going to became fully developed country overnight.
    However, I do find quite interesting and important to study “national alliances” and “national rivalries” – good relations are between CZ+SK (yes they are) and PL+HU, but problematic is SK+HU, although I would definitely disgagree with describe them as “outright hostile”… such are only some particular political groups… Interesting point is that CZ+SK is more oriented towards former Yugoslavia and Romania, PL more towards Baltic states and Ukraine, Hungary towwards (? correct me) Bulgaria and Croatia. Also it might be good to focus on broader look at long term foreign interests and bilateral relations of each respective CEE country. When a bilateral partnership with some big country (e.g. Germany, France, Russia) is more important than regional cooperation in V4, then the unity is broken.
    Finally, I’d like to say that Euro-sceptic and Visegrad-sceptic CZ president Klaus will not be president forever and I hope that V4 project is far from over:)

  4. Dear Vanes Sirac,

    Thank you for your extensive comments. I’d be honored if you’d edited this and sent me to be posted on this blog, Hugo Lane’s guest post came out also as a reformulation of two extensive comments. My mail is adaniel …. at….. freemail.hu

    The analysis will come out soon in a new peer reviewed periodical, if you let me know your details I will send you a copy.

  5. Dear Daniel,

    Could you please send me your paper? Or, if it’s been published in a peer reviewed periodical, reference information?

    I am a professor at CEU in Budapest and am interested in your research findings re: the homogeneity of the Visegrad group.

    Many thanks in advance,

    Jan

  6. Dear Daniel,

    Would it be possible for you to send me your paper on “the homogenity of the Visegrad group”?Or, if it’s been published in a peer reviewed periodical, reference information?

    I am a student of international relations at the University of Economics in Prauge, currently working on my master’s thesis on Visegrad countries and
    I would appreciate leraning more about your findings.

    Thank you,

    Katarina

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