The future of Visegrád in the shadow of illiberalism and the EU’s macropolitical environment


Executive summary

  • The economic-political preferences pulling apart the Visegrád Group, which could cause the affected countries to end up in different lanes of European integration, are becoming increasingly visible in the swiftly transforming macropolitical environment of the EU. The complex set of economic-political crises of the EU turned multi-speed integration and the question of transfers of sovereignty into practical issues.
  • A marked ideological gap formed between the Polish-Hungarian axis advocating cultural anti-rebellion and the Slovakian-Czech leadership gravitating towards the mainstream.
  • In Hungary, a permanent government campaign depicting the leadership’s freedom fight against the EU has been waged for years. The Polish PiS government admittedly tries to repulse Europeanisation, Western development models, and to strengthen national sovereignty.
  • Viktor Orbán and Jaroslaw Kaczynski wage strong anti-EU campaigns while Hungary and Poland are the main beneficiaries of budgetary and financial transfers. Moreover, public opinion is extraordinarily pro-EU in these countries.
  • Budapest and Warsaw’s destructive anti-EU campaigns are of threefold importance in terms of the future of integration: they openly undermine the legitimacy of the EU’s legal and institutional systems, they turn a blind eye to the connections between supranational issues, and they allow governments to build on the support of their domestic constituency to step up against community decisions, legislation easier by referring to national sovereignty.
  • Robert Fico underwent a “pro-Brussels” turn: Bratislava not only wants to stick with the core of Europe aiming at deeper integration but Fico seems to be increasingly open to Brussels taking further competences from Eurozone members.
  • Presumably, the Czech Republic will not undergo a considerable turn of directions in terms of EU-policies either. Even if Andrej Babis does not inch closer to the Eurozone in the short-term, for pragmatic economic reason he will not overwrite previous Western expectations that the Czech Republic would stick with the core of Europe in case a right-wing force gets on government.
  • Besides political divisions, the Visegrád Group’s ability to influence EU decision-making might be diminished by the fact that the double majority voting coming into force this year further strengthens the so-called asymmetric intergovernmentalism, which favours large member states over smaller ones. Thus, it will be even harder for the V4 to avert proposals unfavourable to them.
  • Meanwhile, Poland and Hungary are also isolating themselves in the European Union with their authoritarian tendencies. Thanks to the anti-democratic efforts of nationalist populist government’s, post-transformation liberal democracies in Hungary and Poland have been transformed into hybrid regimes displaying democratic and authoritarian norms at the same time, where free elections are held but the government does not guarantee, or at least tries to restrict, fundamental political and civic rights.
  • The difference between the Hungarian and the Polish model is that the power political methods and the institutional makeup of the Orbán-regime showcases authoritarian traits, while the Kaczynski regime, still in the infancy of illiberal state building, can still be described as a watered-down democracy.
  • The European Commission has no effective tools in its hands to step up against the above-mentioned regimes. The Article 7 procedure is structurally unsuitable to disciple reluctant member states, while other EU procedures (e.g., infringement procedures) benefit Fidesz. The government positions itself as the protector of national sovereignty against Brussels citing these. Based on Poland’s case, it seems like the rule of law mechanism is nothing more than some sort of a moral quarantine that exerts pressure on the government in Warsaw interpreting the EU’s values freely, but it does not guarantee that the state changes its behaviour.
  • One can also draw a distinction between Poland and Hungary on the basis that it is impossible to negotiate with the destructive Polish government making illegal and unconstitutional decisions, while it is feasible to mediate with Orbán, who is often working in the grey area but used to act with a two-thirds majority mandate for a time.  

The complete study, in Hungarian, can be accessed from here.