Benjamin Cunningham reports for Politico that Europe’s Visegrad Four are an “illusionary union”. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are often lumped together in a Euroskeptic club hostile to closer integration, he writes — “wary of domination by big Western European countries like Germany and wary of accepting migrants, especially Muslims” — but they are actually riven by tensions.
In particular, the Czechs and Slovaks are keener than their fellow Central Europeans on building strong relations with Germany, their key economic and political ally.
The two also worry about being left on the sidelines if the European Union consolidates itself in reaction to the threat posed by Britain’s exit, according to Cunningham.
It’s an old Eastern Europe strategy: boxed in between Germany and Russia, you ally with Western nations, like France, to safeguard your independence.
It doesn’t always work. France restored Polish independence in 1807 and went to war, together with the United Kingdom, when the Germans and Russians invaded the Baltic states and Poland in 1939. But the West couldn’t kick Joseph Stalin out of Central and Eastern Europe after the war; the “betrayal” of Yalta that was only rectified 45 years later when the Iron Curtail came down.
The countries in the region then wisely reached out to United States, which is still the ultimate guarantor of their security. The Americans, after all, have no immediate stake in what the European balance of power looks like, as long as there is a balance.
Unlike the French. They have their own history of accommodation with Russia, in order to balance against German power.
It’s a history that may not be very relevant anymore, but it does help explain why France doesn’t see Russia the same way its neighbors do.
Central European countries have endorsed the call for a more modest European Union in the wake of Britain’s referendum vote to leave the bloc on Thursday.
“The work of the union should get back to basics,” argue the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia in a statement that was released on Tuesday: “upholding the fundamental principles upon which the European projects has been founded, using the full and genuine potential of the four freedoms, achieving the still incomplete single market.”
NATO defense minister have agreed to station four battlegroups in the Baltic states and Poland to guard against Russian aggression in the region.
Britain, Canada, Germany and the United States would each send some 800 soldiers to protect the three Baltic nations as well as the narrow strip of land around the city of Suwałki that connects Poland and Lithuania.
Kaliningrad, Russia’s Baltic Sea enclave, lies to the northwest and Belarus, Russia’s closest ally, borders Lithuania and Poland to the south and east, respectively.
Poland’s ruling conservatives have vowed to abandon the free-market approach of their liberal predecessors in favor of a more paternalistic economic program that experts warn will weigh down on growth.
In an interview with the Rzeczpospolita newspaper that was published under the headline “Farewell to Neoliberalism,” Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s deputy, Mateusz Morawiecki, said that economic policy should “serve citizens, employees, entrepreneurs and Polish families, and not statistics, numbers and percentages.”
The near-victory of Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party in Austria’s presidential election has sent shockwaves around Europe. These have only partially been diminished by the revelation that Hofer, who led by a 52-48 percent margin on election night, actually lost to his Green Party opponent, Alexander Van der Bellen, by a margin of 30,000 votes once postal ballots were fully tallied.
Far-right parties have been enjoying an upsurge in support across Europe in recent years, but it has been rare for them to make it into government — and rarer still for them to make headway in electoral systems that do not use proportional representation.
The United Kingdom Independence Party managed to win only a single seat in the Britain’s Parliament in 2015 despite earning more than 13 percent of the vote. In France, the Front national came first during the initial round of regional elections this past year only to fail to win a single region when those races went to runoffs. Hofer’s achievement is therefore momentous in that he not only came first in the initial round of the presidential race with 35 percent but very nearly prevailed in the second round, when every other major candidate and party united against him. Read more “Austria’s Presidential Election Was About the Next Election”
Poland’s illiberal turn under the nationalist Law and Justice party is starting to damage the country’s economic prospects.
This weekend, the Moody’s ratings agency, which assesses the creditworthiness of states, switched Poland’s outlook to negative, blaming higher deficit spending and unpredictable public policy.
The International Monetary Fund agreed, warning that “downside risks” to the economy — Central Europe’s largest — have “intensified” in recent months.
Moody’s still considers Poland a reasonably safe investment. Its economy is diversified and has kept growing despite the upheavals in the neighboring eurozone. For a decade, it was the best-performing economy in the EU.