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“Listen to Central Europe too!”

– We are one of the most dynamic parts of Europe, so our interests and our voices should be taken into account in the development of European solutions in the right proportion, said Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, who yesterday at the Visegrád Foreign Ministers meeting with his Hungarian, Czech and Slovak counterparts Komárom participated in an interview with Magyar Nemzet. Zbigniew Rau also pointed out that, in his opinion, the ideological-political tensions between the western and eastern halves of the EU are due to the West’s ignorance of the history of this part of Europe.

– The Hungarian Presidency of the Visegrád Group, which will last for a year, began on July 1st. What will the main tasks for the Visegrád Group be in the next year?

– The challenges facing the Visegrád cooperation are largely the same as during the Polish Presidency: fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, restoring and developing our economies and infrastructure connections, or the complex international situation that affects our security and that of Europe Security, also in our immediate neighborhood. This applies to both hybrid threats and issues such as migration. The cooperation of the V4 countries aims to secure Central Europe a strong voice in the European Union in the coming months and in the longer term.

We are one of the most dynamic parts of Europe and our interests and our voice should be considered in proportion when developing European solutions.

The program of the Hungarian Presidency has excellently formulated our overarching goals: “After the Covid-19 pandemic, the common goal of the countries of the Visegrád Group is to be among the winners of global economic and political change”.

– Viktor Orbán recently said that cooperation between Central European countries is not a theory but a practical reality. The Prime Minister mentioned mutual aid during the pandemic, but also the ever-expanding north-south infrastructure, energy and transport connections. What else is needed to deepen this collaboration?

– I agree that our cooperation has very specific dimensions. During the year-long Polish V4 Presidency, our Prime Ministers met twenty times, I myself met nine times with my colleagues, and there were forty meetings at ministerial level between the heads of other ministries. During this time we have developed a number of joint initiatives in almost all areas of activity in our countries. In connection with the epidemic, we created the virtual center V4 for the management of Covid-19, which has allowed us to better coordinate the fight against the epidemic between our countries. I am delighted that this initiative is being promoted by the Hungarian V4 presidency.

In the most difficult moments of the pandemic, we supported each other with very practical help.

We have not only concentrated on making the cooperation within the group more effective, but also on solidarity with our closest partners. During the Polish Council Presidency, for example, we implemented the second edition of the V4 East Solidarity Program, which is supported by the International Visegrád Fund, as part of the Eastern Partnership in order to support local capacities for pandemic preparedness.

The Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, the Hungarian Foreign Minister Szijjártó Péter, the Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok and the Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau at a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Visegrád Four and the Western Balkans in Rogalin, Poland, on June 28th Photo: MTI / PAP / Jakub Kaczmarczyk

Infrastructure issues followed a similar pattern. Within the V4 we have jointly agreed on important infrastructure projects that we would like to see taken into account when reviewing the trans-European transport network. These include the central transport hub of Poland, Via Carpatia, the high-speed railway that connects the capitals of the V4 countries, or improving the navigability of the waterways that connect our countries. We have adopted a joint declaration by the V4 transport ministers on the development of rail transport,

Our four countries are linked not only by similar historical experiences and geography, but also by specific interests and similar socio-economic challenges.

– The Visegrád Group has a noticeably greater weight in Europe today, but in the EU negotiations, where are the areas in which it can be most powerful?

– The aim of the Visegrád Group is to play an active role in shaping the European agenda in all issues relevant to Central Europe. To see how broad the range of topics we are dealing with within the V4, all you have to do is look at the V4 Prime Minister’s Anniversary Declaration, which was made at the Krakow Summit on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of our cooperation. The topics relate to the areas of society, economy and innovation, the environment, energy and transport, internal and external security as well as broader international cooperation and solidarity. Within the EU we are most strongly in favor of deepening the internal market, especially its digital or service dimension,

At the same time, we must remember that Visegrád cooperation is based on full equality and consensus between the four countries involved. We don’t speak the same language in all respects, but that’s only natural.

Fortunately, because of our shared experiences, interests and challenges, our joint actions have a very wide scope, as our experience under the Polish Presidency has shown.

– Western states and EU institutions are constantly attacking the countries of Central Europe, especially on ideological issues (LGBTQ rights, abortion, immigration), addressing the lack of the rule of law. Is the Visegrád cooperation strong enough to repel these attacks?

– These tensions often stem from a lack of knowledge of the historical background of this part of Europe. One of the tasks of the V4 is to make our partners aware of this.

We want to show that our countries contribute positively and constructively to the development of the EU, but our interests, our particularities and our sensitivities should be taken into account in the same way as in the case of other member states.

For example, during the Polish Presidency we adopted a joint V4 position on the new asylum and migration pact, which Slovenia and Estonia have also joined, in which we have reaffirmed the principles of our position. At the same time, as I have already mentioned, the Visegrád countries do not share the same views on all issues, and that is nothing special either.

– What has led to such a separation in ideological and political issues between the western and eastern halves of Europe?

– I believe that the dividing line on ideological issues is not just between the West and the East. The different attitudes between the two halves of the European continent result of course from different historical experiences, in particular from the tragedies of this part of Europe in the 20th century.

But there are also many movements and parties in Western Europe that are aware of the importance of traditional values and that see that a strong European Union must be based on strong member states and on the principles of equality, subsidiarity and proportionality enshrined in the treaties.

We should not forget that the EU’s motto is “United in Diversity”. As the Visegrád Group, our aim should be to ensure that the voice of Central Europe and its citizens is taken into account as much as that of the citizens of the other Member States.

– The issue of migration is now within Poland’s reach as Belarus allows Iraqi, Afghan and Syrian migrants to enter Lithuania. What can Central Europe do to stop immigration when the issue of accepting migrants divides Europe so much?

– Poland’s accession to the EU and Schengen membership coincided with the emergence of measures to combat illegal migration on our eastern borders. However, the phenomenon has worsened recently after the Belarusian authorities decided to use illegal migrants as a political tool to exert political pressure on neighboring countries and the EU. This phenomenon is politically unacceptable and, above all, morally reprehensible. We recognize that the purpose of these actions is to test the defensive capabilities of the EU’s eastern borders and to put us under pressure, while at the same time providing some kind of “punishment” to the EU that in the case of Belarus she disagrees with human rights violations and defends democracy. The most important task at the moment is to contain these activities.

Border protection urgently needs to be strengthened so that illegal border crossings are made impossible – Lithuania is currently under the greatest migratory pressure.

Poland has pledged its support to the Lithuanian and Latvian border guards, both through Frontex and through bilateral cooperation. At the same time, we must be clear that this is not a local or regional problem, but a problem for the whole of the European Union. We all remember the dramatic images of Ceuta and Melilla when thousands of illegal migrants entered the EU in similar circumstances in May.

By: Zoltán Kottász / UME

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