Invited by the National Council of Slovakia which country holds the one-year presidency of the Visegrád countries, the meeting of the Speakers of Parliaments of the Visegrád countries and the Benelux countries was held in Piešťany on 24 and 25 March 2019, at which the Hungarian National Assembly was represented by its Speaker, László Kövér. The event was attended by Andrej Danko, President of the Slovak National Council alongside Marek Kuchciński, Marshal of the Polish Sejm, Stanisław Karczewski, Marshal of the Polish Senate, Michał Seweryński, Deputy Marshal of the Polish Senate, and Radek Vondráček, President of the Czech Chamber of Deputies and Milan Štěch, Vice-President of the Czech Senate. From the Benelux States, Siegfried Bracke, President of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, Annemie Maes, member of the Belgian Senate, from Luxembourg, Claude Wiseler, Vice-President of the Luxemburgish Chamber of Deputies and Gusty Graas, President of the Benelux Parliament, and from the Netherlands, Joris Backer, Vice-President of the Senate and Hayke Veldman, Chairman of the Committee for EU Affairs of the House of Representatives were present at the conference.
The agenda of the meeting organised for the first time in such a configuration included the topic “The European Union: Current challenges and future prospects”. During the conference, by virtue of its title, consultations took place on a number of topics, and the President of the Benelux Parliament invited the V4 member countries to the next plenary session of the Benelux Parliament which will be held in December 2019, in Luxembourg.
The parties summarised the results of the deliberations at the closing press conference. At the press conference Andrej Danko, Speaker of the Slovak Parliament pointed out that an important effort of the Slovak Presidency of the V4 Group was to extend the deliberation framework of the V4 Group, based on the Group’s previous common decision. According to the Speaker of the Slovak National Council, direct communication has contributed to a better image of the Visegrád countries: we have confirmed that the V4 Group is a dynamic configuration not to be feared of whose members, by virtue of their culture, are able to enrich the European Union with new colours.
At the press conference László Kövér, Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly pointed out that the meeting was successful and effective, and unanimity was reached on several issues. These include the fact that we still have an interest in maintaining the EU as the most successful enterprise following the Second World War, which is facing major challenges though, and there is a need for enhancing efficiency in order to reinforce the global weight of the organisation. Although there are divergent opinions as regards the perception of those challenges, there was a consensus that addressing them requires dialogue and a better knowledge of each others’ positions. It is important to identify the issues on which it is possible to reach a compromise, and any shift would be possible if the EU institutions tried to give more freedom to the Member States. Finally, the Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly acknowledged the importance of the meeting and underlined that such a dialogue between regional cooperation efforts improves the effectiveness of the EU.
Radek Vondráček, President of the Czech Chamber of Deputies pointed out that the meeting demonstrated the power of the V4 Group given that the four States represent altogether approximately 65 million citizens and a GDP surpassing that of France. He said that in order to ensure continuity, he also planned to organise a joint event with the Benelux countries in November 2019 during the forthcoming Czech Presidency of the V4 Group. Marek Kuchciński, Marshal of the Sejm said that a wide variety of topics were addressed at the event, including the value crisis, which is a priority issue for Poland and for which a solution should be found to consolidate the EU. Another important issue is that each Member State should benefit from equal treatment.
Gusty Graas, President of the Benelux Parliament expressed his hope that he would have the opportunity to meet the participants in the future in a configuration similar to the Benelux Parliament, therefore, for them to have a better insight into the activity of the organisation, he invited the V4 countries to the December session of the Benelux Parliament which is to be held in Luxembourg. Siegfried Bracke, President of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, thanked for the initiative and added that for him, besides the friendly discussions, the meeting had also brought important new information. For instance, he learnt the opinion of the V4 countries who believed the enlargement of the EU towards the Western Balkans was of great importance in security policy terms and that the V4 countries felt that they were not treated equally. In his opinion, the EU should, with due regard to democratic deficit, retreat a little bit in respect of certain issues which might raise problems, but progress would be needed in ensuring the well-being of citizens.
Under the Slovak Presidency of the V4 Group, the last meeting of the Speakers of Parliaments will take place on 27 and 28 June 2019 in the High Tatras, to which the Speakers of Parliaments of the Baltic countries have also been invited alongside the Visegrád countries.
The European Affairs Committees of the parliaments of the Visegrad Countries held a meeting in Prague on 7–9 October 2018 at the invitation of Václav Hampl, Chairman of the Committee on EU Affairs of the Senate of the Czech Republic. The Committee on European Affairs of the Hungarian National Assembly was represented at the meeting by Chairman dr. Richárd Hörcsik and Vice-Chairman Zoltán Tessely. Following the practice — which has already become a tradition —, the European affairs committees of the V4 parliaments meet every six months, thus the parliament chamber hosting the event may be different from the parliament of the country holding the one-year V4 presidency.
The agenda of the meeting included the Energy Union and climate policy, as well as the report of the Task Force on Subsidiarity, Proportionality and “Doing Less More Efficiently”, established in late 2017 and led by the First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, and published on 10 July 2018.
With regard to the Energy Union and climate policy, Richárd Hörcsik reported that, the week before the meeting, the Hungarian National Assembly had held its debate on the second National Climate Change Strategy 2030 (also offering a prospective for the period up to 2050), which also reflected the objectives of the Paris Agreement. He emphasized that, for the purpose of mitigating climate change, Hungary took part in all the international and EU-level climate protection processes and fulfilled its obligations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing CO2 sinks. He underlined that Hungary regarded the solar panel capacity increase as a priority, yet we could not do without nuclear energy either, since both resources were needed to ensure that 90 per cent of the country’s electricity generation be CO2-free by 2030.
Concerning this agenda item, Vice-Chairman Zoltán Tessely underlined the importance of the Member States’ national energy and climate plans, and declared that Hungary was committed to achieving the relevant EU targets. He explained that, besides energy efficiency and renewable energy, Hungary considered maintaining the country’s nuclear capacity as a key measure to achieve the objectives related to decarbonisation. The Vice-Chairman mentioned that it would be appropriate to identify the regional projects related to the Energy Union that could obtain EU funding after 2020, and made it clear that Hungary intended to maintain the state price regulation in terms of electricity.
The participants of the debate expressed their views primarily on energy policy and the challenges faced by their countries. The Polish party addressed the need for joint action against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline (Piotr Apel, Vice-Chairman of the European Affairs Committee of the Sejm of Poland), the issue of coal power plants based on new technologies and the legislative difficulties concerning the construction of wind turbines (Piotr Wach, Senator), while the Czech and Slovak parties referred to the need for nuclear power plants (Jan Skopeček, Czech MP, Martin Klus, Vice-Chairman of the European Affairs Committee of the National Council of the Slovak Republic).
Regarding the report of the task force on subsidiarity, Richárd Hörcsik expressed his view that the task force had been set up with at least 5 years’ delay, and the results achieved by it fell short of the expectations. He said that the Committee on European Affairs of the National Assembly of Hungary and the relevant government representative had discussed and evaluated the report of the task force in early October 2018. Although the Hungarian government did send written contributions to the task force, sadly, the document hardly contained any of the recommendations of the Member States.
The Chairman of the Hungarian committee underlined that the position of Hungary in terms of increasing the role of national parliaments in European affairs supported the introduction of the red card procedure, the extension of the 8-week deadline to 12 weeks, as well as taking into account the principle of proportionality when drafting reasoned opinions. Hungary does not accept the stealthy extension of the competences of the Union in any of the EU policies. We welcome the proposal of extending the 8-week deadline, included in the report, yet we regret that it had not defined any specific area that once again could fall under the competence of Member States, and we also regret that the plan of the so-called red card procedure has not been included, he said.
The rest of the speakers welcomed certain recommendations of the task force: a more flexible application by the European Commission of the 8-week deadline for issuing reasoned opinions and the extension of the current deadline to 12 weeks, upon a change of the Treaties.
At the end of the meeting, the participants unanimously adopted the final conclusions.
During the meeting, Chairman Richárd Hörcsik thanked the Czech MPs for the (short) resolution adopted by the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament on 2 October 2018, in which they had condemned the European Parliament for the so-called Sargentini report adopted in September.
The Slovak Parliament, which holds the Presidency of the parliamentary cooperation of the Visegrád countries (V4) between July 2018 and June 2019, organised a joint committee meeting in Bratislava on 22 and 23 January 2019 for the Defence Committees of the Parliaments of the V4 countries. At the meeting the Hungarian National Assembly was represented by Miklós Simon, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Defence and Law Enforcement, as well as by József Attila Móring, member of the Committee. All the Defence or Security Committees of the Parliamentary Chambers of each V4 country were represented at the meeting.
The two main topics of the event included the role of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in conflict management under the Slovak Chairmanship, as well as the issue of illegal migration as a risk to national security.
The meeting was opened by Anton Hrnko, Chairman of the Security and Defence Committee of the Slovak Parliament. Among the contributions of the Heads of Delegations, Miklós Simon stated that the signature in June 2018 of the Memorandum of Understanding on the V4 Joint Military Logistics Support Group Headquarters (V4 JLSG HQ), the first Visegrád capability, was a milestone in defence policy. In addition, he addressed the latest standby service of the V4 EU Battlegroup, which will take place in the second semester of 2019, and he also welcomed Croatia’s accession to the Battlegroup. Finally, he underlined the importance of regular consultations within the V4 Group regarding the dialogues on reinforcing Europe’s defence as well as the PESCO projects.
The priorities of the Slovak Chairmanship of the OSCE and the ongoing conflicts were presented by Lukáš Parízek, State Secretary of the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia, Special Envoy of the 2019 Slovak OSCE Chairmanship. Each subsequent contributions addressed the situation in Ukraine which impacts each V4 country. The Members of Parliaments expressed their support for Slovakia's OSCE Chairmanship. In his contribution related to the agenda item, Miklós Simon confirmed Hungary’s support for Slovakia's OSCE Chairmanship, in particular as regards the efforts towards resolving the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and frozen conflicts. The Vice-Chairman stressed that our country did not consider that the tensions resulting from the Education Act constituted a bilateral problem, in our view, ensuring the rights of national minorities was an essential element of our commitments made within the framework of the OSCE.
Under the second agenda item, the participants listened to the presentation delivered by László Csémi, Director of the Bureau of Border and Foreign Police of Slovakia about his experience with and approach to illegal migration, the challenges and threats of illegal migration, the consequences thereof, as well as the possible solutions. Following the Director’s briefing, all the contributors had the same position about illegal migration. They agreed that the EU was unable to deal effectively with illegal migration, they urged for a change of approach. In addition, they emphasised the importance of a joint action of the V4 Group. At the event, all the delegations commended Hungary for its effective activity in the fight against illegal migration. József Attila Móring said, among others, that for the promotion of the weighted interests of the V4 countries it is important to better share and jointly process security information and experience as well as to develop Central European or EU recommendations in relation to the negative effects of international illegal migration.