The Visegrad Group, also known as the Visegrad Four or just “V4,” is an informal regional cooperation among four central European countries – Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. The spirit for their mutual cooperation in a number of various fields includes their collective common geographic location as well as history, similarity of culture and traditions. These are all values the members intend to reinforce and jointly preserve through mutual cooperation.
The group was founded on 15 February 1991 in Visegrad, Hungary, where the representatives of the three initial central European countries – Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland signed the founding Visegrad declaration. After the disintegration of Czechoslovakia in 1992 when both new nations, the Slovak and Czech Republics became members of the Group, it began to be known as the so called “V4”.
The main objective of the group´s establishment was to forge a close political, economic and cultural cooperation within the emerging geopolitical situation after the fall of the Iron curtain in 1989, in order to achieve its full “re-integration into Europe”. To this end, the countries decided to jointly undertake political and economic transformations that in turn enable them to fully integrate into the existing European political, economic, legal and security systems.
Even though these initial objectives were attained when all four countries joined NATO and the EU, the countries reiterated their willingness to further their mutual cooperation. Since then, the countries have worked together in a number of areas of common interest, particularly those of their economies, transport and energy sectors as well as in cross-boundary cooperation, cultural, environmental and foreign-security areas. Moreover, they coordinate their positions on various policy areas within the EU as, together, their common voice is much stronger. This enables them to be more successful in promoting their common interests. On that account, the V4 has become a recognized brand during three decades of its existence.
The V4 was not founded (and currently does not have an ambition) to pose as an alternative to the European integration or other political groupings. Its activities are not aimed at isolation. On the contrary, the V4 strives to cooperate with all countries mostly those in their neighbourhood.
In regard the V4´ s institutional design, it is a purely informal regional group and its open and flexible form of cooperation is not institutionalized in any manner. The group functions on the basis of regular meetings of member state representatives at various levels, ranging from the highest-level political summits, down through expert meetings to those activities of the non-governmental sector as well as research bodies and cultural institutions.
The most common of these is the annual summit of prime ministers, as well as cooperation among their particular ministries, either at the highest ministerial or lower expert levels. The V4 meetings are very often held within the extended “V4+ format” including countries beyond the V4 region since we are perceived by international partners as a single negotiating partner. In the environmental field, the V4 cooperation is very frequent with Romania and Bulgaria.
Since 1999 the group has ensured the continuity of its long-term cooperation by means of a one-year rotating presidency that always runs from 1 July to 30 June. The presidency country sets its own one-year programme that is approved by the V4 prime ministers at the annual June summits. On 1 July 2014, Slovakia entered into its 4th V4 presidency following Hungary and will hand it over to the Czech Republic at the end of June 2015.
The only institution of the V4 is theInternational Visegrad Fund (http://visegradfund.org/),founded in 2000 and based in Bratislava. Its principal objective is to facilitate and advance a civic dimension of mutual cooperation within our region itself as well as with countries beyond, particularly in the Western Balkans and the countries of the Eastern partnership. To this end, the Fund provides grants on projects in the fields of culture, science and research, education and those aimed at promoting tourism and enhancing cross-border cooperation. In addition, it supports youth mobilization through the award of individual scholarships and residencies. Finally, it issues its own magazine, the Visegrad Insight (www.visegradinsight.eu).
The fund is financed equally among its member states (2 million EUR annually per each country) that results in it currently having 8 million EUR at its disposal (2014). However, also non-member countries from Europe (the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland) and beyond (the US) contribute financially to the Fund, enabling it to further extend its activities. Karla Wursterová, the executive director of the Fund, was elected into this position in 2012 for a three-year term.
Find further information about the V4 Group at www.visegradgroup.eu.