Last week, Poland’s foreign minister, Radolsaw Sikorski, attended a ceremony in Budapest on Wednesday handing over the presidency of the Visegrad Group (V4) to Hungarian counterpart Janos Martonyi. The Visegrad Four, an alliance of four Central European states – Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – is aimed at enhancing cooperation and furthering their European integration. The changeover in power coincided with shift in tenure of the EU Council presidency from Ireland to Lithuania. In the lead-up to the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November, questions are increasing about how crucial the V4’s influence is in bringing their Eastern allies closer…
In May, the Krakow, Poland, hosted a summit of the foreign ministers of both the Visegrad Group and the Eastern Partnership states. The summit included representation by European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief, Catherine Ashton as well as Štefan Füle, the EU Commissioner for enlargement policy. The summit was hosted by Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski and held in the framework of the Visegrad Group, which held the presidency at the time.
Sikorski spoke of the importance of the event, saying:
“Naturally, a very important element of our discussion was the upcoming Eastern Parntership summit, where there may be the possibility to sign the Association Agreement with Ukraine, as well as initialling the very ambitious agreements with Armenia, Georgia and Moldova.”
Sikorski’s stance towards Ukraine was then considered to be quite hard-line, and that patience with Ukraine’s slow and often lackadaisical approach to reforms was wearing thin, as Sikorski remarked:
“To date, Ukraine has not fulfilled the conditions for signing the Association Agreement.If we do not sign the agreement during the summit, I don’t know when the next chance will be.”
Sikorski along with his counterparts from Lithuania, Poland, the Netherlands and Denmark have previously called upon the Ukraine to continue introduction of the reforms necessary for signing of Agreement on association between Ukraine and the European Union, as Sikorski explained, was “an invitation for Ukraine into the European family”.
However, has the V4 been as supportive in ways that matter to the Eastern Neighbours, for example, in recognising the incentive that visa-liberalisation might offer? As V4 Revue journalist, Marta Jaroszewicz, writes:
“Visa and mobility issues are the EU’s most tangible incentive for its Eastern neighbors. Yet the EU conditions the loosening of restrictions on free travel by in-depth reforms in the partner countries. This has to change and the V4 could play a stronger role in the process.”
In spite of this, the V4 has been diligently reiterating its support of Ukraine’s initialing of the Association Agreement, but questions are being raised about how much weight their influence carries.
World Politics Review Journalist, Robert Kron, writes about the V4’s strategic potential , which as of yet is perhaps still unrealised:
“Individually, the Visegrad states, with the possible exception of Poland, are neither particularly rich nor influential. Viewed collectively, however, they have roughly the population of France, a third of Germany’s GDP and an intra-European Union voting weight equal to France and Germany combined. When acting in concert the picture is not one of relative insignificance, but rather of sizeable latent strategic potential.”
Likewise, concerns have been raised about the EU’s contingency plan for relations with the Eastern Partnership countries should they fall short of signing the agreement. An issue posed by Adam Reichardt and Giacomo Manca, in their article “There is No Plan B”:
“If Ukraine and the EU do not sign the agreement, what is Plan B? So far there has been no answer to this question. Nevertheless, the aim of the November summit in Vilnius will be to showcase the success of the Eastern Partnership programme as well as bring a symbolic end to some of the long-negotiated agreements with countries such as Georgia and Moldova. But the results of the Summit notwithstanding, the conclusion of Vilnius will bring more questions than answers.”
— EAD (@EAD_Diplomats) May 21, 2013