What to look at in Visegrad Four-Germany relations?

As V4-Germany summit is taking place in Warsaw how do you see V4-Germany relations, what do you think is currently the most important topic of their relations and why? Read few comments.

Jörg ForbrigSenior Program Officer for Central and Eastern Europe, German Marshall Fund

There is no doubt that relations between Germany and the Visegrad countries have taken a serious hit over the last year. The trigger was certainly the refugee crisis, in which Germany has taken a fundamentally different position than the Visegrad Four. However, it would be a mistake to attribute current political tensions exclusively to the refugee issue. Differences have simmered on a number of issues, at times between Germany and all the Visegrad countries, at times only with some of them. Examples were handling the Eurozone crisis, responding to the Russia challenge, continuing European integration, as well as the domestic political development in some of the Visegrad states and their compatibility with European norms.

It seems that after accumulating for some time, the refugee crisis has only brought these various discrepancies to light in full force. What used to be continuously improving mutual views – of the V4 in Germany and vice versa – have suddenly turned into open criticism, accusations and overall negative views. These seem to be more pronounced in the Visegrad states and societies vis-à-vis Germany – the political tone and public opinion clearly have taken a sharp turn for the worse. In Germany, mediatized debate has certainly turned quite critical of the Visegrad states but the government, especially Merkel and her chancellery, has tried to avoid political attacks and to keep relations intact. Part of this effort is certainly also this next round of meetings with Visegrad leaders.

This attitude on the part of Merkel likely reflects her understanding that German-V4 relations must not be derailed completely over the refugee crisis – for various reasons. One, she certainly acknowledges the fact how closely intertwined Germany and the V4 are by now, especially economically and socially. Closer than ever on so many levels, it is certainly paradoxical that political, both sides seem farther apart now than ever since the V4 joined the EU. It would just be a shame and to everyone’s disadvantage if those close ties loosened as a result of political disagreements. Two, Germany and Merkel personally have absolutely no interest in a new East-West divide within the EU, as some have interpreted the spat over refugees especially. In a way, it was only with the refugee crisis that the somewhat dormant and disparate Visegrad group emerged as a political bloc based on joint refusal of, especially but not only, German policy. From Berlin’s point of view, a consolidation of this bloc – across other policy areas and in opposition to Germany – must be avoided. Three, Merkel is acutely aware that the Visegrad countries, jointly and individually, are important when it comes to handling the multiple crises facing the EU at the moment. Besides the refugee crisis, the one in the Eurozone (even if only Slovakia is a member among the V4) may return at any time. The Russia challenge is far from over, and the question of handling Brexit and re-organizing Europe in its wake will occupy the EU for the coming years. On all these issues, the V4 hold their own positions, sometimes in line with those of Berlin, sometimes in contrast.

I think scoping manifest disagreements and possible agreements is Merkel’s primary task during the upcoming meeting. She will certainly try to leave behind some of the controversy and anger of the last year, signal Germany’s willingness to seek solutions jointly with the Visegrad countries and, in return, ask her counterparts in the V4 to be as constructive and cooperative as only possible. To my mind, this can be an important turning point, not least since Germany clearly now takes the Visegrad countries more seriously than in many years.

Dániel Bartha, Executive Director, Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy (CEID)

The improved partnership between Germany and the V4 became the most important ever following the vote on Brexit. Not only the relative weight of V4 will be increased, but also the importance of alliances, as one of the 3 most important potential, a rather natural and traditional one for the V4 , is out of the picture. Therefore both sides need to open a clear sheet if that is possible. The migration issue still haunts all parties, and it has a rather high internal price to change positions, however dialogue is much needed. But there are much more then this issue. Economy stands out , as Germany and the V4 are the engines of European growth , that is both negatively effected by the Brexit, the shadows on Russia, China and the world economy, the sanctions on Russia or most recently and importantly the lack of skilled working force and skyrocketing salaries, that are highly effecting the German economy, and that will pose a real threat for all parties. An obvious issue is how to deal with the open issues, such as Ukraine, the development of Western Balkans or Turkey.

Germany can be a strategic ally in key EU policies as well. First of all an European Defence initiative – a hot topic in the V4 – depends on the participation of Germany. Second Germany can be a new ally in supporting the digital agenda of the V4. Finally  V4 leaders mentioned several times the need of institutional reforms within the EU, which is only possible with the support of Chancellor Merkel. Berlin also understands the relative importance of Central Europe, and numerous initiatives, most visibly the current meeting suggests, that they are ready to start with clean sheets.

This list is far from comprehensive, but suggests that V4-Germany relations have a strategic nature, and the current meeting hopefully opens a new and more flourishing chapter following the migration crises.

Dariusz KałanCentral Europe Correspondent and Analyst

The times are not good for V4 – Germany relationship. In many countries, including Poland, the political leaders have been using anti-German resentments as they found it will help them domestically. Germany and V4 have been also promoting different approaches to the migrant crisis. In my opinion, the game is about not only the different visions on how to solve certain problem, but, most importantly, about the future of the EU. The position of Chancellor Merkel is weak, at least in comparison to what we observed few years ago. Certain polliticians from Central Europe, leaded by PM Orban, are openly aspiring for a European roles, so now they seek to balance Germany’s leadership. I see here thus a cash between more open and liberal Europe with a new wave of conservative illiberals, a cash that will have a consequences for the whole EU. Pity, other V4 countries seem to easily follow this pattern made up by PM Orban.

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