What key stakeholders within Visegrad Group think

by Cristian Florescu

Key Visegrad Group (Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) stakeholders see Germany as an important bilateral partner and want the EU to expand further south and east. They are also more hopeful about prospects for better relations with the United States since the election of Joe Biden but remain largely wary of China, write english.radio.cz

The “Trends of Visegrad Foreign Policy” survey has been compiled every two years since 2015. Its purpose is to attempt to determine whether a common Visegrad Group (V4) foreign-policy identity can be identified, or at least where the interests of these four states intersect.

This year the survey drew from the responses of nearly 500 people working in business, politics, journalism, the civil service, political analysis and other related disciplines, who are each working in one of the four Visegrad member states. This makes up for an altogether very specific segment of society within these states. However, one that is arguably also especially influential when it comes to these questions. Czechs and Slovaks made up for a majority of responses and most of the respondents came from the civil service (39 per cent) and researcher/analyst sectors (29 per cent).

Asked to mark their relations with Germany on a scale of 1 (best) to 5 (worst), Polish respondents gave the lowest mark 3.3, while Czech and Slovak’s respondents ranked their relations with Germany the highest – 1.6 and 1.5 respectively. On average, V4 respondents evaluated their relations with Germany with a 2.2 mark. Compared with the previous survey, respondents from all countries ranked their relations with Germany lower than in the previous survey in 2019, but higher than four years ago.

When asked about whether the Visegrad Group should cooperate more closely with Germany, 82 per cent of all respondents at least partly agreed. The other major EU player, France, was mentioned by 37 per cent of respondents as one of their country’s most important partners within the union. The perception of France’s importance was strongest among Polish respondents with 61 per cent, followed by 41 per cent of Slovaks, 27 per cent of Czechs and just 16 per cent of Hungarians. However, just 4 per cent of V4 respondents said they saw France as a close ally for their country.

While Germany and, to a lesser degree France, tended to score high in terms of important partners but low in terms of allies for V4 states, when it came to V4 respondents evaluating each other the trend was the opposite.

Czech and Slovak respondents named each other as their country’s closest ally. This was the same when it came to the relationship between Polish respondents and those from Hungary. Both of these results follow a stable trend that has been visible in the previous surveys.

In terms of seeing V4 states as important partners for coalition-building when they are pursuing their country’s European policy interests, only Hungary stood out with a relatively high average of positive responses (63 per cent). Respondents from all other V4 member states evaluated this prospect lower than they did in 2017. Among Czechs, 35 per cent responded positively to the question.

When it came to the question of which other groups of states represented within the EU respondents had the highest potential for cooperation with the V4, the Baltic states (88 per cent) and the EU member states in the Balkans scored the highest (85 per cent). Nordic and Benelux states also received relatively high scores with 76 per cent and 68 per cent respectively.

Aside from mutual relations, the survey also focused on what respondents perceive to be the most important issues faced by the EU in the next five years. Environmental and climate issues, energy policy and the digital agenda were selected as important by more than four-fifths of the V4 respondents. These topics were also identified as areas on which the Visegrad countries should cooperate closely together in the future.

Areas, where respondents thought that V4 countries had the most successful cooperation, were infrastructure, coordination within the EU and culture and education.

A majority of respondents also stated that they expect the importance of the EU’s common foreign, defence and security policy to grow in the next five years.

The survey showed that the majority of respondents were even in favour of something that is normally a highly contested issue, namely the introduction of qualified majority voting in EU foreign policy decisions. In terms of EU foreign policy, V4 respondents were also clearly for accepting the current candidate states from the Western Balkans into the EU within the next ten years.

The survey also showed that support for the EU’s sanction policy towards Russia and the rejection of accepting the annexation of Crimea remains the dominant position among V4 respondents. This position was especially strong among respondents from Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Although there was also support for this policy from well over half of all Hungarian respondents, it was lower than the percentage recorded in the previous survey two years ago. Slight majorities among both Hungarian and Slovak respondents also agreed with the statement that the EU should strive for a more cooperative approach towards Russia. A significant positive shift was noticeable among V4 respondents when it came to the question of how they expect future relations with the US to develop. Pavlína Janebová says that this increase in expectations is most likely the result of the election of President Joe Biden.

When asked about China, 84 per cent of V4 respondents agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement that certain Chinese activities pose a security threat. On the question of whether the EU should ratify its investment deal with China, which was agreed last year, the answers were noticeably split. On average, 43 per cent of respondents said that they are at least somewhat in favour of this, while and 39 per cent said that they were against it. Respondents from Hungary were most likely to say that they would welcome the ratification of the deal while those from the Czech Republic were most opposed.

Czech Respondents seemed most hawkish in China when it came to the survey questions. 91 per cent of Czech respondents agreed with the statement that certain Chinese activities pose a security threat, compared to a V4 average of 84 per cent. At the same time, just 24 per cent of the Czechs questioned in the survey believed that the EU should strive for a more cooperative approach with China. On the other hand, a slight majority of Polish respondents was in favour of closer cooperation with the Asian superpower.

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