Juraj Marušiak et al. (2013) Is Visegrad Still a Central European “Trade Mark”? (Bratislava: Institute of Political Science, Slovak Academy of Sciences – VEDA, Publishing House of the Slovak Academy of Sciences), 204 pp. ISBN: 978-80-224-1319-0
The setbacks of the Visegrad Group on the level of end-game negotiation as well as its absence in EU macro-regional strategy projects show that the mechanism of the “hard power”, such as economic potential or number of votes in the EU institutions are not sufficient to enforce the interests of the V4 or its member states on the European level. On the other hand the Visegrad Group and the V4+ format is an attractive and respected negotiation platform both within the EU as well as between the V4 and the “third states”.
Therefore the main hypothesis of the presented publication is that one of the main sources of attractiveness and tools of the influence of the Visegrad Group on the decision making process in the EU, on the Central European EU members, existing or potential EU-candidates and the “third states” is the “soft power” of the Group, i.e. its ability to achieve preferable outcomes in world politics because other states want to follow it or have agreed to a situation that produces such effects” (Nye, 1990, 166). Subsequently the research question is what the content of the Visegrad Group soft power could be and if V4 has remained the “trade mark” of Central European states, the content of which could be a trade mark now in the post-accession period?
Authors cover the following aspects of the Visegrad cooperation: cooperation of the V4 states and the presence of the V4 within the framework of EU; cooperation in military and security areas;; opportunities for the transit between the East and West; V4 as the target region for the immigrants from „third countries“; the level of religiosity and secularization in Central Europe as a part of Visegrad´s soft power; threats and opportunities for V4 within the framework of EU Eastern Partnership Program.
According to the authors of the publication Visegrad remains the most viable and most functioning regional initiative in Central Europe and the V4 + format allowed to transform this group to the specific centre of gravity for the wider region of Central and East-Central Europe. The main findings of the presented publications are that the role of the Visegrad Group in Europe is increasing. Its success is conditioned by the awareness of the V4 states of the need for cooperation as well as by their willingness
to continue in the process of modernization. We have to correct our initial hypothesis, according to which the main tool of the strengthening of the V4 position in Europe is the soft power. V4 could play the role of the European security and economic actor; however the main condition of the economic success of the Visegrad sub-region will be investment in education and infrastructure.
Nevertheless, the crucial prerequisite of the success of the Visegrad Group and cooperation in the Central European area will be the success of the European Union and its ability to overcome the current economic and financial crisis. The success of European integration will also have a decisive impact on the future development of the domestic and foreign policy of the East European states.
Juraj Marušiak et al. (2013) Internal Cohesion of the Visegrad Group (Bratislava: Institute of Political Science, Slovak Academy of Sciences – VEDA, Publishing House of the Slovak Academy of Sciences), 180 pp. ISBN: 978-80-224-1329-9
The aim of the publication is to analyze whether there is any Visegrad commonly shared identity or not and what could be the integrative factor of the Visegrad Group. The authors of the publication cover the following topics – historical identities; historical memory; economic cohesion and the level of economic cooperation of the V4 states; the role of the Visegrad topics in the university education and the political culture of the V4 states.
The publication shows that the Visegrad cooperation is still based on the interests rather than on the commonly shared identity. However, the citizens of V4 countries already perceive Visegrad as a relevant and meaningful regional group. The fact that Visegrad is considered by the domestic political elites as well as by the political elites abroad as a “brand” or “mark” has a significant contribution to the construction of the regional identity. However, still the motivation of the political leaders to develop the Visegrad cooperation is more pragmatic than based on the awareness of belonging together. The external factors (the EU, gas crisis between Russia and Ukraine in January 2009) and their demand for response still have more efficient impact on the strengthening of V4 cooperation compared to the pressure from inside.
V4 could be regarded as more successful project of transition and integration compared to the rest of post-communist states in Central and East Europe both from political and economic perspective. However, there are still substantial differences in the level of economic development, impact of crisis on the V4 states economies, in the living standards, as well as in the political cultures and patterns of political behaviour of citizens. The region of Central and East Europe, including Visegrad, still remains a periphery of the EU, although the EU membership of V4 countries and generally the EU presence in the entire region acts as a factor of stability and contributes to its de-peripheralization.
The significant trend for the Visegrad societies is the decreasing level of democracy and growing support of authoritarianism in the region. The de-democratization is not purely the result of sophisticated political programs of certain parts of Visegrad political elites, but it is a result of subconscious practice and pragmatically formulated short-term political targets. However, Visegrad is still a zone of stability, compared to South, South East and East Europe, in part because of the more successful reforms in 1990s and higher efficiency of governance.
The peripheralization and marginalization still remains a certain threat for the V4 and Central Europe in general. Such threats are not only the results of the economic or political infrastructure inherited from the Communist past, but their sources consist in some domestic policies implemented since the political changes at the turn of 1980s and 1990s. The improvement of the efficiency of the government’s engagement in the economy is highly recommended. The changes are required in the regional policy as well in order to push the subnational territorial units to formulate their own autonomous approaches to regional development in order to overcome the regional disparities. A significant gap still persists between the “old EU members” and Central European states, including V4, in the financing of the education, science and welfare system. The underdevelopment of these branches could have a negative impact on the future of democracy in the entire region of Central and East Europe.