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Sarkozy attacks Visegrád Group

by DoDo Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 03:36:31 AM EST

Ireland said Yes to the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum, Czech President Václav Klaus gave up on his obstruction and signed it this week, and British opposition leader David Cameron no longer wants the referendum desired by his Eurosceptic constituency. However, French President Nicolas Sarkozy found a new threat to the EU: the Visegrád group... (hat tip to In Wales):

EUobserver / Sarkozy warns Visegrad countries not to make a habit of pre-summit meetings

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has taken a swipe at Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, who last week met ahead of the EU summit to talk through their positions on the topic of the day.

Speaking after a meeting of EU leaders last week, Mr Sarkozy said "if they have to meet regularly before each council, that could raise questions."

That's rather strange to hear from one half of the 'Franco-German engine', who had (another) pre-summit meeting with Merkel last Wednesday; especially when directed against something as lightweight as the Visegrád group.



Historical inspiration: the Congress of Visegrád

For some decades in the 14th century, Europe's power balance shifted towards its geographical centre.

  • John "the Blind" of Bohemia (ruled in Bohemia 1310-1346) of the house of Luxembourg inherited the kingdom at its zenith, when it had claims to Poland; and ruled the Czechs at a time the Slavic country became central to the power games in the Holy Roman Empire.

  • Casimir III the Great (ruled 1333-1370), the last King of Poland from the Piast dynasty, turned a kingdom weakened since the Mongol invasions into a main military power and expanded it at the expense of minor neighbours. He also strengthened ties with a new power, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and laid the foundations of the autonomy of noblemen; two policies that would lead to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

  • Charles Robert (ruled 1308-1342), King of Hungary 'imported' from the French [Second] Angevin dynasty, restored centralised rule, expanded towards the Balkans, and meddled as far as the Two Sicilies.

To block the rise of the Habsburgs of Austria and to thwart the Holy Roman Emperor, the three eventually formed a strong strategic alliance. This was sealed at the 1335 Congress of Visegrád, held at and named for the then royal seat of Hungary.

Upper castle (top of the mountain), lower castle (left edge) and the ruins of the royal palace (complex at the foot of the mountain on the right) of Visegrád, as seen from across the Danube.

The Congress of Visegrád may be well-remembered because it was followed up by a long series of Polish-Hungarian alliances. For example, Charles Robert's son and successor Louis I (1342-1382) also became King of Poland in personal union after Casimir's death.


The Visegrád Group - before the EU

Following the 1990 democratic elections that swept the Communists from power in all three countries, new PM of Hungary József Antall invited the Presidents of Czechoslovakia (Václav Havel) and Poland (Lech Wałęsa) to Visegrád. He wanted to form a Central European alliance, with the model of the European Community (the soon to be EU).

On 15 February 1991, a declaration of cooperation was signed. However, it was a far cry from the original ambitions:

  • all three countries were too preoccupied with domestic issues;
  • Havel just began his conflict for legitimacy and power with the then Czech PM (and eventual successor as Czech President) Václav Klaus;
  • Hungary and Czechoslovakia were getting into a major conflict over a pair of dams on the Danube, and relations got even frostier with Slovakia after the separation of Czechoslovakia.

However, against all odds, the Visegrád Group survived -- as a forum for coordinating accession strategies, serving all members' aspirations of 'Euroatlantic' integration. The Visegrád Group minus Slovakia joined NATO in 1999, all joined the EU in 2004. This regional cooperation was expressively welcomed by EU officials responsible for Enlargement, as a venue where governments practice how they should behave in the EU's Council.


The Visegrád Group - in the EU

Around the time of EU accession, for various reasons, the Visegrád Group again lost relevance:

  • above all, Poland began to have medium power aspirations, which didn't sit well with the others;
  • the governments and President of the Czech Republic had a bout of isolationism,
  • from 2006, the formation of Robert Fico's nationalistic government coalition in Slovakia, relations between Hungary and Slovakia began a continuous deterioration (see The Slovakian-Hungarian Football War and some update here).

So, the Visegrád Group is ineffective and lightweight, but, especially when considering the last point, it is good that there are the Visegrád Group meetings to at least keep up dialogue. These opposed facts may have been lost on Sarkozy, but not on the EUobserver article author:

To date, the four countries have met twice at level of head of state and government in Brussels - before a March meeting of EU leaders and before last week's summit.

In the spring, they discussed - and disagreed upon - the economic crisis and how it should be handled, while last week they discussed the two hot issues of the summit, a last-minute Czech demand for an exemption from part of the Lisbon Treaty and climate change negotiations.

EUobserver suggests that Sarkozy's attack was motivated by the last point, after the new EU members have shamefully blocked the formation of a joint EU position ahead of the Copenhagen climate talks. However, Sarkozy is over-valuing the four-member Visegrád Group's role in a long-predicted sabotage by nine EU members, and he is forgetting about last week... again unlike the EUobserver article author:

Nicolas Sarkozy (l) regularly meets Angela Merkel ahead of EU summits (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Nor was the irony lost on diplomats -- and, unfortunately, crowing Atlanticists:

Mr Sarkozy's comments have raised accusations of double-standards. "My natural instinct, if he was to forbid the meeting or criticise it, would be to ask why he was meeting with the German chancellor every time before the summit. It's exactly the same," said an EU diplomat.

Other groups also meet before summits, notably Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, who share a long history of co-operation, as well as the various political families in the EU.

Piotr Kaczynski, from the Centre for European Policy Studies think-tank in Brussels, said it was "criticism of the Polish position that is getting stronger and stronger in the EU."

Referring to "different standards," he suggested Mr Sarkozy may be "getting irritated that Germany and France alone cannot control things anymore and maybe it means shifting their policies."

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Sink legitimate criticism with royal grandstanding and earn a blowback -- seems a Sarko speciality at the EU stage.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Nov 5th, 2009 at 04:32:12 AM EST
The fun thing is that I can find one single article each on the affair in Hungarian and Czech media, and even those are based on the EUobserver article; and none at all in Polish media.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 03:52:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have found that this is generally a rule within an organization that has an informal pecking order that contrasts to the formal order: It is always undemocratic and evil for those on the bottom of the pecking order to meet and discuss stuff in advance, while those on the top always does. This goes double if they discuss why the organization is not how it is formally presented.

Nice to see Sarko confirm it in EU.

My interpretation of the attack is that their is a rather strict informal pecking order within the Council with France high up an the Visegrád countries close to the bottom. Sarkozy also feels his position slipping or at least fears it, thus prompting an attack on a weak target to shore up his position. So the Visegrád group is not attacked because it is strong, but because it is weak.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Nov 5th, 2009 at 06:20:22 AM EST
A swedish kind of death:
Sarkozy also feels his position slipping or at least fears it, thus prompting an attack on a weak target to shore up his position. So the Visegrád group is not attacked because it is strong, but because it is weak.
In other words, Sarkozy is acting as a classic playground bully.

Must be his short-man complex.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 5th, 2009 at 06:25:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The little guy who palls with the big guys and attacks the other little ones to ensure they don't get in with the big guys...

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Nov 5th, 2009 at 11:17:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sarkozy's "the mouth is quicker than the brain" has already gotten him in trouble in the first years of his presidency.

On the domestic front, at last, he has now learned his lesson and is controlling the message thanks to:

  • Friendly media owned by BFF like Bouygues, Lagardère or Bolloré...
  • Police officers who are removed from the street to provide "protection" to the numerous presidential outings by filtering all mere mortals who get within half a mile from the prez, letting only UMP card holders (and short-sized factory workers for photo ops - I kid you not). So no more "Casse toi pauvre con" incidents that marred his beginning in office.
  • The disarray in the left wing parties, especially the Socialists, carefully helped with luring some opportunists to power -- effectively neutering them.

However, it doesn't scale so nicely at the EU level, and the king doesn't appear as fully clothed as he'd like himself to be seen.
by Bernard on Fri Nov 27th, 2009 at 08:47:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
where some are more equal than others.  Sort of like the United Nations, where Security Council members are equaler than other countries, and the US is the equalest of them all.

Mr Sarkozy may be "getting irritated that Germany and France alone cannot control things anymore and maybe it means shifting their policies."

That about sums it up.

La Chine dorme. Laisse la dormir. Quand la Chine s'éveillera, le monde tremblera.

by marco on Thu Nov 5th, 2009 at 07:07:09 PM EST
Well, there is a difference: UNSC permanent members do have a special status legally, with the quite substantial right of a veto. Sarko however only imagines himself to be more equal than others.

maybe it means shifting their policies.

Well, here is the sad part: I don't wish for France and German to water down their position on changing the economy with view to its effect on climate change -- if anything, I would want them and the whole E rto be more ambitious on that front.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 01:54:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
After trio presidencies led by Germany and France we will now have one led by Spain with Hungary and Belgium. Both Hungary and Belgium warned months ago about the risk that the large countries would go it alone. Spain, is a second-tier country (alongside Poland and maybe Romania) and has been kept out of the Blair/Brown-Merkel-Sarko-Berlu-Barroso directory that has attempted to run the EU in recent years. The Belgian PM van Rompuy is a candidate for the job of Council President...

The next 18 months should be good for mid-sized member states.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 04:16:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, what's this about the van Rompuy candidacy? I found this only in lists of Bliar rivals in British media articles. But all the more detailed articles name predecessor Verhofstadt as the expected Belgian candidate.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 04:34:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You know, I think the fact that Belgium will hold the rotating Presidency in the second half of 2010 disqualifies any Belgian for the President role...

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 04:49:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, if that disqualifies, let's look ahead five years -- so we can't have anyone from Greece, Lithuania, Ireland, Cyprus, Denmark, Hungary either.

But, looking back, in the second half of 2007, we had Council and Commission Presidency for Portugal; and in the first half of 2007, Council and EP Presidency from Germany.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 05:55:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
At this point my money is on Balkenende or Juncker.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 06:32:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, I missed this. Would be nice -- better than Balkenende. (Now if only Barroso would resign and Juncker would replace him...)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 07:19:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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