Petr Ne?as, the Czech Republic's new prime minister, has defended regular talks between his country, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland, saying closer cooperation between Central European states is a legitimate component of EU integration. He spoke to EURACTIV.cz in an exclusive interview.
The four Central European countries making up the so-called Visegrad Group have started holding regular talks ahead of European summit meetings in order to coordinate their positions on issues of common interest (EURACTIV 26/03/10).
The move has raised fears among diplomats in the older member states that the V4 would end up becoming a kind of parallel diplomacy within the European Union.
But, to Ne?as, these meetings are only part of normal diplomatic relations between sovereign states. ''I think it is not our aim to scare anybody,'' Ne?as told EURACTIV.cz in an interview.
''No-one is surprised by regular bilateral meetings between France and Germany, so why should one be surprised by meetings between our four EU countries?'' he asked.
The Czech prime minister did not deny that the V4 countries could act as a counterweight to the perceived hegemony of Paris and Berlin, however.
''It is true that the voting weight of these four countries is comparable with the voting weight of Germany and France, so we can say that for all these countries there are certainly benefits from such meetings.''
But he said talks between V4 countries should not be seen as exclusive and rejected the notion that the group was a closed club. ''If we want to reinforce our interests, we also need to have intensive bilateral relations with other big European countries. And this is not only France or Germany. There are other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Italy.''
''We are not a political Masonic Lodge or anything of that kind. Our meetings represent legitimate negotiations between four countries who share similar backgrounds and interests. It seems natural to me.''
For Ne?as, there are specific issues of common interest which merit coordination between the V4 countries. ''There is certainly a budgetary policy debate. But there is also energy policy where the V4 countries share similar interests – efforts to interconnect energy infrastructure and reduce our dependence on Eastern oil and gas markets. The room for cooperation is therefore enormous in fields such as energy policy and security of energy supply.''
EU budget reform: Focus on future growth
The Czech PM was uncompromising regarding upcoming EU budget reform talks, saying: ''I think it will be realistic to keep it at 1% of GDP.''
''If a Martian came to our planet, looked at the structure of the EU budget and was eager to guess something about the EU, he would inevitably come to the conclusion that it is a 19th century agrarian economy. I am convinced we do not want it to be one.''
Ne?as said he would rather see the EU shift its budgetary means to the growth-oriented policies of the future. ''I strongly believe that much more funding should be dedicated to measures that will boost the global competitiveness of the EU, such as support for R&D, innovation and education but also building infrastructure – transport, telecommunication, Internet connections and others.''