Posted by DanielS on Sunday, 01 January 2017 04:57.
EUObserver, “The rise and shine of Visegrad”, 30 Dec 2016:
The Visegrad leaders have made their voices heard on the EU stage.
From left to right, Robert Fico, Beata Szydlo, Bohuslav Sobotka and Viktor Orban. (Photo: Czech government)
The name of a quiet medieval town in Hungary – Visegrad – has in recent times become synonymous with the word “rebellion” in Brussels.
Others, particularly if they are from one of the four countries in the loose association of the Visegrad Group, might argue that it stands for “alternative”.
V4 countries are trying to weigh in on the EU’s soul-searching process which was launched at a summit in Bratislava in September. (Photo: Kurt Bauschardt)
The group, also known as V4, was formed in Visegrad in 1991 and is comprised of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. It has remained relatively obscure for almost 25 years.
Then the migration crisis hit.
The EU’s inability to handle the crisis, combined with a tilt in the power structure within the union after the Brexit vote and increasingly bellicose and eurosceptic leaders in Hungary and Poland, has thrust the group to the fore.
In 2016, V4 leaders have pushed for a change in the EU’s migration policy and has refused to accept asylum seekers under the EU’s quota system. They also called for reform of the EU after the Brexit vote.
“The V4 basically fulfilled the role it was created for in the first place, to be a powerful lobby organisation.” Daniel Bartha, the director of the Budapest-based Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy, told Euobserver.
“It now holds on to a significant number of votes in the European Council to offset Germany.”
The original sin
Diplomats refer to a meeting of interior ministers in September 2015, when the four states were out-voted on migrant quotas, as the “original sin” that emboldened the group.
The V4 countries disagreed with the mandatory part of the system - even though in the end Poland, under its previous government, did not vote with the rest of the Visegrad nations - and particularly disliked how the European Commission rammed through its German-inspired proposal.
A year after the migration quotas were introduced, Slovak prime minister Robert Fico declared the idea politically dead. “Quotas today clearly divide the EU, therefore I think they are politically finished,” he told journalists while his country was holding the rotating EU presidency.
Eastern EU states were not the only ones that did not like the quota system, but they were the most vocal about it, with Hungary and Slovakia challenging it in the EU Court of Justice.
Strong anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the Visegrad leaders was initially criticised, but eventually the focus of the EU’s migration policy shifted from taking in asylum seekers and distributing them fairly, to reinforcing border control and shutting down migration routes.
The issue has finally forced the realisation in the corridors of the Berlaymont, the EU commission’s headquarters, that V4 countries could not be ignored.
But as one EU official observed, commission president Jean-Claude Juncker still surrounds himself with a small circle of close aides and is less open to influence from the V4.
The official gave the example of the commission proposal on “posted workers”, which would require companies from the eastern EU to pay as much to their workers sent to Western Europe as their western counterparts.
In principle, the proposal makes sense in a single market, and some Western European states have long objected to easterners undercutting local wages. But 11 national parliaments objected to the commission’s proposal, the bulk of them eastern nations. The commission decided in July to move ahead with the proposal anyway.
After Brexit vote
The Brexit vote was a shock to the EU, but it reinforced the V4’s presence.
It has been interpreted as a vote against the ruling elite and mainstream politics, a public sentiment that Hungarian and Polish leaders have been successfully exploiting. Those two nations took it as a sign that the EU needs to change, and they were ready with an alternative.
“The European Commission hasn’t fully understood what happened in the British referendum,” Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo told reporters in July, when her country took over the V4 rotating presidency.
“The EU needs to return to its roots. We need to care more about the concerns of citizens and less about those of the institutions.”
Similarly, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban said in June that democratic legitimacy for the EU can only come from the member states.
“We have to return to the notion that the basis of the EU is not its institutions, but the member states. The democratic feature of the EU can only be reinforced through the member states,” he said after the British referendum.
There is yet a concrete proposal, but in the Slovak capital in September, the 27 member states kicked off a soul-searching “Bratislava process” to explore how the EU could be reformed to win back citizens, and the V4’s ideas are bound to be influential.
“After Brexit, the EU’s political centre of gravity has shifted towards the east,” said analyst Daniel Bartha.
“France has had a declining economy since the early 2010s, so it has been less potent in offsetting Germany’s dominance on the continent. New power centres are destined to emerge in the union.”
But the V4’s rise in EU politics might only be temporary, as many issues divide the four nations and would hamper their ability to influence EU politics.
“The harmony only exists from the outside. Migration is the key issue where the four agreed. On everything else – for instance energy – there is little agreement,” said Bartha.
He cited as an example relations with Russia – a friend to Hungary but still regarded as a threat in Poland.
And Slovakia’s government has largely muted its opposition to EU migration policy during its presidency of the EU Council.
EU officials have suggested engaging with the “more reasonable” elements within the V4 – Slovakia and the Czech Republic – to separate them from Poland and Hungary whenever possible.
“They need our gestures. It is that moment,” argued one EU official.
Posted by DanielS on Saturday, 31 December 2016 00:02.
Iohannis stops accession of Muslim Prime Minister
Visigrad Post, “Romania On The Brink Of A Political Crisis”, 28 Dec 2016:
Romania – President Klaus Iohannis rejected the nomination of the country’s first ever Muslim – and woman – candidate for Prime Minister, Sevil Shhaideh.
After winning the election early December, the PSD – Social Democrats – had to nominate a candidate for the office of Prime Minister. The president of the PSD, Liviu Dragnea is unable to become Prime Minister as he has been preliminarily refused by President Iohannis as he has been convicted for electoral fraud. Hence, he proposed Sevil Shhaideh, and it was likely he’d run the government through her.
Although President Klaus Iohannis asked the Social Democrats to pick someone else to lead the government, but he did not give any reason for this rejection.
Mr Dragnea has previously suggested he will fight any attempt by the president to block his choice of Prime Minister. “If Iohannis rejects our proposal, I’m not going to make a second one. We’ll see each other in some other place,” he said.
Sevil Shhaideh - rejected nominee for Romania’ first ever Muslim – and woman - Prime Minister
Following the rejection, Mr Dragnea said he could begin the process of seeking to remove Mr Iohannis as president. “It seems the president clearly wants to be suspended,” Mr Dragnea said. “We’ll weigh our options very carefully, because we don’t want to take emotional decisions. We don’t want to trigger a political crisis for nothing, but if we come to the conclusion that the president must be suspended, I won’t hesitate.” As a matter of fact, several political observers claim that the two refusals – the first one, unofficial, of Dragnea, and the second one of Shhaideh – are unconstitutional.
On December 28, Mr Dragnea proposed Sorin Grindeanu as candidate for Prime Minister. President Iohannis is expected to name the Prime Minister on December 29. According to the Romanian constitution, if the candidate is not nominated by the President, the parliament will be dissolved and new elections will be held.
President Iohannis is indeed going along with the nomination of Grindeanu -
Sofia Globe “Romanian president designates Grindeanu new prime minister”, 30 Dec 2016:
President Klaus Iohannis has designated veteran leftist Sorin Grindeanu as the new Romanian head of government. Previously, Iohannis refused to endorse a female, Muslim candidate who was criticized for her inexperience.
The 43-year-old Sorin Grindeanu would have 10 days to unveil his cabinet and seek the parliament’s vote of confidence after being named by Iohannis on Friday.
The process is expected to go smoothly for the former telecommunications minister after the triumph of his moderate left PSD party in the parliamentary election earlier this month. The PSD won 45 percent of the seats and now holds a firm majority with their junior partners, the ALDE.
Grindeanu is a mathematician who has served as deputy mayor of the western city of Timisoara.
Posted by DanielS on Tuesday, 06 December 2016 05:09.
Sun: “Britain to send hundreds of soldiers to Poland to ward off Russian troops, as UK looks to Warsaw as a key Brexit ally”
Prime Minister hoping to cement relations with her Polish counterpart ahead of fraught EU negotiations
BRITAIN will send 150 troops to help protect Poland from Russian aggression as Theresa May looks to secure Warsaw’s backing in Brexit talks.
A summit between the PM and her Polish counterpart Beata Szydlo [was held] in an effort to stand up to bolshie Putin and allay Polish fears about its citizens remaining in the UK after Britain leaves the EU.
Theresa May is trying to cement ties with Polish counterpart Beata Szydlo ahead of Brexit negotiations
The deployment of troops from the Light Dragoons will be based in the northeastern town of Orzysz, just 100km from the key Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, from April.
It is here that Russia is planning to base Nuclear-capable missiles posing a major threat to cities in northern Europe.
While the deployment is small compared to Russia’s vast military, the gesture is intended to be symbolic of the UK’s commitment to her NATO allies and Britain’s ties to Poland.
Theresa May said on Sunday: “We share a clear commitment to take our co-operation to the next level and to firmly establish the UK and Poland as resolute and strategic allies.
“We will never forget the Polish pilots who braved the skies alongside us during World War Two … nor the valuable contribution made by so many Poles in our country today.
“I am determined that Brexit will not weaken our relationship … rather it will serve as a catalyst to strengthen it.”
Deployment of 150 troops will be stationed near the border with Kaliningrad, a key Russian enclave
Brexit-related talks will likely rile EU leaders after Brussels banned member states from formal negotiations with Britain before Article 50 is triggered in March next year
While the British deployment will be small the symbolic gesture is intended to help secure Anglo-Polish ties
Posted by DanielS on Sunday, 04 December 2016 02:58.
Visigrad Post, “Slovakia Prevents Islam From Becoming A State Religion”, 1 Dec 2016:
That’s the way to do it: make Islam illegal.
Slovakia – On Wednesday 30 November the Slovak parliament passed a law proposed by members of the coalition of Prime Minister Robert Fico to prevent Islam from gaining official status in Slovakia.
The Slovak National Party (SNS) proposed that, in order for a religion to be formally recognized by the State, it should have at least 50,000 members -instead of the 20,000 members before that law- and so to have State grants and run its own schools.
For the time being according to the latest statistics Slovakia has 2,000 Muslims, 5,000 according to the Slovak Islamic Foundation. On the 5.4 million inhabitants in Slovakia, 62 per cent declare themselves Roman Catholics.
The president of the Slovak National Party Andrej Danko said on this subject that “Islamization begins with a kebab and this is what happens in Bratislava, we must be aware of what we could face in 5 or 10 years … We must do everything in our power to ensure that no mosques are built in the future.”
The law was approved by two-thirds of the Slovak parliament, including the ruling coalition headed by left-wing prime minister Robert Fico and opposition parties. The Nationalist Party The SNS then proposed that not 50,000 but 250,000 should compose an official religion, which was immediately rejected.
lovakia, Bratislava – Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said some journalists are “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes” as he was questioned about allegations made on Sunday by a former employee of the MFA and the anti-corruption NGO Transparency International.
Zuzana Hlávková was part of a team of the Slovak MFA in charge of organizing cultural events related to the Slovak presidency of the EU. At a news conference on Monday held in conjunction with Transparency International, she accused her superiors of pressuring her into sidestepping public procurement for the ceremony, and working instead with an events agency close to Fico’s leftwing Smer party, wrote Reuters.
She also alleged that a concert marking the start of the presidency in July was organised without public procurement, and that the cost of organizing the event had been set higher than required. Transparency International, an NGO supported by Soros’ Open Society Foundation, leads this attack on the Slovak Prime minister which is well-known for his statements against Soros and some NGOs.
Asked by journalists on Wednesday, November 23, about these allegations, the Slovak PM Robert Fico spoke harshly to journalists. “Some of you are dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes, and I stand by my words,” Fico told journalists. “You don’t inform, you fight with the government.”
Speaking at the same news conference as Fico, the foreign minister, Miroslav Lajčák, also rejected the accusations. “Everything was in line with the law, and the budget allocated for the presidency won’t be even fully spent,” he said.
China has ordered all residents in its western frontier region of Xinjiang to hand in their passports, the latest in a series of draconian moves in the restive province home to an 11m Muslim minority.
Citizens of Xinjiang, an oil-rich but ethnically divided region more than six times the size of the UK, must hand their documents to police and apply to get them back if they want to travel, state-controlled newspaper Global Times reported on Thursday. The purpose was to “maintain social order”, the paper said.
Posted by DanielS on Sunday, 13 November 2016 00:01.
Interviewed at the ADDE conference in Stockholm 4 Nov., Rolandas Paksas recommends Lithuana’s participation in The Intermarium.
Visigrad Post, Lithuania – Interview with Rolandas Paksas, former President of Lithuania: “The Visegrád group could be a great ally for the Baltics and Lithuania, and we shall strengthen the cooperation.”
Ferenc Almássy conducted an interview in Stockholm with Rolandas Paksas, MEP, former President and former Prime Minister of Lithuania, and former mayor of Vilnius. The controversial national-liberal politician accepted a request to answer a few questions for the Visegrád Post on 4 Nov. 2016, as he participated to a congress of the ADDE in Stockholm.
Ferenc Almássy: Thank you for your time Mr. President. Is it the case for you that you consider the Visegrád group a potential useful ally for Lithuania and for the Baltic states, for a military, economical and of course political cooperation? Within the EU, Orbán in Hungary, PiS in Poland but also Fico in Slovakia are doing a lot to support the idea of a Europe of sovereign nations. So, how do you see the V4, from a Baltic, or more precisely, a Lithuanian point of view?
Rolandas Paksas: In my opinion, yes, the Visegrád group could be a great ally for the Baltics and Lithuania, absolutely. When I served as Lithuanian President, and Lithuania became member of the EU on May 1, 2004, I was absolutely supporting the EU’s membership of Lithuania, and I was very active in the campaign for the referendum on this topic, as I saw the membership as a very good opportunity for the country’s future.
But it is a pity, the EU has changed. And not in the good direction. We have now one state, I mean, the European Union has became a state, with its unique capital, its own rules and one leader, but also many bureaucrats in Brussels.
So I see the Visegrád group as a possibility to save the European Union. The EU should be a Union between equals. No matter how much population of how many languages are spoken in a country. We need a new way in order to save the European Union, and I agree therefore that the Visegrád group is a good possibility for all of us.
FA: You are speaking about saving the European Union, but what is then your opinion on Brexit?
Rolandas Paksas: This is the decision of the people. And not stupid people or poor, uneducated people as we were told, each day, ten hours a day, by mainstream media. Not at all. It was the decision of clever people in order to save England and the European Union. For me it is a great pity that the opportunity to save the European Union right after Brexit has not been taken. The European Union should have been changed after the Brexit ; but actually, I saw the exact opposite. I see ugliness and dictator-like behaviors from Brussels’ bureaucrats, and from the leaders of the European Union, and it seems to me, if nothing changes, that the European Union has four of five years left.
FA: The Visegrád countries are under the economical rule of Germany…
Rolandas Paksas: Yes!
FA: …but what is the situation in the Baltics countries, I mean, from an economical point of view?
Rolandas Paksas: Baltics countries are given money by the European Union. Economically, people are counting on this. Of course, it looks like a very good business to get four euros when you invested one! But that will not last. It is temporary. And it does not have a strong ground.
FA: How do you see the future of the Baltic countries if they stay in the EU and if the EU doesn’t change?
Rolandas Paksas: I’m MEP for the second time. Seven years ago, for ideas such as the ones shared by the members of the ADDE, I saw 70 to 90 votes in the parliament. Nowadays, we can reach 250, sometimes 300, so basically the half of the parliament. Such is the situation in Lithuania and the Baltic states. People’s ideas have changed a lot. People in Lithuania now fight for their nation, their culture, their language, and for the Lithuanian tradition. They do not want to be part of an other union destroying our country. We were in such a union once, it was called the Soviet Union. So no more of that, no more…
FA: Do you think the Baltic countries should join or at least be strong partners of the V4 to avoid such evolution?
Rolandas Paksas: I am absolutely in favor of any stronger cooperation. But our establishment is not ready for that.
FA: For what reason?
Rolandas Paksas: There are several reasons. For one, it’s money. For another, it can be their position, their career… Our establishment is not ready for that.
FA: But you do think it is Lithuania’s national interest to cooperate strongly with the V4?
Rolandas Paksas: Absolutely. And I think the establishment will change within a couple of years…
Posted by DanielS on Saturday, 12 November 2016 08:46.
Visigrad Post, “16+1 Summit: China is betting on Central Europe,” 7 Nov 2016:
Latvia, Riga – Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Latvia on Friday, November 4 to attend the 5th China-CEE (Central and Eastern Europe) Summit, also known as the 16+1 Summit, since it concerns 16 European countries and China. Numerous heads of state were present*, including the leaders of the V4.
First of all the participants agreed on the effectiveness of the cooperation between China and CEE countries, in place since 2012. It has proven its viability and looks set to thrive. They all renewed their desire to maintain the relationship. Thus, after the summit, the Riga Declaration was published, in accordance with international laws and revealing the wishes of countries concerned about the future of cooperation between China and CEE.
Participants acknowledged the effectiveness of their program over the medium term and are therefore committed to continue to monitor it and fill it according to their realities, needs and priorities. They support and encourage negotiations for major new investments between the EU and China. In 2015 the trade volume between China and CEE countries reached $ 56.2 billion, an increase of 28% compared to 2010. Chinese investment in these 16 countries exceeded $ 5 billion, while the latter have invested over $ 1.2 billion in China. Also, the Forum on Chinese investment will take place in Czechia in 2017. They encourage e-commerce as well as cooperation with small and medium enterprises.
Connections initiatives such as the Trans-European Networks are encouraged and supported. Transport and logistics will be further developed, as well as industrial, scientific, technological and energetic cooperation. In a general way, agreements are maintained and anticipated in all areas, such as health, agriculture…
“The China-PECO serves not only to peace and stability in the European region but also contributes to the balanced development throughout Europe,” said Saturday the Chinese premier. Also, Li Keqiang hopes to see the number of tourists between China and the countries of Central Europe and is doubling in five years. This is done in parallel with the Eurasian project of the New Silk Road, which results in Central Europe.
Finally, Hungary will host the 6th 16+1 Summit in 2017.
*Were present at the summit: Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis of Latvia, Premier Li Keqiang of the People’s Republic of China, Prime Minister Edi Rama of the Republic of Albania, Chairman of the Council of Ministers Denis Zvizdić of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov of the Republic of Bulgaria, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković of Croatia, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka of the Czech Republic, Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas of the Republic of Estonia, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary, Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius of the Republic of Lithuania, Prime Minister Emil Dimitriev of the Republic of Macedonia, Prime Minister Beata Szydło of the Republic of Poland, Prime Minister Dacian Cioloș of Romania, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić of the Republic of Serbia, Prime Minister Robert Fico of the Slovak Republic, Prime Minister Miro Cerar of the Republic of Slovenia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Information, Society and Telecommunications Vujica Lazović of Montenegro attended the meeting. Representatives of other parties, including Austria, Belarus, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the EU, Greece and Switzerland were present as observers.