Potentials and Constraints of a Visegrád Cooperation

Published in “The New European Union and its Global Strategy: From Brexit to PESCO”, ed. by. V. Naumescu, Newcastle 2019, 258-275.

At the European Council of 28 June 2018, the Visegrád states successfully convinced the other European Union member states to refrain from a mandatory relocation of persons in need of international protection. The EU agreed to organize the relocation and resettlement of refugees and other recognized asylum seekers on a voluntary basis. This decision implied the abandoning of plans to reintroduce a mandatory relocation scheme similar to the temporary mechanism that had been adopted against the votes of the East-Central European EU member states in September 2015.

The four Visegrád states – Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – were able to enforce their policy position against calls for more solidarity among EU member states in sharing the burdens of the migrant crisis. The conclusions of the European Council meeting emphasized that the renunciation of obligatory distribution quotas would not prejudice the envisaged reform of the so-called Dublin regulation, that is, the rules determining the responsibilities of member states with regard to the claims of incoming asylum seekers. However, while the EU member states may in principle adopt a new Dublin regulation containing a mandatory relocation with qualified majority, the June 2018 agreement has de facto precluded such a scenario.

Does this diplomatic success of the four East-Central European states signal that their cooperation has evolved into a coherent coalition with the capacity to coordinate its interest representation on issues of high political significance? Is it appropriate to consider the Visegrád Group as an emerging collective actor within the EU, able to identify joint strategic priorities, to unite the political weights of the four states and to pursue joint policies in accordance with the strategic priorities? Or does the joint resistance against distribution quotas only represent a single instance of effective advocacy in the course of a longstanding cooperation that has seen ups and downs since the creation of the Visegrád Group in 1991?

To discuss these questions, the present chapter analyses the potentials and constraints of a cooperation among the Visegrád states. Neorealist, constructivist and institutionalist approaches of International Relations theories are applied to formulate expectations regarding the coherence of the Visegrád Group (V4). The following empirical sections study the institutional framework and incentives for a Visegrád cooperation within the EU and analyse exemplary V4 policy initiatives in detail. The empirical evidence shows that international and domestic constraints of policy-making limit the V4 to rational interest-based, sectoral cooperations.