European Elections from the V4 Perspective

by | Apr 20, 2024

(18 April 2024 – Center for European Progression, Brussels)

MODERATORS

  • Jana Juzova (Senior Research Fellow, Europeum)
  • Ivett Letenovics (Junior Policy Analyst, C4EP)

SPEAKERS

  • Jolanta Szymańska (Head of EU Programme, Polish Institute for International Affairs)
  • Sándor Rónai (MEP, S&D Group)
  • Igor Merheim-Eyre (Head of Office and Advisor to EPP MEP Miriam Lexmann)
  • Zdenka Trachtová (Brussels Correspondent, Czech Radio)

The upcoming European elections in June are crucial, especially for the countries in Central and Eastern Europe that joined the EU in 2004. That’s why the Centre for European Progression organized an event focused on these elections from the perspective of the Visegrád Group, which consists of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. The goal of this conference was to discuss the political landscape in these countries and within the Visegrád Group itself. The event provided an opportunity to delve into the challenges and opportunities these nations face in Europe and what their election choices mean for the EU’s future.

Current internal political situation

Two years ago, the Czech Republic held elections, resulting in a coalition government of five center-right-leaning political parties led by Petr Fiala, providing a semblance of stability. However, as the next election approaches, internal disputes, particularly regarding the adoption of the Euro, challenge this stability. Despite challenges, the current government maintains a pro-European stance and actively engages with Ukraine. Zdenka Trachtová explained that the opposition, led most prominently by Andrej Babis, is often associated with populist parties by experts. The recent appointment of Petr Pavel as president introduces new dynamics to the political landscape, indicating potential shifts in the country’s trajectory.

MEP Sándor Rónai explained that under Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s leadership since 2010, Hungary has pursued anti-European policies, drawing criticism for its close ties to Putin’s Russia. Recent changes in the presidency have left many uncertain about the leadership’s direction, leading to political instability. Hungary’s extensive propaganda system – prioritization of funds towards propaganda over education – has drawn international concern. Accusations of misusing EU funds and fostering an illiberal regime have further strained relations with the EU, indicating challenges ahead for Hungary’s political landscape. For Sándor Rónai, Viktor Orban has to be seen as “Putin’s muppet”.

Following recent elections, Poland has seen a new government led by Donald Tusk taking office. However, the focus has shifted away from European elections due to upcoming local elections, diverting attention from broader European issues and elections. Despite this, Ukraine remains a key concern for Poland, alongside protests from farmers and broader societal challenges. Cooperation between President Andrzey Duda and Tusk on security matters has been noted, but the overall political landscape suggests continued strength for PiS. Far-right parties do not pose significant challenges, but internal and external pressures may shape Poland’s political future.

Finally, Slovakia faced significant political upheaval in 2018 following the murder of an investigative journalist, sparking protests against the government and ultimately leading to a change in leadership. The current government continues with similar agendas but with internal divisions and challenges. Recent elections saw Robert Fico return as prime minister, exploiting frustrations and anti-EU sentiments, which was deepened further by the election of Peter Pellegrini as president. Despite ongoing opposition protests against corruption and government influence, polarization remains high, signaling potential instability in Slovakia’s political landscape, and european elections.

Visegrad Group (V4) dynamics

The Visegrad Group, once a cornerstone of regional cooperation, now faces significant challenges. In the Czech Republic, the V4 format is considered obsolete, with relationships now primarily centered on a 2+2 dynamic between the Czech Republic and Slovakia due to historical ties. The atmosphere within the V4 has become frosty, with the Slovakian elections marking a turning point, highlighting the strained relationships within the group. Zdenka Trachtová acknowledged shared cultural heritage with V4 members but feels disconnected from the current government’s direction. Igor Merheim-Eyre added that despite this disconnection, they recognize the importance of cultural sharing. However, practical cooperation faces obstacles due to the lack of a common language. While a resurgence of V4 cooperation is possible through initiatives like think tanks and university collaborations, current sentiments lean towards pessimism, although cooperation on regional and local issues remains a positive aspect.

Poland’s stance towards V4 cooperation is ambivalent. While it has prioritized cooperation with France and Germany over the V4 (within the Weimar triangle cooperation deal), there are still areas of common ground such as the migration pact. However, overall, the enthusiasm for V4 collaboration seems to have waned. In Hungary, the issue of regional cooperation is met with skepticism. While there is recognition of common history and cultural ties, Hungary’s behavior within the V4 has raised concerns. Hungary, perceived as a troublemaker within the EU and the V4, faces criticism for its stance on migration and internal policies. The departure of a significant number of Hungarians during Orban’s mandate underscores the need for a reevaluation of Hungary’s approach within the V4, emphasizing, as said by Sándor Rónai, “the importance of treating other V4 members as allies rather than adversaries”.

European elections: Insights from the V4

In the Czech Republic, Zdenka emphasized the positive impact of having a pro-European coalition on driving interest in the European elections, particularly among the youth. She pointed out the increasing trend of social media campaigns, on TikTok for example, indicator of a possible growing engagement with the electoral process. Moving to Slovakia, discussions are expected to become “nasty” according to Igor Merheim-Eyre, especially regarding the contentious issue of the migration pact. Igor provided insights into the European People’s Party performance over recent years, noting a significant increase from 12% in 2014 to a doubled figure in 2019. However, he expressed skepticism about the EPP reaching 25% in the upcoming 2024 elections, although he expects it to attain at least 20%. He underscored the importance of addressing the lack of awareness about the EU among young people through educational initiatives. An interesting observation emerged from the audience, highlighting the diverse political affiliations of young voters, including both left-wing and far-right tendencies. Turning to Poland, concerns were raised about the impact of the war in Ukraine on the prevalence of disinformation, although the focus remains primarily on local elections. Despite expectations for a rapid campaign, it is anticipated that disinformation levels will not surpass those seen elsewhere in Europe. 

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