Vít Dostál, A Half Full Glass – The Czech Perspective on the Visegrád Cooperation


The Visegrád Group (V4) has been an important part of the Central European politics for last twenty years. It has survived many internal disputes and slow-downs of cooperation dynamics, which took place in 1993-1998 and in 2002-2003. Many alleged that V4 would dissolve as soon as all its members enter the European Union (EU), as its raison d’être - the integration of Central Europe into the Euro-Atlantic security, economical and political organizations – would be exhausted. Nevertheless, the post-accession cooperation of V4 flourishes and we should now ask about its prospects.

This essay has two purposes. Firstly, I will defend the thesis outlined in the opening paragraph; that V4 has found new dynamics after the EU big-bang enlargement in 2004. This will be done by brief discussion of V4 involvement in the Eastern Partnership initiative where I also introduce the Czech approach to V4. My second aim is to present the dominant Czech view on V4, which has been established within the Czech political discourse. Analysis will include major foreign policy documents and the results of the foreign policy trends survey. Finally, I will try to indicate possible threats for the V4 which may arise from the Czech attitude and which might downgrade the currently increasing importance of the V4.


The Czech Republic, the Visegrád Group and the Story of the Eastern Partnership

There was a lot of ambiguity about the future of the V4 in the time of the 2004 EU Enlargement. There were doubts, whether a direct pre-accession instrument which was designed to fill an “identity gap” in the Central Europe in 1990s’ has its place in the integrated – and in that time still rapidly integrating – EU. Although, the prime ministers agreed to formally adjust the V4 quasi-institutionalized regime for the new reality by signing the Kroměříž Declaration in 2004, the fulfilment of the guidelines was in hands of broader political leadership. As Michal Kořan (2011) precisely describes, the V4 was on a crossroad. Either, it could carry out loose cooperation in matters of joint interests and develop the V4 civil society dimension through the International Visegrád Fund (IVF), or launch more robust foreign policy initiatives. After some two years of hesitation which were dominated by cooperation in post-accession issues like enlargement of Schengen Area or liberalization of labour market, the V4 set out for a thorny path paved by intensified foreign policy cooperation.[2]

There are two main external vectors of the V4 cooperation, which are aimed at Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership. The former direction is still in a search of tangible enterprise, although there is a significant involvement of IVF[3]. Moreover, Visegrád countries have been among strongest advocates of the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU and NATO. However, the latter direction of the V4 foreign policy coordination has had a larger impact and it can serve as an example of how the Czech Republic approaches the V4.

The Czech Republic was rather reluctant to develop the Eastern Dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) during the first years after entering the EU. Since it lacks a geographical border with ENP target countries, it could hardly share the initial priorities of other Visegrád partners, which included issues like cross-border cooperation and visa liberalization. Nevertheless, the Czech diplomacy approached the Eastern Europe through the perspective of transformation cooperation and promotion of human rights, as the respective department was established within the Foreign ministry at 2004 (Kratochvíl, Tulmets 2007). After the change of political leadership in the Czech Republic, which had occurred in 2006 general elections, it commenced a pro-active policy towards the Eastern Neighbourhood of the EU (Vondra 2006). The V4 represented a natural setting for a debate about such initiatives. Discussion about the strengthening of the Eastern Dimension of the ENP was part of the Czech V4 Presidency Programme (July 2007-June 2008) (MZV 2007). Soon, there was written a non-paper which found support also outside the V4 (Karlas, Kořan, Tulmets 2008, 157). However, it was shortly overshadowed by joint Sweden-Polish proposal of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) (Král 2010, 9-10). Although, this unilateral and probably not consulted act left much bitterness among Czech diplomats, the Czech Republic finally embraced the initiative as it was and listed it among top priorities of its EU Council Presidency.

I do not want to discuss the particularities of the evolution of the EaP on the EU level; therefore, I will focus merely on the V4 context. Three elements are important here.

Firstly, the re-shaped quasi-institutional V4 structure was utilized for the promotion of the EaP. The V4+ format was used to discuss the EaP issues with Baltic countries, like-minded EU members and with the EaP countries as well. Annual meetings of foreign ministers from the V4 and the EaP countries with important EU players became an accepted normality of Visegrád calendar.

Secondly IVF expended its activities to the partner countries through the Strategic Grants and Visegrád+ Grants. Nevertheless, the most important step was the decision to launch a new Visegrád 4 Eastern Partnership programme within the IVF, which was taken on the single-issue V4 prime ministers summit in Bratislava in June 2011. Prime Ministers endowed the IVF with special sum of 1 million euro for that initiative (Visegrád Group).[4]

Finally, the V4 played the role of a pioneer of the EaP in the EU. The declarations and statements from above mentioned meetings included ideas introducing the possible future ways for development of the EaP. Many of them were later incorporated into the European Commissions’ proposals.

The part about the EaP showed not only how the V4 embraced the EaP as its flagship policy, but it also introduced the Czech understanding of the V4 post-accession cooperation. The Czech Republic transformed itself from a reluctant observer of the Eastern Dimension of the ENP to the staunch supporter of the EaP and the V4 has been perceived as the natural setting for the debates about its development.


The Place of the Visegrád Group in the Czech Foreign Policy

Now, I will turn to the second issue I would like to deal with, which is the current Czech perception of the V4 cooperation. Firstly, I will review the place of the V4 in the Czech conceptual documents on the foreign policy. Furthermore, I will discuss the data taken from the recent survey on the Czech foreign policy elites. Finally, I will briefly introduce how the V4 cooperation is seen in the internal political context.

There are two kinds of conceptual documents on the foreign policy in the Czech Republic – the governmental programme declarations and two conceptual bases – i.e. strategic foreign policy documents. There is not much written in last governmental declarations about the V4. These documents usually limited themselves on the statement, that the Czech Republic will develop good neighbourhood relations. The importance of the V4 in this process was mentioned in some governmental programme declarations (in 2002, 2004 and 2005).[5]

There is a visible difference in the remarks about the V4 in the two foreign policy conceptual bases. Whilst the Czech foreign policy strategic document from 2003 centres mainly on the internal dimension of the V4 and possible cooperation with other regional groupings (MZV 2003, 11), the last version form 2011 perceives the V4 also as a pressure group in international environment. Nevertheless, such understanding of the V4 is not repeated in any other part devoted to a specific region or international organization. Therefore, as in the conceptual basis in the 2003, the V4 is mentioned only on one place in the entire document. However, we should also pay attention to the fact, that a similar shift which was observed with the V4 took place in parts dedicated to bilateral relations with neighbours, too. Poland is newly described as a “strategic partner” and cooperation in foreign policy issues is mentioned in relations with Poland and Hungary (MZV 2011, 15-16).

The survey about the trends of Czech foreign policy elites, which was conducted in the summer 2011, shows another interesting data. The dataset of the study is based on filled-in questionnaires, which were entirely or partly completed by 114 parliamentary deputies and senators from the relevant committees, diplomats, senior state administration employees, political parties’ representatives, academics, representatives of think-tanks and NGOs and selected journalists (Eberle, Karásek 2011, 4-5).

According to this survey, the V4 is ranked as the third most important international organization[6] for the Czech Republic, being beyond the EU and NATO only. For 23,9 % respondents the V4 is important; for 53,3 somewhat important; for 18,6 % somewhat unimportant and only for 4,3 % unimportant. The expected prospects of the V4 cooperation do not offer such rosy picture. Only slightly over one half of the Czech foreign policy elite members believe that the importance of the V4 will rise or somewhat rise in next ten years (exactly 51,7 %), whilst the rest think the opposite (Eberle, Karásek 2011, 11-12).

On the other hand, the Czech foreign policy elites believe in positive development of bilateral relations with neighbouring countries. Slovakia and Poland are already seen as the third (Slovakia) and fourth (Poland) most important partners for the Czech Republic (mentioned by 82,7 % and 74,7 % respondents) and these relations are very well ranked (1,2 for Slovakia and 1,6 for Poland).[7] Moreover, both bilateral links should improve or somewhat improve in next five years, according to the survey (96,3 % in the case of Poland and 93,7 % in the case of Slovakia) (Eberle, Karásek 2001, 21-22).

The V4 is an unquestioned concept in the Czech political context. One would even say that the V4 is even invisible in the Czech Republic, as there is a lack of strong declarations about it. Nevertheless, there are no relevant political figures refusing the V4. This was not always the case; e.g. President Václav Klaus belonged to strict opponents of V4 in 1990s (Dangerfield 2008, 640-643). Nevertheless, he finally embraced the concept and he actively attends the V4 presidential summits. Thus, in the Czech discourse the V4 is now a broadly accepted, although not very emphasized, instrument.



The purpose of this essay was twofold. Firstly, I wanted to illustrate the development of the V4 after the EU 2004 enlargement and the Czech engagement in this process. It was done on the example of the eastern dimension of the V4 cooperation. Secondly, I discussed the current Czech perspective on the V4.

It was shown, that since 2006, the Czech foreign policy has been looking on the eastern dimension of the ENP through Visegrád lenses, as the V4 has been a natural space for deliberations about the prospects of the EU engagement in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, we can state that the V4 has a growing importance for the Czech policy makers. It is now perceived as a pressure group in international environment and as an important space for policy coordination. Moreover, bilateral relations with Poland and Slovakia are highly valued and are even expected to improve. Last but not least, the V4 lacks any significant opposition in the Czech political discourse.


However, the biggest obstacle seems to be a rather unclear vision of the V4 future, as almost half of the Czech foreign policy elite think that the importance of the V4 will decrease in next ten years. There are various possibilities how the Czech Republic can harm the V4 cooperation in the future. Czechs might go back to their superiority complex of 1990s (Dangerfield 2008, 641) or feel endangered by the growing Polish importance in European politics and domination in Central Europe. Nevertheless, these scenarios seem to be less probable than the prospect of the effectively working V4. Therefore, I would see the glass of the Czech Visegrád policy as rather half full than half empty.




Dangerfield, Martin. 2008. The Visegrád Group in the Expanded European Union: From Preaccession to Poastaccession Cooperation. East European Politics and Societies 22 (3): 630-667.


Eberle, Jakub, Tomáš Karásek. 2011. Trends of Czech Foreign Policy: Study of Foreign-Policy Elites, 1st ed. Prague: Association for International Affairs. http://trendy.amo.cz/wp-content/themes/trendy/files/paper.pdf  (accessed November 25, 2011).


Karlas, Jan, Michal Kořan, and Elsa Tulmets. 2008. Prag, die Visegrad-Gruppe und die EU Tschechiens Ziele in der Ratspräsidentschaft. Osteuropa 58 (7): 153-163.


Kořan, Michal. 2011. Visegrádská spolupráce na prahu třetí dekády. Mezinárodní politika 35 (3): 4-6.


Král, David. 2010. The Czech Republic and the Eastern Partnership – from a By-product to a Beloved Child? In The Eastern Partnership in the Context of the European Nieghbourhood Policy and the V4 Agenda, edited by Izabela Albrycht, 5-18. Kraków: The Kosciuszko Institute. www.europeum.org/doc/publications/enp.pdf (accessed November 25, 2011).


Kratochvíl, Petr and Elsa Tulmets. 2007. Úloha České republiky v evropské politice sousedství 1st ed. Praha: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. http://www.iir.cz/upload/Projekty/2007/ENP-Working_paper_cz.pdf (accessed November 25, 2011).


MZV. 2003. Koncepce zahraniční politiky České republiky na léta 2003-2006, 1st ed. Praha: Ministerstvo zahraničních věcí.


MZV. 2007. Program českého předsednictví Visegrádské skupiny (červen 2007-červen 2008), 1st ed. Praha: Ministerstvo zahraničních věcí http://www.visegradgroup.eu/documents/presidency-programs/2007-2008-czech-110412-1 (accessed November 25, 2011).


MZV. 2011. Koncepce zahraniční politiky České republiky, 1st ed. Praha: Ministerstvo zahraničních věcí. http://www.mzv.cz/file/675937/koncepce_zahranicni_politiky_2011_cz.pdf (accessed November 25, 2011).


Visegrád Group. Joint Statement on the Enhanced Visegrád Group Activities in the Eastern Partnerhship: V4 Prime Ministersʼ Summit, Bratislava, 16 June 2011. Visegrád Group. http://www.visegradgroup.eu/2011/joint-statement-on-the.


Vondra, Alexandr. 2006.  Česká zahraniční politika: Tři principy, trojí směřování a tři témata. Mezinárodní politika 30(11): 17-19.




[1] Vít Dostál ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) is with the Prague-based think-tank Association for International Affairs. He is also a Ph.D. candidate at Masaryk University in Brno.

[2] The intensified foreign policy cooperation has not been, of course, the only new dimension of the V4 in last few years. Visegrád opened new chapters of cooperation also in energy security or consular affairs, to name just two most visible examples.

[3] Serbia was a target country for the Visegrad+ grants in 2009 and Western Balkans students are involved into the Visegrád Scholarship Programme. Moreover, V4 offered assistance with creating a similar institution to the IVF in Western Balkans (Visegrad Group 2011).

[4] This sum might not look so spectacular, but one must have in mind that the entire IVF budget without this new allocation is 6 million euro and that these funds will be most probably used for soft projects of civil society and public administration as they are the focus area of the IVF.

[5] Paradoxically, the V4 is mentioned in years, when there was not a significant dynamics in the Central European cooperation. The explanation for that is the fact, that these governmental declaration programmes were much more detailed than those published in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010. Moreover, the declarations from the years 2002, 2004 and 2005 were to the large part made in copy-paste style.

[6] Although the V4 is not an international organization by definition, it was put together with other international organizations for pragmatic reasons.

[7] The marking a scale extends from 1 meaning “excellent” to 5 representing “poor”.

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