Community partners from the East celebrate 30 years of alliance more divided than ever by their position against Russia and its Sputnik V vaccine and adding discord with the European Commission. Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia commemorated this Wednesday the 30th anniversary of the founding of the so-called “Visegrad Group” away from the foundations of an alliance born to defend democracy after decades of communist dictatorship and to close the gap with Europe western. The celebration, in the Polish city of Krakow, and with the participation of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, was to symbolize, according to the hosts of the summit, the strong immersion of the quartet in the structures of the European Union.
The reality is different. Also, the democratic quality that the governments of the Hungarian Viktor Orban, the Polish Mateusz Morawiecki, the Czech Andrej Babis, and the Slovak Igor Matovic bring to the Union as a whole, The summit has been for Michel a wolf cave. To the fronts already open with Brussels for reforms that, in themselves, are illiberal counter-reforms to rights and freedoms, disagreements have been added with the European Commission and other community partners. Except for Slovenia, all Visegrad is in the Commission’s crosshairs. This anniversary was not the time to address bilateral issues and Michel followed the script closely, with an agenda of issues that concern the group and the EU as a whole. Among the most prominent were the relations between Brussels and Russia and, how could it be otherwise, the fight against the coronavirus pandemic from the point of view of vaccination, while Hungary and Poland lifted the veto on funds for European recovery.
Orban, however, continues with the hatchet raised. Before this festive summit, the Hungarian Prime Minister decided to separate himself from the rest of the European partners and buy from Russia doses of his Sputnik V vaccine. The Community Executive criticizes nothing for the purchase of this drug, which is not part of the portfolio acquired on behalf of The Twenty-seven, but Michel stressed in the press conference held at the end of the meeting the need for better coordination between the Member States. The Twenty-seven will talk about this issue next week in a videoconference, Prime Minister Orban has taken for granted and has exhorted “not to differentiate Western and Eastern vaccines or to enter into political games because the priority is to accelerate the rate of vaccination to save lives,” a statement to which Matovic has joined, for whom “the protection of life must not follow geostrategic logic.
Moraewiecki, leader of a markedly anti-Russian government such as the Polish, has not entered into that controversy. His attack has been on pharmaceutical companies for the breach of contracts, for which he has asked for more harshness from the European Commission. Babis’s criticism has been for the mandatory coronavirus test for carriers, which has created strong retentions at the borders. It has ignored those decreed by Orban in Hungary; not so those imposed by Austria and Germany. “This violates the principles of the single market,” he said. In the Visegrad, however, there is more noise than nuts. Beyond the common problems and objectives derived from the pandemic, its members, in addition to distancing themselves from the EU, have done so with each other. The alliance works more for personal affinities than for geopolitical interests.
The rivalry between Poland and Hungary to lead the group and impose their positions on the rest has made Slovakia and the Czech Republic to the periphery. The Slovak case is obvious. The Czech prime minister, the oligarch, and the populist Babis jump from one side to the other, depending on his political and business interests. The Visegrados has practically been reduced to the Budapest-Warsaw axis and, although in the democratic drift undertaken by both governments they make them face the same coin, the tandem is not as strong as it seems. Without the strong commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and European integration that the founders -Václav Havel, Lech Walesa, and Josez Anall- showed 30 years ago, the EU has attended with Michel the thirtieth anniversary without pomp. In Brussels, Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest there is no party mood.