The presidency of the parliamentary cooperation of the Visegrád Group countries (V4) will be held between July 2019 and July 2020 by the two chambers of the Czech Parliament. In this context, the Czech Chamber of Deputies, in cooperation with the Czech Senate, organised a joint committee meeting for the Defence Committees of the V4 parliaments on 7–8 January 2020. At the meeting the National Assembly was represented by Miklós Simon, Deputy Chair of the Defence and Police Committee, and Miklós Boros, Hungary’s ambassador in Prague. All the Defence or Security Committees of the Parliamentary Chambers of each V4 country were represented (the Polish Sejm sent one of its officers) at the meeting, which was open to the press with regards to the opening presentations.
The three main themes of the event were V4 defence cooperation, joint procurements, and cyber defence and cyber security.
The meeting was opened by Jana Černochová, Chair of the Defence Committee of the Czech Chamber of Deputies, who recalled in her opening speech that the V4 cooperation will celebrate its 30th anniversary in February next year. She added that in recent years all countries have achieved a number of results individually, but they have always been the most effective when acting together. Among the speeches of the heads of delegations, Simon Miklós pointed out with regards to defence policy, among other things, that the cooperation of the Visegrád Group is the most important regional forum for Hungary, providing an opportunity for regular debates and coordination of the various EU and NATO positions.
The progress made in the field of V4 defence cooperation and the defence priorities of the Czech V4 Presidency were presented by Radomír Jahoda, Deputy Minister for Defence Policy and Strategy at the Czech Ministry of Defence.Major General Jaromír Alan, Director of the Capability Planning Division of the Czech Army’s General Staff, then spoke about the V4 EU battlegroup, its possible reform, the V4 JLSG HQ, the PESCO projects and the joint V4 trainings and exercises.
The second panel began with a presentation by Lubor Koudelka, Director of the Management and Support Department of the Armaments and Acquisition Division of the Czech Ministry of Defence, who provided a historical overview of joint procurement, the main reasons for the failure to cooperate and one of the main objectives of the Czech Presidency, the implementation of a small joint project.
In relation to the third item on the agenda, the delegations heard three lectures on the Czech Republic’s experience and approach to cyber defence and cyber security, the challenges and threats posed by cyber attacks, and the possible solutions. Lukáš Kintr, Deputy Director of the National Cyber and Security Centre of the Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency, explained that guaranteeing cyber security is the responsibility of the state, where prevention and understanding of potential threats are paramount. Cyber defence is the responsibility of military intelligence and the army, which was discussed in a presentation by Jan Beroun, Director of the Czech Military Intelligence. In the context of cyber defence, Mr. Beroun highlighted the lack of an exact definition and the importance of international cooperation. The third presentation was given by Michal Koudelka, Director of the Czech Security Information Service, who stressed that in addition to ongoing training, cooperation between the countries and mutual trust are essential in the fight against cyber attacks.
In closing the meeting, delegation heads of the V4 defence committees signed a document containing the final conclusions of the event.
On 17-18 November 2019, under the Czech Presidency of the Visegrád Group, organised by the Senate of the Czech Republic, the Conference of Presidents and Speakers of Parliaments of V4 Countries was held in Prague on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. The event was attended by the inviting party, Jaroslav Kubera, President of the Senate of the Czech Republic, as well as Radek Vondráček, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic, László Kövér, Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly, Andrej Danko, Speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, Elżbieta Witek, Marshal of the Polish Sejm, and Bogdan Borusewicz, Deputy Marshal of the Polish Senate. The meeting’s agenda focused on two topics: “November 1989” and “November 2019”. The special guest of the first session was Pavel Žáček, one of the organisers of the 1989 student demonstrations, and after the regime change director of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes and Security Services Archives, currently a Member of the Czech Chamber of Deputies, who in his speech thanked in particular the Hungarian young people for their active participation in the events of 1989 in Prague. During the commemorations, the participants jointly opened the exhibitions entitled “Velvet Revolution” and “Moments of the 20th century”, and also attended other celebratory events. As part of his personal programme, the Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly laid a wreath at the memorial to the victims of communism.
During the first session, the participants shared their personal experiences of 1989, paid tribute to the leaders of the revolution, praised the importance of the Velvet Revolution and the freedom gained, and referred to the mutual support of the V4 countries, which was already experienced at that time. During the second session, the participants stressed the importance of the V4 cooperation, the necessity of common actions on the European stage, the need for equal treatment within the European Union and the consensus among V4 countries on supporting EU enlargement.
In his contribution, László Kövér, Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly praised the importance of the event and underlined the fact that the Visegrád cooperation has now become the closest and most effective European alliance. He emphasised the fact that the V4 countries have a clear vision about the future of Europe and that they are ready to contribute with constructive ideas to joint European solutions. He also thanked his V4 partners, that on 4 November all three countries were represented at the Speakers’ level at the ninth Conference of Parliamentary Speakers of Southeast European Countries, organised by the Hungarian National Assembly, as it was the first time that he had invited his Visegrád partners as well.
At the press conference following the event, host Jaroslav Kubera, President of the Czech Senate, emphasised the importance of the joint participation of V4 Presidents and Speakers of parliaments in the commemoration. He also underlined that further progress is needed regarding European-level cooperation in order to make the positions of the Visegrád countries better respected by the old Member States.
Radek Vondráček, Speaker of the Czech Chamber of Deputies, summarising the discussions, stated that with regard to key issues, there is agreement and continuous cooperation among the V4 countries.
László Kövér, the Speaker of the National Assembly, expressed his thanks for the realisation of the event in celebration of the common success of our nations’ struggles for freedom, which strengthens the commitment to continue our cooperation. This is also justified by the fact that, as members of the European Union for 15 years, we have to admit that the EU is a framework for promoting interests, where countries of our size can only achieve success together. The Union is currently facing challenges for which it cannot find solutions or is seeking them in the wrong way; thus, the V4 should not only cooperate on questions about migration but also on economic ones (for example the multiannual financial framework). The Speaker was highly appreciative of the fact that this common presence at the event expressed our togetherness and emphasised that it is important for the V4 countries not to be considered a problem by the older EU Member States, but rather a solution.
Andrej Danko, Speaker of the Slovak National Council, referred to the fact that the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that allowed them to form their own state is also a national holiday in Slovakia. At the same time, he praised the togetherness of the V4 countries and suggested that the V4+ format meetings that took place during the Slovak V4 presidency should be continued. He pointed out the need to renew the European Union and the fact that it should not be allowed to make decisions based on ideologies instead of rationality.
Elżbieta Witek, Marshal of the Polish Sejm, praised the mutual support between the Visegrád countries and emphasised that we should ensure that the voices of the V4 are heard in the European Union and that these countries are treated as equal partners according to the equal rights of member states.
Bogdan Borusewicz, Deputy Marshal of the Polish Senate, stressed that the V4 cooperation, including the coordination of efforts to establish the North-South connection and the enlargement of the European Union, also enjoy the support of the Polish opposition.
Meeting of the European Affairs Committees of the Visegrád Countries in Sárospatak on 8-10 September 2019
At the invitation of dr. Richárd Hörcsik, the Chair of the European Affairs Committee of the Hungarian National Assembly, the European Affairs Committees of the V4 Parliaments met in Sárospatak on 8-10 September 2019. At the meeting, the European Affairs Committee of the Hungarian National Assembly was represented by the Chair, the Vice-Chair Zoltán Tessely, as well as by committee members Hajnalka Juhász and dr. Bernadett Szél.
The three topics on the agenda of the meeting were: the post-2020 multiannual budget and strategic agenda of the European Union, regional and interregional infrastructure projects, and the potentials of cross-border tourism, with keynote presentations held by dr. Boglárka Ballester-Bólya, Deputy State Secretary for European Union Affairs at the Ministry of Justice, dr. László Mosóczi, State Secretary for Transportation of the Ministry of Innovation and Technology, and Hotel Manager Péter Bágyi, respectively.
In his opening remarks, dr. Richárd Hörcsik highlighted his expectations for a more balanced leadership from the new President of the European Commission, among others, with regard to national sovereignty and migration. Concerning the first item of the agenda, he recalled that the adoption of the multiannual budget starting in 2021 is a complex negotiation process in which the V4 and the “Friends of Cohesion” countries need to take joint and harmonized action in order to protect traditional policies. While underlying the significance of infrastructural projects for less developed regions, he praised the importance of developments and the planned progress in his constituency and the region, which help not only to extend connections but also to increase opportunities in tourism. He drew attention to the connecting role of tourism, e.g. the initiative to renew cooperation between seven historic mining towns.
With regard to the post-2020 multiannual budget, dr. Bernadett Szél emphasized that, based on the Strategic Agenda, more resources should be allocated to the achievement of climate goals. While urging the implementation of the Paris Agreement, she deemed the government’s 2030 energy goals as insufficient and the level of the V4 countries’ renewable ambitions as low. She agreed with the objections raised in connection with Mercosur during the discussions and argued for the protection of rainforests as well. While supporting the preservation of funds for traditional policies, she called for greater control over the use of EU funds and advocated for joining the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.
On the first topic, Katarína Cséfalvayová, Vice-Chair of the European Affairs Committee of the Slovak National Council, agreed on the need for V4 cooperation to protect the post-2020 budget, particularly in regard to the protection of the Common Agricultural Policy, at the same time, she would not object to new sources of revenue for the EU budget, and she showed openness towards additional contributions that might be necessary due to Brexit. Piotr Apel, Vice-Chair of the European Union Affairs Committee of the Polish Sejm, agreed on the importance of advocating traditional policies, especially with respect to the Common Agricultural Policy. He considers that the recent EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement is dangerous as it could possibly open the market to food not in compliance with EU standards, against which the V4 must take united action. Jiří Kobza, Vice-Chair of the Committee on European Affairs of the Czech Chamber of Deputies, also shared concerns about the Mercosur agreement. In his opinion, Member States’ contributions should not be increased for the post-2020 budget, and there is no need for new sources of EU revenue either, nonetheless, he considers it unacceptable that, while the rate of EU subsidies would decrease, the European Commission’s own budget would increase.
Concerning the second topic, Katarína Cséfalvayová stated that Slovakia also supports the development of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), however, instead of the East-West connections, more attention should be paid now to the North-South ones. She agreed on the importance of motorway developments and the need for a V4 high-speed railway and, regarding railways, she also considered the modernisation of freight transport and the reduction of environmental pollution as a priority. Jaroslav Doubrava, Member of the Committee on EU Affairs of the Czech Senate, agreed on the need to reduce road haulage and, in this context, he highlighted the potential of water and rail transport. Piotr Apel drew attention, regarding the North-South connections, to the Amber Rail Freight Corridor, which would run from the Polish-Belarusian border to the Port of Koper and the Hungarian-Serbian border. The Polish Head of Delegation then invited the partners to a forthcoming meeting of the Visegrad Four European Affairs Committees in spring 2020 in Poland.
At the end of the meeting, the participants unanimously adopted a closing declaration.