n contemporary conditions in order to confront the new threats and challenges caused by the global financial crisis and changes in the global political architecture, regional cooperation is becoming increasingly important. Such regional associations as the Customs Union (Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan), North-Baltic Eight / NB8 (Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Estonia, Sweden), Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) and others show steady efficiency. Moreover, participation in some unions does not exclude the participation of the countries in the others, larger, such as the European Union, ASEAN, APEC, NAFTA, and the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC), signing an agreement on the creation of which is scheduled for May 29, 2014.
The Visegrad Group, also known as the Visegrad Four - V4, combining the four Central European countries - Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, was established on February 15, 1991 as a result of the meeting of Heads of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary in the Hungarian town of Visegrad in order to facilitate integration into the European structure. Today it has moved to a new stage.
The main objectives of the Visegrad Four is a synchronous development of relations and multifaceted cooperation with the EU, opposition to risks in the areas of economy and security, lobbying common interests on the European and world stages and the performance of common initiatives, strengthening regional trade and economic relations and the establishment of a free trade area (CEFTA), integration in the field of energy, economy, transportation and transit, culture, education and other issues. Economic priorities of the Four are common overcome of the consequences of the European economic crisis, taxation issues and energy security.
During its presidency in the Visegrad Group (July 1, 2013 - June 2014), Hungary, in accordance with the “Strategy for External Relations until 2020”, was paying prior attention to regional cooperation and maintained continuity at strengthening constructive neighborly relations and pan-European dialogue, expansion of the transatlantic partnership and trade and economic cooperation. Particular attention was paid to the development of infrastructure between North and South; security, in particular, the creation of the common military unit EC/V4 in 2016; cooperation in the sphere of small and medium-sized businesses, inter-parliamentary relations.
Hungary’s presidency in the Visegrad Four, as stated by the Hungarian government, was aimed at transforming the period of 2013-2023 in decade of Central Europe in the EU. In this context, the main objectives of the Hungarian Presidency in the V4 were “ to increase the role of the Organization in Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans in the process of supporting the European values and integration processes”, as well as to promote the development of the economy and the free movement of citizens. Hungary supports the policy of the countries of the Four in establishing closer cooperation between the countries of Central and Eastern
Europe. Other objectives of the presidency are eliminating of possible barriers in cooperation, representing the common interests of the region to the EU, attracting non-European states to the Central European affairs.
The growing importance of the Visegrad Group was announced by the ministers of the Visegrad Four countries at the informal summit on April 28-29, 2014 in Budapest, dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the accession of the member countries of V4 to the EU as part of other 10 EU member states. Over the entire period of its activities, the Organization, in whose success in the 1990s did not believe even the most optimistic politicians, has made remarkable progress.
The main reasons for success were that organization avoided the temptation of expansion and the formation of new institutions within it in order to enhance cooperation. Activity in the format of the four states on the principles of the annual rotation of the presidency, as well as the preservation of the original structure, allowed avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy and complexity of the procedures for its activities. The Visegrad Group has no secretariat or other executive bodies, its work is actually made in periodic meetings of representatives of Member States at all levels (prime ministers, heads of state, ministers, experts). Official Summit at the highest level- Heads of State - occurs once a year.
Successful activity of the Visegrad Four is also due to the right mix of advantages of multilateral and bilateral formats of cooperation. Thus, analysts have pointed out the positive role of the EU in strengthening cooperation of V4. This fact that all of its members belong to the European Union and NATO, as well as the Schengen agreement zone, strengthens the role of the Four. Under the current electoral system of the EU, the Visegrad Four voices have the same weight as the voices of France and Germany. At the same time, the interaction in the format of the four countries has enabled the Organization to lift bilateral ties to a higher quality level.
An attractive factor of V4 is that the member countries of the Visegrad Four started at different levels of economic development, and eventually leveled the pace and began to develop further, pulling each other to the common level of the EU.
Foreign policy strategies of V4 - Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia show a convergence of views and interests on a broad agenda, which means that the Visegrad Group is able to develop a common policy in relations with Brussels and Washington. Due to this factor Visegrad today has found its place in European politics and actively lobbies for the interests of its members within the EU and often acts as a common front while nominating their initiatives and making important decisions for the European Union. The Four has special activity manifests in the Eastern Partnership and security in the energy sector.
Creation of a common European energy market and achievement of energy security, in particular, the reforming of the gas market of V4 countries with the participation of Ukraine are the main priorities of the V4, and consider reforming of the gas market of the Member States. The Visegrad experts believe that currently the main unifying factor among its members is maintenance of economic growth, in particular, diversification of the supply of gas and oil. In
this regard, the ministers for foreign affairs of the Four expressed support of Italian initiative to create a common European energy market that Italy intends to implement in the framework of its EU presidency in July-December 2014. Other areas include energy infrastructure and the establishment of acceptable gas prices for consumers, the diversification of gas supplies and an access to liquefied natural gas market.
In order to improve the transport infrastructure and to develop the North-South transport corridor in the frameworks of V4, a working group of high-level on transport was created. Ministerial meetings on the economy, trade, transport, tourism and other areas are also held as a part of the V4.
Visegrad states actively cooperate on climate change and intend to sign an international agreement on climate change in Paris in 2015.
In the field of migration V4 stands for the prevention and reduction of non-regular migration and the fight against illegal migration and human trafficking in the EU project «FIMATHU» / «Facilitated Illegal Immigration Affecting Austria and Hungary», to resolve the illegal immigration to Austria and Hungary.
The Eastern Balkans occupy a special place in the Visegrad Group, which are assisted in their integration with the EU. Meetings are held in the format of “V4 + Balkan countries”. So, on February 24, 2014, a meeting was held in the format of «V4 +3» with the participation of the three EU
member states - Bulgaria, Greece and Romania.
It should be noted that V4 debates a question of the expansion of the Organization and turning it into a Six with Slovenia and Austria. Despite the differences in the positions of the participating countries, the initiative received the support of the Czech Republic. In turn, Hungary as a Chairman of the V4, provided a response to the invitation of the President of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, on the future participation of Austria and Slovenia in the meetings of the Four which noted that the Visegrad Group does not intend to expand, however, will practice inviting the heads of other countries-members of the EU on the summits as observers. It should be noted that the practice of inviting the heads of neighboring countries on the summits of the Four received its spread. Thus, French President F.Olland, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (6 March 2013), as well as Japanese Prime Minister Abe (16 June 2013) were invited at the meeting of Heads of Governments of the Visegrad. For example, until recently the agenda of the Four had an issue of possible membership of Ukraine in the organization and transformation of V4 into the Five. This fact was due to the importance of Ukraine as a key player in the negotiations on the regular transit of energy resources to Europe. For example, the summit of V4 February 15, 2013 in Bratislava, which was held in the format of “V4 + 3” with the participation of Austria and Germany, was attended by Prime Minister of Ukraine Mykola Azarov. Also, during the presidency of Poland (July 2012 - June 2013) the summit in the format “V4+” (3 July 2013) involved the President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich.
It should be noted that the report of the European analysts on the subject, published in 2014, recommended the Visegrad countries to accept other countries to participate actively in all the mechanisms of the eurozone, to which they have access, and to nominate own candidate for an important position in the EU institutions.
For the EU, the Visegrad Group is a conductor of the EU policy Global / Eastern Partnership / «Europe Goes East» / «Europe is moving to the
East”. The Eastern Partnership program as part of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), represented by the European Commission in March 2003 and which had a goal to bring Europe closer to its neighbors on the basis of mutual benefits and common interests, aims to support reforms in the six post-Soviet countries - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
The Euro Commission proposes these countries to conclude an agreement on association and creation of a new European Economic Area, which should become the basis for the development of a common internal market. For this purpose, the called States must adopt all EU legislation and recognize the verdicts of the European Court. In the future, they consider the abolition of the visa regime and the establishment of a free trade zone. Thus, a number of countries outside the EU have been invited, in fact, to become new members of the EU, legally not engaging.
It should be noted that the program currently involves the countries of Central Asia in orbit of its interests. Russia, instead of participating in the ENP, has a special status under the Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation Agreement / PCA.
The program aims to strengthen individual and regional relationships between the EU and through the approach of “more for more”, which involves more available means in larger returns and mutual responsibility. On the agenda of the European Commission there is a preparation of technical and economic explanation for the establishment of “Eastern Partnership” economic zones.
The key issues of the Eastern Partnership Program are energy security and energy cooperation, secure access to energy sources, ensuring the safe delivery of energy to Europe through Ukraine.
The program is aimed at strengthening the political partnership, economic integration of these countries with the EU, the activities of the European Commission and the European External Action Service in this direction, the implementation of the Vilnius Declaration and the development of public diplomacy, political and legal reforms, good governance, support for civil society, media freedom, the rule of law, human rights, and to prevent the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and its neighbors.
Moreover, if the purpose of the EU Eastern Partnership Program is to provide a stable and democratic environment in the East European region without obligation of provision of guarantees for the EU membership for the countries of the region, the position of the countries of the Four is in necessity for further EU enlargement. V4, speaking for the further unification of Europe, actively supported Croatia in the process of joining the EU, and is currently supporting six post-Soviet countries, as well as Albania, Serbia and other Balkan countries. Leadership of the Four believes that Central Europe has to play a crucial role, not only as a cultural and intellectual community, but also as an economic and political one.
The Four actively lobbies Ukraine’s aspirations to integrate with the European Union. Thus, the Ukrainian leadership has repeatedly stated that the cooperation with the Visegrad Group - the countries of the Carpathian region - is one of the main directions of the external cooperation of Ukraine. In addition, in the future, as a member of the EU, Ukraine is interested in strengthening cooperation with neighboring Slavic countries - members of the EU - Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia, Bulgaria and the country-candidate - Serbia.
Hungary during its presidency, along with four other countries, showed great interest in signing an Association Agreement with Ukraine, including the creation of a comprehensive free trade area, and accordingly, the Free Trade Agreement with the EU during the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013, ratification of these agreements by Armenia, Georgia and Moldova, and Belarus’ participation in the Summit. Other objectives of the Four are getting closer to the Baltic countries and the reduction of the gap between the EU and Russia.
In connection with the events in Ukraine, at the extraordinary summit of the Visegrad Group on February 24, 2014 in Budapest, Hungary adopted a statement of V4, which calls upon all parties involved to be engaged in dialogue and comply with the peace accords. Prime Ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary at the meeting on March 5 appealed to the European Union and NATO to help Ukraine to preserve the unity, which has faced a “dangerous development which threatens peace and security in Europe”. The statement noted that “the intervention of Russia in Ukraine” recalls the experiences of all these countries in the recent past: Hungary - in 1956, Czechoslovakia - in 1968 and Poland - in 1981. The Visegrad Four encourages the conflicting parties to comply with the agreements reached in Geneva on 17 April 2014.
The Visegrad group positively met an election of the new leadership of Ukraine, February 27, the Foreign Ministers of V4 held meeting in Kyiv with the participation of acting Ukrainian President O.Turchinov, the chairman of the “Udar” Party A.Klichko, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
V4 States welcomed the signing of the political part of the Agreement on association on March 21, 2014 by Prime Minister of Ukraine A.Yatsenyuk and 28 leaders of the European Union. According to the EU, “the signing of the Agreement emphasizes the strong support for Ukraine by the European Union in these difficult times. Heads of State and Government of the EU also reaffirmed their determination to sign the remaining provisions of the Agreement. Soon the
EU temporarily eliminated tariffs on Ukrainian exports to the EU. These moves are evidence of a mutual desire of the EU and Ukraine to build closer political association and economic integration.”
According to V4, the current international situation, in particular, the events in Ukraine, confirm the need for further strengthening and
consistent implementation of the “Eastern Partnership” policy, especially in the run-up to the next summit of “Eastern Partnership” in Riga in 2015. The importance of the early signing of the Association Agreement with Georgia and Moldova in June 2014 was noted, along with implementation of this agreement and signing of the remaining provisions with Ukraine.
Humanitarian aspect plays an important role in the activities of the Visegrad Four. In order to support projects in the fields of culture, educa
tion and science, student exchanges, tourism and cross-border cooperation, since 2000, the International Visegrad Fund, in order to support projects in the fields of culture, science and education, tourism and cross-border cooperation, has financed training in universities of the countries of the V4. The governing bodies of the Fund are the Conference of Foreign Ministers and the Ambassadors Council of the V4. Conference of Ministers of Foreign Affairs deals with the definition of annual contributions, the budgeting, supervises the executive authority on behalf of the Executive Director and the Secretariat with headquarters in Bratislava (Slovakia). The Ambassadors Council acts with the annual statements and is engaged in registration of the budget. The annual budget of the Fund is 7-8 million Euros and is formed from equal contributions of the participating countries. Since the beginning of 2014 the Fund has financed 3,700 projects, has provided more than 1,700 grants for training, totaling about 50 million Euros.
Against the background of recent events in Ukraine, the countries of the Four suggested to use the tools of the Visegrad Fund to assist in the development of capacity on the subsequent implementation of the agreements on associated partnership with the countries of the Eastern Partnership and expressed readiness to increase the resources of the International Visegrad Fund for the implementation of the liberalization of the visa regime and increase scholarships.
Currently, in accordance with Hungary’s “openness to the East” policy, actively promoted within the V4, a policy of attracting students from other countries, including the countries of Central and South-East Asia, to study in the countries of the Four is being conducted. The “Visegrad 4 and Eastern Partnership” Program provides grants for students from these countries. According to the Agreement between the Visegrad Fund and the National Science Council of Taiwan there are individual academic exchanges between Hungary and Taiwan. In March 2014 in Tokyo, an exchange year “V4 + Japan” was launched, within which the programs of exchange and cooperation in the areas of trade, science and technology will be carried out.
The development of tourism is one of the priorities of the V4 countries, which have developed joint program on development of tourism for 2014-2020. In the sphere of tourism, the V4 countries act under the slogan “4 countries - one tune; 4 countries - one visa; 4 countries - one tourist route.” They make regular presentations of tourist opportunities of the Four. This program also covers foreign countries, which include Kazakhstan as well.
V4 and, in particular, the Visegrad Fund, is active in the field of human rights protection. So, in November 2013 in Budapest a round table of the Visegrad Group on the prevention of genocide and mass torture was held, as well as the Sixth Budapest Human Rights Forum, which made recommendations on the revitalization of the Visegrad Group on the prevention of mass torture, the implementation of the Concept of the UN “Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in the region.
Analysis shows that the marked tendency of today’s foreign policy of the Visegrad Four becomes a dramatic adjustments in the direction of shifting the focus to the East, largely due to the efforts of the Hungarian presidency in the Organization (1 July 2013 - 1 July 2014). The new strategy of international cooperation of V4 strengthens policy of the eastern vector in the direction of non-European developing countries. Deepening of the full dialogue with Kazakhstan enters into one of the key policy areas of V4. So, according to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, “the bilateral relations between Hungary and Kazakhstan are developing successfully. Kazakhstan is a major regional power and an extremely important partner of the EU. Hungary initiated a strategic partnership agreement with Kazakhstan, on the model of some the EU member states”.
For Kazakhstan the study and application of experience of the Visegrad community is considered to be useful, as a successful regional organization acting within a strong structure - the European Union, and based on geographical proximity, common historical past, the traditional cultural and linguistic ties, based on common economic, industrial, economic and trade relations, transport and transit potential. It is interesting to study the mechanism of recovery of the whole complex of lost links of the former socialist bloc in various areas of cooperation. Particular importance is given to the experience of uniting, development and interaction of “multi-level and multi-speed” economies, which launched at various stages of development, and gradually built up the economic growth rate in the path of rapprochement with the EU standards.
Building partnerships with the countries of the Four - Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic is promising; Kazakhstan has friendly and mutually beneficial relations with each of
them, within the regional associations on a wide range of cooperation.
Thus, the success of the Four countries in the implementation of socio-economic reforms and recent achievements in the field of macroeconomics look very impressive and make us want to learn and apply their experience. In the medium and long term, the Visegrad countries can serve as a springboard for Kazakhstan’s business and Kazakhstan’s goods when entering the European market.
The most promising areas of bilateral cooperation are agriculture and oil and gas sectors, the environment protection, innovations and new technologies, pharmacy, tourism, construction and transport. The main instrument of the partnership may become cooperation between Kazakhstan and the Four countries on attraction of investment, expanding markets, transferring of innovative technologies. As a new format of cooperation there are sectoral dialogues involving detailed consultations on topics of mutual interest (energy, transport, agriculture, and security).
In accordance with the priorities of the V4, the expansion of cooperation in the energy field seems to be promising. The Visegrad Group, based on the fact that the interaction in the energy sector has been and remains the priority vector of cooperation between Europe and Kazakhstan, in particular, the diversification of
energy supplies to Europe by searching for new reliable suppliers of raw materials and reducing energy dependence on Russia, considers energy as a priority in cooperation with Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan, being the third largest supplier of energy to Europe from countries- not members of OPEC, after Russia and Norway, is interested in further strengthening of the strategic energy dialogue with Europe.
Renovation and modernization of trade, investment and economic sections of the new agreement on expanded partnership and cooperation between Kazakhstan and the European Union, taking into account Kazakhstan’s accession to the World Trade Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union in 2014, open new opportunities for broader cooperation between the Four and Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is interested in the simplification of the visa regime with Europe, which also identifies opportunities for the development of full-scale cooperation with the countries of the Visegrad Group.
According to the Visegrad Group, Kazakhstan is a regional logistics center, which provides significant potential for the development of trade. A great potential for cooperation lies in the field of transport and transit. The mega-project of construction of “Western Europe - Western China” corridor has a significant importance for the deepening of cooperation between Kazakhstan and the Visegrad Group. This project is aimed at a tenfold increase in transit traffic on the territory of Kazakhstan in 2050, provides the establishment of a modern transport and logistics system, which allows creating an effective delivery channel of goods from Europe to Asia through the territory of Kazakhstan.
The intensification of cooperation in the field of education is promising. Practice of theViseg- rad Fund in providing grants for training in the four participating countries involves consideration of the possibility of attracting Kazakhstan’s side to cooperate with the Visegrad Fund and the Association of Universities of V4 countries in the field of education. These areas include:
- The Scholarship Program to study in higher educational institutions of the Visegrad countries on a master’s degree/doctorate.
- The Fellowship Program for researchers (internship in Open Society Archives at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary).
- The Grant program for the development of training courses and programs related to the countries of the Visegrad Group, in the universities with the participation of experts from the countries of V4.
- The Grant Programs in the field of education, tourism and cultural cooperation, youth and academic exchanges (standard programs and strategic grants).
It is reasonable to expand the tourist exchanges with the countries of the Four, to open the direct flights to Budapest and Warsaw, to hold tourism fairs and other events.
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