After Brexit, the V4 countries, often regarded as located on the sideline of European integration (excluding to a certain degree Slovakia, a eurozone member), may play a greater role in the EU. However, their position will depend on a proper rearrangement of their relations with Germany and on the strengthening of their pro-European attitude. The future of the EU after Brexit is also an issue of fundamental importance for the V4 countries, which have been extensively using EU funds in recent years and are in a kind of symbiotic relationship with the German economy.
The V4 countries are struggling to a various degree with negative socio-political trends, the consequences of which are also felt on the EU forum. The main problems include the growing wave of populism, xenophobic and anti-immigrant moods, the relative increase of anti-European attitudes, and problems with the rule of law. These negative phenomena are often reinforced by the local political elites. At the same time, the V4 states, despite many general declarations, do not constitute a cohesive political block in the EU forum – in some matters they differ radically (development of relations with Russia), in other cases, the unity is questioned by their institutional position in the EU (for instance, Slovakia and the Czech Republic joined the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, meanwhile Poland and Hungary remained outside). Such differences weaken gravely the political potential of the V4 countries as a political block within the EU. A common key feature for all countries in the region, however, is the strong link between their national economies and the German one (sometimes through Austria).
To maintain relatively balanced trade relations with Germany
Certainly, the V4 states find themselves under political pressure from Germany on difficult issues (such as migration policy). But the potential for cooperation between V4 and Germany is definitely larger and not limited to political issues, but contains a broad economic agenda, equally important for all parties. The V4 countries and Germany share the common interests in the field of economic cooperation or the issue of financial discipline in the EU. German companies from such sectors as banking, automotive, machine, and energy industries have obtained significant market shares in these countries. V4 countries’ export to Germany amounts to approximately 140 billion euros per year, which is approximately 30% of their total exports. At the same time, German exports to the V4 countries are larger than the those to the US, China or other strategic European partners such as France or Italy. Meanwhile, the combined size of the V4 countries’ economies is dramatically smaller than those of the abovementioned partners. The V4 countries also managed – a rare achievement – to maintain relatively balanced trade relations with Germany, achieving a surplus or a slight deficit (difference between export and import in Germany-V4 relations is not bigger than EUR 4 billion per year).
The greater bond between Germany’s economy and the regional V4 partners is the result of trade within the existing supply chains, division of labor and of the regional characteristics of the market, together forming the regional industrial clusters. These close ties allow the regional partners to achieve a lasting competitive advantage, reinforced by the growing German FDI in the V4 countries every year, but also factors such as public-private partnerships financed from European funds, lower labor costs in V4, geographic proximity or relatively well-developed infrastructure.
Visegrad Group’s role in EU after Brexit
Continuing this economic symbiosis between the V4 countries and Germany is closely related to maintaining the stability of these countries’ economies, but also their political predictability. This issue should be treated with all seriousness by the political elites of the Central European countries, because in the medium term there is no realistic alternative to their economic cooperation with Germany as the main engine of modernization.
After Brexit, the importance of the Eurozone as the basic foundation of the EU will substantially increase, putting most of the V4 countries in a vulnerable position. On the other hand, Brexit will greatly strengthen the German leadership in the EU because it will reinforce its position of the largest economy in the Union and the most dynamic and innovative one among the biggest Member States. This scenario constitutes a window of opportunity for the V4 countries to offset at least partially the negative impact of Brexit on their position in the EU. Indeed, their strong economic ties with Germany may allow them to influence the most important political processes in the EU. However, this outcome will be conditioned by the political stability of the V4 countries which very strongly depends on the rule of law intertwined closely with the economy.
The importance of economic cooperation between the V-4 and Germany
According to Christian Schweiger “Under the PiS administration, Poland has substantially neglected engagement in the Weimar Triangle, and instead concentrated on engagement in the Visegrád Group.” Meanwhile, “Merkel initiated her fourth term as Chancellor in a renewed coalition with the SPD by emphasizing the need to revive relations with Poland and to strengthen the Weimar Triangle. [..][/..]This could potentially offer a historic opportunity for Warsaw to determine a leading Polish role in the EU and to advocate for the interests of the Central-Eastern European region effectively within a revived Weimar Triangle”.
On the other hand, Mateusz Gniazdowski admitting the importance of economic cooperation between the V-4 and Germany, stresses also rightly that “In the field of security, apart from disputes (such as Nord Stream 2), there is also reciprocity on the part of Germany which is involved in maintaining the sanctions against Russia. The German military presence on the eastern flank of NATO is also important.” Moreover “sometimes it is easier to talk with Germans than with some of Poland’s the regional partners, whose cacophony of signals about basic strategic interests can sometimes be unbearable.”