This article has been published online by the Magyar Nemzet on February 17, 2021.
An article written by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
In Europe, after the fall of communism, we were freed from Soviet influence. New opportunities and challenges arose for Central European countries. Thirty years ago, barely a year after the historic events, on February 15, 1991 in Visegrád Hungary – where the famous meeting of the Hungarian, Polish and Czech kings occurred in 1335– a new, momentous, unique form of cooperation was born: the Visegrád Group.
The Group, composed of Poland, Hungary, and Czechslovakia (later the independent nations of the Czech Republic and Slovakia) was driven by a dream of regional cooperation and desire to be part of the European family. First, the effects of World War II left their mark, and then the decades-long subjugation of the communist regime were extreme tribulations for Poland. The desire for both mutual support and cooperation eased Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic’s entry to NATO in 1999, with Slovakia following soon after. In 2004, the V4 countries became full European Union members, contributing to political growth and stronger, more competitive economies. While Central Europe has fostered supply routes running east to west, we have adopted a strategy integrating the region from north to south. Alone we might have been weak, but together we represent a truly powerful economy on the world map. The Group has evolved over the years. In the first years of its existence, the Visegrád Group was not “systematized” due to its informal nature. This changed in 1999 with the introduction of the rotating presidential system. We are delighted that Poland has the presidency as the Group celebrates our 30 th anniversary.
Today, the strength of the Visegrád Group is reflected in our joint cooperation, our stronger negotiating position within the structure of the EU, the representation of the region’s interests, and the introduction of our strategic goals on the international stage. Together we can accomplish more. As four sovereign states, it is not necessary to agree on everything, however, our geographical proximity, our closely intertwined history, and our mutual societal-economic challenges prove that the span of our joint interests is quite wide. This is evidenced by the regular and active cooperation in numerous sectors such as security, migration, and political cohesion, but also the development of the digital economy and a uniform market.
Over the past thirty years, our countries have made great strides in creating a highly competitive economy that successfully competes with Western markets. In recent years, our economic growth rate has surpassed the EU average which was only 2.1% compared to the Visegrád Group’s 3.8%. Compared to the EU, the V4 countries boast a low unemployment rate which didn’t exceed the EU average in December 2020; moreover, Poland and the Czech Republic had the lowest rates in the EU. The V4 make up almost 15% of the EU’s foreign trade with a strong position and voice in EU debates.
However, the V4 is not just politics. A perfect example of this is the International Visegrád Fund (IVF) which began working in 2000 and is one of the most significant achievements of the Group. Since its beginnings it has played a key role: it brings our societies closer together, strengthens mutual understanding, and bolsters our awareness of our common destiny. Since 2000, the International Visegrád Fund has financed scholarships for more than 24000 students and helped implement almost 6000 plans in the V4 countries along with nations from the Eastern Partnership and Western Balkans that are interested in drawing on the experience of our Group.
The pandemic in Europe has highlighted the importance of neighborly cooperation to overcome crises. During the challenging period of this Covid- 19 epidemic, the true friendship between our countries has been proven over and over. Sharing information and know-how, sending medical equipment between countries, or setting up epidemiological coordination centers for the V4 are just some examples of cooperation that will help control this threat, while harmonizing our efforts in the fight against the pandemic.
The relations that have developed over the centuries between Poland and Hungary are extraordinarily strong. We are proud that our citizens view each other as brethren. I am convinced that this feeling will enable us to continually strengthen our longtime cooperation and friendship over the next months and years. Through mutual solidarity, we will defeat the damages of the pandemic and we will work together to develop our region and Europe as a whole.
Therefore, despite the Covid-19 crisis, we can bravely face the future. The Polish Presidency’s slogan: “Back on track”. We aim to return to the path of developing and reviving relations between societies as soon as possible. An important driver will be strengthening cooperation in the fields of innovation, new technologies, and the digital development of the region. Between 2017 and 2019, Central and Eastern Europe’s digital economy grew by almost 8% per year– significantly faster than Western Europe’s five largest economies. We focus on projects that further improve digitization levels, although all V4 countries boast advanced digital capacities in various fields: artificial intelligence in the Czech Republic, robotics and the automotive industry in Slovakia, and the media, entertainment, and banking sectors in Poland. Hungary can pride itself on high rates of digitization in professional, business and public service sectors.
Throughout the past thirty years, the countries of the Visegrád Group were freed from their communist burdens, and they could devote their attention to political and economic development which has led to stable and secure progress. Today the Visegrád Group is a region of dynamic, sustainable development, with a strong appeal for investment that seeks to be the creative leader in the heart of Europe. We therefore look forward to the next decade, and we trust in the active and effective cooperation among the V4 for the benefit of our citizens, our nations, and the EU as a whole. On behalf of the Polish V4 Presidency and the entire Polish nation, we would like to thank our close and friendly cooperation throughout these thirty years.
Prime Minister of Poland