EU risk in Visegrád group

Central Europe elections may benefit populists

If trends continue in the Visegrád group – the alliance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, all members of the European Union since 2004 – the region will enjoy positive economic developments. At the same time, the V4 are disassociating themselves from many of the policies supported by ‘old’ or ‘core’ EU members.

The V4 agree on the benefits of continued economic integration. Until now, political integration was based chiefly on opposition to EU authorities’ migration quotas and their interventions in domestic Visegrád political developments. This has limited scope to continue.

Each V4 member’s economic relationship with the EU is different. Slovakia, as a member of the euro area, clearly envisions itself as a core member of any future EU. The Polish and Hungarian governments are united by their willingness to support each other through their veto powers if the European Commission ever proposes to withhold either state’s voting rights. Both countries have benefited greatly from EU funds but are competitors for these resources in the current and next EU budgetary cycle. Each will put its own financial interests first.

The next Czech government will probably be formed around Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who is accused of the misuse of EU funds. This may incentivise him to question the merits of EU membership, of which a large segment of the electorate is already sceptical.

In a joint statement on 26 January, the Visegrád group reiterated its outward commitment to the EU, calling it ‘the best framework to face and tackle both internal and external challenges’. However, election outcomes in central Europe since 2014 point to increasing nationalist tendencies in V4 countries.

In Slovakia’s March 2016 elections the left-leaning Direction-Social Democracy party remained in power but lost its majority, while the far-right People’s Party entered parliament for the first time. The Czech Republic in January re-elected President Miloš Zeman, who bested his pro-EU rival Jiří Drahoš. Elections in Poland and Hungary, both led by right-wing populist governments, are scheduled for later this year.

Miroslav Singer is former Governor of the Czech National Bank and a Member of the OMFIF Advisory Board. He is Director of Institutional Affairs and Chief Economist at Generali CEE Holding.

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