As the Brexit process gathers pace, attention will increasingly need to be paid to the varied and complex political dynamics across the other 27 EU Member States, all of whom will have to ratify the final deal in their national Parliaments. One important group in this regard is the Visegrad (V4) Group of countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
The V4 countries form a strong block in EU politics, sharing common views on the EU and its future. They call for dramatic reforms to the functioning of the EU and its institutions, enhancing control over the EU decision-making processes by Member States, and restoring the EU’s credibility. Further, they insist on the creation of common European armed forces and strengthening the security in the block. The refugee crisis gave populist parties a chance to gain popularity and increase Euroscepticism in the countries. However, governments of the V4 would not risk going against the still popular pro-European sentiment by pushing to exit the EU. Indeed, their brand of scepticism is a long way from the secessionism of Britain’s Leave campaigners. On the other hand, they are actively trying to turn public opinions against the EU, to strengthen their bargaining position.
With regards to Brexit, the V4 are uncompromising on a single key issue: to protect its citizens’ right to live and work in the UK. The V4 countries have benefited from the UK’s move to open its labour market to the new Member States, resulting in an estimated 1.2 million Central Europeans now residing in the UK. Therefore, the V4 stressed that they are ready to block any agreement that limits freedom of movement, particularly access to the labour market for its nationals. Although they do not have the qualified majority needed to block a deal in the Council, as a group of Member States unified on this single key issue, they cannot be ignored.
Let’s now take a look at each of the V4 countries and their particular issues in turn.
The Czech Republic has been identified as most likely from the V4 to follow suit and call its own “Czexit” referendum. Some polls have shown that most Czechs hold a negative opinion of the EU, which has recently increased due to the imposition of EU refugee quotas in 2015. Political parties that call for “Czexit” are the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), founded by a former President of the Czech Republic, and the Dawn of Direct Democracy party. Both parties are in opposition and based on the polls for the 2017 elections, this is unlikely to change. If predictions are correct, the Czech Republic is unlikely to put forward the “Czexit” referendum in spite of the rising Euroscepticism in the country.
Based on the latest polls, the Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO), a centrist and populist political party opposing the adoption of the euro, as well as deeper European integration, will likely to take the lead in the 2017 elections defeating the pro-European Czech Social Democratic Party. Whilst the current and first directly elected President, Miloš Zeman, is commonly known as a populist leftist also supporting “Czexit”, he is most likely to be re-elected in 2018.
Hungary is commonly portrayed as one of the most Eurosceptic countries in the EU. The current government is dominated by the national conservative Fidesz party, which is part of the EPP family in EU politics. In October, the government put forward the “quota referendum” asking citizens whether they agree with the EU’s migrant quotas. While an overwhelming majority of voters rejected the EU’s migrant quotas, turnout was too low to make the poll valid. Despite the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán being a fierce critic of the EU, his preference is for reform rather than a Hungarian exit. He seeks what he calls a counter-cultural revolution within the EU – greater autonomy for nation states and less emphasis on liberal and humanitarian principles. He is likely to retain his power in 2018 parliamentary elections.
In the 2015 parliamentary elections, the Civic Platform, a centrist party with a welcoming attitude towards EU integration was defeated by the populist right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) Eurosceptic party. In the presidential elections, citizens have voted for Adrzej Duda, Law and Justice candidate for President, one of the latest wins of Eurosceptic right-wing parties in Europe.
Poland is not expected to adopt the euro any time soon and remains very sceptical towards the EU under its current government. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of PiS, said that Poland put forward in informal talks suggestions on how to change the EU’s treaties to strengthen nation states.
In the last parliamentary elections, the ruling left-wing populist Direction Social-Democracy has retained its lead position and Slovakia has remained devoted to its pro-European sentiment. Although, the right-wing People’s Party has launched a petition to leave the EU, a recent poll showed that the majority would vote to remain in the EU should there be a referendum.
Slovakia is not expecting fundamental changes in its political climate in the upcoming year. Both presidential and parliamentary elections were held recently with the next parliamentary elections to be held in 2020.
It is clear that there is strong appetite for reform of the EU in the V4 countries, though they do not currently appear to be ready to follow Britain out of the door. These nations will seek to use the Brexit negotiations to press their own cases for reform, while standing firm on the fundamental principle of freedom of movement which is so important to so many of their citizens.