Central and Eastern Europe is not a natural and homogenous community of countries. Their history, traditions and political imperatives differ. Therefore, the best way to cement their cooperation is to concentrate on concrete steps which will make the CEE countries safer and wealthier. Two of many possible channels to pursue this goal are NATO and European Union.
Atlantic and European integration were the fuels of modernization in CEE region. Occidentalization was synonimic to progress. In times of disintegration such attitude is being questioned by postulating the search for new order with new engines of development. If common Visegrad identity is questionable, the alliance with new power like China is unrealistic. The Chinese invest in CEE to make money, not to create a new political or security system. They are not so eager to do so, as many would argue. Money from Middle Kingdom is not enough to secure V4 future. Infrastructural and energy projects with China can be conditionally profitable, but do not serve any political goals. Instead of that they could harm EU and NATO integration.
There is a need for new fuel. V4 still has an interest in refreshing NATO and the EU, because those are the only channels for realizing the Visegrad interests. It means that relatively weak V4 countries can use them as a lever to increase their influence and play for higher stakes staying with their limited individual power.
The part of Europe where Poland and other Visegrad Group countries, Baltic States and Ukraine are situated had a common problem in history. It is under the influence of big state actors with imperial ambitions. In the past, it was Mongolian Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, German Empire, Russian Empire, Third Reich, Soviet Union and it appears that in present times it is Russian Federation. Countries of the region have different attitudes to imperialism. Some of them yield to it e.g. Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Others fight it e.g. Poland, Baltic States and Ukraine. That is why the feeling of subjectivity in those states differs. There might be Western identity or post-soviet identity. There is no Central and Eastern Europe identity. To create CEE identity you need to start from the very beginning. Naming it should be the last part of the work, but for the sake of this essay, we can call it Intermarium, even if it is not an equally established term in the region. Countries of the region cooperate in the field of European Union integration. They all implement EU acquis communitaire. They all acquire European funds to improve the infrastructure. It can be easily seen in Energy and Transport sectors. The common identity comes from integration. The ways to integrate CEE countries are, firstly, the EU and NATO, and all the ways to work together within these structures: common infrastructure projects like the North-South Gas Corridor, common military projects like battlegroups, common business enterprises.
V4 cooperation is a way of decreasing the dependence on Russian gas and the political consequences of it. Russia uses natural gas to achieve foreign policy goals. Russia’s strategies include for example mixing political postulates into gas deals, threatening with gas supplies cut and preventing the competition on the market by monopolizing the infrastructure in CEE. One of the most prominent examples of efficient V4 cooperation is North-South Gas Corridor project. It is to connect working LNG Terminal in Świnoujście with a postulated twin in Croatia through V4. The goal is to connect the markets, make them more fluid and provide them with new sources of gas – Krk LNG Terminal and Southern Corridor from Caspian region in the South and Northern Gate (LNG Terminal and Norwegian Corridor in Poland) in the North. With such interconnected gas market there is a possibility to reach for other sources like American, Mediterranean, Central Asian and other gas suppliers. The channel providing financial and political support is European Comission which enlisted North-South Gas Corridor sub-projects on Projects of Common Interest list and refinanced up to 50 percent of the investment. One of the initiatives in Transport sector that V4 can use to serve its goals is Via Carpatia -an international road project from Lithuania, through V4 countries, Romania, Bulgaria to Greece. The project was postulated in 2006 in Łańcut. The goal is to modernize the whole route to the level of expressway or highway and by doing so increasing the trade between connected markets. The project is included in Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T) program created by the European Union. That shows that Brussels is a channel for realizing of V4’s interests. Like in gas sector, TEN-T investments are co-financed by the EU.
CEE states which are members of NATO use the Alliance to improve security in the face of increasing Russian threat. The visible manifestation of this attitude is Eastern Flank initiative pursued by Central and Eastern Europe NATO capitals. The strengthening of Eastern Flank is the example of a successful initiative pursued by V4 countries within NATO. Thanks to their cooperation around Alliance Summit in Warsaw, it was possible to ensure larger military presence in the Eastern part of Europe threatened with Russian aggression. It includes stationing of four battalion groups with 1000 soldiers each stationing in Poland and The Baltic States. They will consist of NATO countries’ troops. The channel of common V4 interest was The Alliance.
One of the means through which V4 countries can integrate within NATO was the creation of a common battlegroup inside the European Union. The EU Battlegroup is a military unit established under Common Security and Defence Policy. It is based on contributions from coalitions of member states. Visegrad Battlegroup started to operate in 2015. This idea could evolve into European Army initiative pursued by Poland and possibly other V4 countries which need to maximize the security assurance in the times of integration crisis within the EU and NATO.
It is not only up to state actors to fuel the integration in V4 region. The biggest companies in the region consolidate in order to increase their presence on international markets. The good example is PKN Orlen from Poland or MOL Group from Hungary. They work in CEE market and one of their goals is to diversify the oil supply. The good way to achieve that, was to use existing oil ports in Gdańsk and Triest to acquire non-Russian supply, for now mainly from Middle East. The scope of their work makes them more capable of negotiating meaningful deals like Saudi Aramco-PKN Orlen deal from 2015 or smaller, but still making a difference like Lotos deal with Iranian National Oil Company. Oil from Orlen comes through Gdańsk to Poland but also through Triest to Czech Republic. That is how big companies from V4 can serve its integration.
Visegrad Group is not a finished project. It needs enlargement to increase the scope and effectiveness of its enterprises. Abovementioned initiatives can and sometimes are encompassing countries outside of V4: Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Ukraine and The Baltic States are to be clients for Northern Gate natural gas. Poland created LITPOLUKRBRIG, a multinational brigade consisting of Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian soldiers with the headquarters in Lublin. LITPOLUKRBRIG is to take part in NATO, EU and UN exercises and operations. That is a good example of mixing the channels. There is a need for further enterprises.
The bonds created with such enterprises could lead to CEE leadership in the EU and NATO in distant future after these organizations reform themselves, which has already been postulated. In fact, they can be the reforming and refreshing power inside these organizations.
- Visegrad countries need to follow the line of increasing transatlantic cooperation in the sphere of policy, security and business.
- They need to pursue common projects in these spheres focused on increasing and/or supplementing EU and NATO integration. V4 can be a refreshing power inside these organizations.
- Visegrad countries need to abstain from projects harming EU and NATO integration. Creation of anti-EU or anti-NATO integration in CEE region is not serving Visegrad goals.
- V4 needs to enlarge.
- V4 common projects need to serve a clear, business goal. It means they need to provide measurable economic gains. That will prevent outside actors from disintegrating V4 with fake or factual counteroffers such as Nord Stream 1 and 2 as an alternative to North-South Corridor.
Integration of V4 and Atlantic community as a whole is being questioned. Visegrad Group is one of the possible tools to refresh it and in the case of failure replace it to serve similar goal: to make CEE region safer and wealthier and by doing so serve a common interest. There are abovementioned examples how V4 can use the EU and NATO to achieve this goal. It should work in the policy, economic, and security sphere. There is a clear need for the enlargement in order to strengthen the influence inside the Atlantic community to the North, East and South. This would lead to the recreation of V4 and the increase in its political capacity.
Wojciech Jakóbik is Editor-In-Chief of the portal BiznesAlert.pl and an expert at Jagiellonian Institute