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2003/2004 Czech Presidency




Report on Activities of the Czech Presidency of the Visegrád Group (2003-2004)
 
This year's accession of the Czech Republic, Hungarian Republic, Polish Republic and Slovak Republic to the EU and NATO crowned with success their integration ambitions. It fulfilled for the great part the intentions that led in 1991 the highest representatives of the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland to sign the Visegrád Declaration, which bound these countries to cooperation in overcoming their common problems of the past.

The fulfilment of the intentions set out in the Visegrád Declaration put the participating countries before the question of how to go on. Since the discussions of the future of the Visegrád Group clearly showed that all its members had an interest in preserving cooperation, they proceeded to address the issue of the future direction of the Visegrád Group in the new conditions, influenced the first of all by their membership of the European Union.

The Czech Presidency therefore concentrated on defining new fields for cooperation and on reviewing the benefits of existing cooperation. "Continuity" and "Future" became two key concepts determining the character of the Czech Presidency. "Continuity" was seen as the intention to continue the use and development of the existing network of contacts as well as putting into practice concrete projects, both in the individual sectors of state administration and at the civic level. "Future" expressed the intent to finish the ongoing debate on the future form of Visegrád cooperation and to prepare a new Visegrád document defining new goals for the V4 within the European Union before the end of the Czech Presidency.

We succeeded in fulfilling both key mottos of our Presidency. Practical inter-ministerial activities continued in various areas, ranging from culture, education and youth exchange to the environment, internal security, transport and regional (cross-border) cooperation.

We also succeeded in promoting cooperation in the area designated by the Prime Minister Vladimír špidla at last summit in Tále, Slovakia (24-25/06 2003), as one of the top priorities of the Czech Presidency - Schengen cooperation. The Ministries of the Interior set up several expert groups, which regularly discuss relevant issues and we expect their activities to continue under the forthcoming Polish Presidency.

The activities of the International Visegrád Fund in support of contacts between citizens of our countries were also successful. In autumn 2003 the first Visegrád scholarships to postgraduate students from V4 countries were granted and a programme for granting Visegrád scholarships to students from countries of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe was completed. The Fund began to adapt to the new conditions of functioning in the EU, and the process should be completed by the end of this year.

As regards the future, during the Czech Presidency, the V4 countries worked hard on the final phase of preparations for their accession to the EU and actively participated in discussions about the future of the EU. The period of the Czech Presidency was in this context fulfilled by a number of consultations and exchange of opinions on various levels. The discussion on the future of the V4 in the new conditions of membership of the Visegrád countries in NATO and in the EU was also successful. The outcome of this discussion is a new programme document, a new Visegrád Declaration, which was prepared for the official summit of the V4 Prime Ministers.
POLITICAL COOPERATION
  • A number of important political meetings of executive and legislative bodies took place in the Visegrád format.
  • Prime Ministers of the V4 countries defined at their last official summit in Tále in June 2003 as one of the main tasks of Visegrád cooperation for the forthcoming period an intensive exchange of opinions in the last phase of preparations for accession of the Visegrád countries to the European Union. This agenda became the main focus of a number of meetings, on the level of Prime Ministers, State Secretaries and relevant experts. Although a consensus was not always reached, these meetings contributed to an open exchange of opinions at important moments of negotiations with the European Union. Several consultative meetings took place also in the extended format V4+.

    Major events
    19/09/2003 Prague Meeting of the V4 State Secretaries
    1/10/2003 Dobříš Special summit of the V4 Prime Ministers
    16/10/2003 Brussels Meeting of State Secretaries of the V4 and Benelux
    20/10/2003 London Consultations of State Secretaries of the V4 and United Kingdom
    21/11/2003 Warsaw Meeting of Prime Ministers of the V4 in the margin of the CEI summit
    9/01/2004 Dublin Meeting of heads of EU Sections of Foreign Ministries of the V4 countries
    15-16/01/2004 Prague Consultations of State Secretaries of the V4
    8/03/2004 Koloděje Special summit of Prime Ministers of the V4
    25/03/2004 Brussels Summit of Prime Ministers of the V4 and Benelux countries before the session of the European Council
    28/04/2004 Prague Meeting of heads of EU Sections of Foreign Ministries of the V4 countries.

  • European topics were also on the agenda of traditional meetings of the presidents of the Visegrád countries. The presidents agreed in their more general discussions that if Visegrád cooperation is to preserve its importance, it must be supported by concrete projects of real importance to all the participating countries.

    Major events
    3/11/2003 Budapest Summit of the V4 presidents
    11-12/03/2004 Košice Summit of the V4 presidents.

  • Representatives of parliaments continued their regular meetings too. The meetings of parliament speakers and representatives of some parliamentary committees were dominated by the issue of accession of the Visegrád countries to the European Union.

    Major events
    9-10/10/2003 Prague Meeting of chairmen of foreign, integration and security committees
    1-2/01/2004 Bratislava Meeting of chairmen of foreign and integration committees.

  • Concerning other foreign policy questions, regular meetings of experts from Foreign Ministries continued under the Czech Presidency. Heads of analytical and planning departments discussed the future of regional cooperation in Central Europe, political directors possibilities of Visegrád cooperation in Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union (New Neighbourhood Policy).
    Informal consultations of representatives of V4 countries to OSCE also continued. Very intensive are contacts of experts on OECD questions. On the regular basis are by the experts of V4 countries discussed also consular matters, such as visa requirements.

    Major events
    16/01/2004 Bratislava Meeting of directors of consular departments
    22/01/2004 štiřín Consultations of national Visegrád coordinators and directors of departments for analyses and planning
    18/03/2004 Prague Meeting of the OECD coordinators from the V4 countries
    18/03/2004 Vienna Consultations of CEI national coordinators from the V4 countries
    28/04/2004 Luxembourg Meeting of political directors on the issue of CFSP (in the margin of GAERC)

  • The Visegrád countries are still interested in promoting cooperation with other regional groupings or countries that express their interest in this. During the discussions of the future of the V4 working contacts were established with the structures of the Nordic Council of Ministers and Benelux, from whom the Visegrád countries drew inspiration in questions concerning the functioning of regional cooperation within the European Union. An interesting discussion was developed about the possibilities of cooperation between the Visegrád countries and Japan. The Visegrád Group also welcomed the declared interest of the Ukraine in cooperation, but for the moment it has not yet achieved in relation to the Ukraine a practical level of cooperation.

    Major events
    10/12/2003 Copenhagen Meeting of the national Visegrád coordinators with the Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Per Unckel
    23/01/2004 Prague Meeting of the national Visegrád coordinators with the Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Per Unckel
    23/03/2004 Brussels Meeting of the national Visegrád coordinators with the Secretary General of Benelux, B.M.J. Hennekam
    26/03/2004 Bratislava Meeting of the national Visegrád coordinators with a representative of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, A. Imamura
SECTORAL CO-OPERATION
  • Apart from political meetings, the core of Visegrád cooperation currently consists in joint projects in the area of culture, the environment, internal security, defence, science and education. Cooperation is also being promoted in the area of justice, transport, tourism and energetics. These projects are carried out through inter-ministerial cooperation (meetings of ministers and ministerial experts) and also with support from the International Visegrád Fund.

    Major events
    27/06/2003 Krakow Meeting of Ministers of Defence (another meeting of ministers is being prepared for 24.5.2004 at Komorní Hrádek)
    11/09/2003 Prague Meeting of Ministers of the Interior
    22-24/09/2003 Bakonybel Meeting of experts from Ministries of Justice
    28-30/09/2003 Hungary Meeting of directors of border guards
    16-18/09 2003 Chicago Joint presentation of the V4 countries at the IMTE ( tourism fair)
    2-3/10/2003 Čejkovice Meeting of Ministers of the Environment
    29-30/10/2003 Mojmírovice Meeting of Ministers of Justice
    13-14/11/2003 Olomouc Meeting of Ministers of Culture
    4 - 5/12/2003 Tatranská Lomnica Meeting of experts from Ministries of Finance to discuss the national funds
    4 - 5/12/2003 Bratislava Meeting of Deputy Ministers of the Interior (public administration)
    12-13/01/2004 Budapesť Meeting of working group for internal and external borders (Ministries of the Interior, police)
    January 2004 Budapesť Meeting of working group for energy (Ministries of Industry)
    February 2004 Brno Preparation of Project EDS - Visegrád: Exchange of Experiences and Development in Special Needs in the V4" (Ministries of Education)
    5-6/02/2004 Čejkovice Meeting of Ministers of Transport
    25/02/2004 Prague Working group of border services (Ministries of the Interior, police)
    25-26/02/2004 Prague Meeting of working group for combating extremism (Ministries of the Interior of the V4 countries and Austria)
    2/03/2004 Brno Meeting of Ministers of Agriculture
    5/03/2004 Marianské Lázně Meeting of Ministers for Regional Development
    8-10/03/2004 Prague Meeting of Expert group for educational systems in public administration (Ministries of the Interior)
    18-19/03/2004 Prague Meeting of Expert Group for modernization of public administration (Ministries of the Interior)
    25/03/2004 Měřín Meeting of political directors of Defence Ministries
    31/03/2004 Prague Meeting of Expert group for computerization of public administration (Ministries of the Interior)
    14-16/04/2004 Krakow Meeting of Ministers of Culture
    15-16/04/2004 Prague Meetings of experts of Ministries of Finance to discuss the national funds
    22-23/04/2004 Budapesť Meeting of Ministers for Regional Development.

  • Within the framework of sectorial cooperation, the Czech Republic put much emphasis on Schengen cooperation. Experts from the V4 countries began to deal with this issue with much intensity. In September 2003 ministers of the interior V4 agreed on deeper cooperation within the framework of the V4, a V4 working group for Schengen cooperation began its activities. It comprises two subgroups: Expert Group for SIS II and Expert Group for implementation of the Dublin acquis.

    Major events
    11/09/2003 Prague Meeting of Ministers of the Interior
    21/10/2003 Prague Meeting of Deputy Ministers of the Interior (Working Group for Schengen cooperation)
    3/02/2004 Prague Meeting of Deputy Ministers of the Interior (Working Group for Schengen cooperation)
    12-13/02/2004 Prague Meeting of Expert Group for SIS II
    2/04/2004 Prague Meeting of Expert Group for implementation of the Dublin acquis
    14/04/2004 Prague Meeting of Deputy Ministers of the Interior (Working Group for Schengen cooperation).
THE CIVIC DIMENSION
  • Another long-term task that the Visegrád countries continued actively to fulfil is strengthening of personal links between citizens, by supporting inter alia cross-border cooperation and the activities of the International Visegrád Fund. Seeing the big interest in the grants provided by this Fund the Czech Republic proposed within the framework of its Presidency an increase in the resources available to the Fund to the sum of EUR 3,000,000.
  • An expert meeting was held to discuss changes necessary in the Statute of the IVF and its adaptation to the new conditions in the EU. We hope this process will be completed as soon as possible.
  • The International Visegrád Fund, apart from supporting selected projects, extended since the academic year 2003/2004 its activities with the grant of Visegrád scholarships. Scholarships are granted to postgraduate students in Visegrád countries (intra-Visegrád scholarships for study at universities in V4 countries, out-going scholarships for study at universities outside the region, especially in western Europe).

    From the next academic year (2004/2005) university graduates from countries of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe will receive postgraduate Visegrád scholarships too. These so called in-coming scholarships should allow young people, for example from the Ukraine or Belarus, to study in V4 countries and later bring their experiences back home to resolve problems of the sort that the V4 countries were forced to resolve in the last few years.
  • An expert meeting was held to discuss changes necessary in the Statute of the IVF and its adaptation to the new conditions in the EU. We hope this process will be completed as soon as possible.
THE FUTURE OF THE VISEGRAD GROUP
  • During the Czech Presidency work on the new programme document, which reflects the changed situation of the Visegrád countries after their accession to the European Union, was crowned with success. It develops the favourite themes of the cooperation to date and offers new perspective topics.
  • All the participating countries declared in 2002 their political will to follow up on the positive results of the hitherto cooperation and to define objectives and mechanisms reflecting the new conditions. The premiers of the V4 countries decided at an informal summit in Slovakia (Červený Kameň, Smolenice, 06-07/12 2002) to launch an expert discussion of the new form of the V4.
  • The outcome of the expert discussions supplemented with political consultations, were Guidelines on the Future of Visegrád Cooperation. This working document, approved by the premiers of the V4 countries at the summit in Tále describes briefly the possible future focus of Visegrád cooperation and its mechanisms.
  • Based on the Prime Ministers´ instructions, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs prepared during the Czech Presidency of the V4 a general political declaration which follows up on the original Visegrád Declaration of 1991 and whose main goal is to determine the future directions for Visegrád cooperation in the conditions of membership of the V4 countries in the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance. This new Visegrád Declaration was prepared for approval by the Prime Ministers of the V4 countries at the official summit in Kroměříž on 12 May 2004.
  • The new Visegrád Declaration states in the preamble that all the intents set out in the original Declaration of 1991 were achieved and all the V4 countries are ready to continue their cooperation after their accession to NATO and the EU, which poses new challenges and at the same time opens new opportunities for their cooperation.

    The following text of the Declaration in the spirit of the working document "Guidelines on the Future of Visegrád Cooperation", approved by the Prime Ministers at last official summit in Tále, reflects the basic areas of Visegrád cooperation:

    • Practical regional cooperation within the V4 area;
    • Cooperation in the fulfilment of the objectives of the EU and continuation of the integration process, readiness to share with the countries of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe experience of the integration process;
    • Cooperation with other partners, regional groupings and international organizations.

    In conclusion the Visegrád countries declare their readiness to participate in the building of a reunited, democratic and prosperous Europe.

    The updated Guidelines describing in more detail the individual areas of future Visegrád cooperation should be annexed to the new declaration.

    The Guidelines define the mechanisms of the V4. The foundation is still intergovernmental cooperation, both on the level of premiers and ministries. The rotating one-year Presidency with regular summits of Prime Ministers at the end of each Presidency will be preserved. Contacts between the ministries on all levels will also play a key role. Intensive communication should continue between the national Visegrád coordinators, and active cooperation of Permanent Missions to the EU is expected too.
    The regular contacts between presidents of the V4 countries will continue, and meetings of representatives of parliaments of the V4 countries will continue to be indispensable.

    In the future emphasis should be placed on further development of the civic dimension of Visegrád cooperation, as well as contacts between citizens of our countries. In this context we attach much importance to the activities of the International Visegrád Fund.

    Major events in the preparation of the new Visegrád Declaration
    18/09/2003 Prague Meeting of national Visegrád coordinators
    16/10/2003 Nyiregyhaza Meeting of national Visegrád coordinators
    24/11/2003 Warsaw Meeting of national Visegrád coordinators
    22/01/2004 štiřín Meeting of national Visegrád coordinators
    26/03/2004 Bratislava Meeting of national Visegrád coordinators
    26/04/2004 Luxembourg Meeting of political directors of the V4 Foreign Ministries
    28/04/2004 Prague Meeting of directors of EU Sections of the V4 Foreign Ministries.

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