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."