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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » June 25, 2008
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Visegrad Group Summit
June 25, 2008   
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The prime ministers of the Visegrad Group countries-Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary-met in Prague June 16. The summit marked the end of the Czech presidency of the group and the beginning of Poland's presidency. The main topic of the meeting was Ireland's recent rejection of the European Union's Lisbon Treaty.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the upcoming Polish presidency of the Visegrad Group would be a time of "special challenges" for all the countries involved.

"The group has the potential and the capacity to be a benchmark for the whole region, for the 'new' EU countries and also those that aspire to join the EU," Tusk said. Referring to the Czech presidency of the EU, that will begin in January next year, Tusk said it would be an important test of the efficiency of Central and Eastern European countries. "We have all agreed to help Prime Minister [Mirek] Topolanek and the Czech government in this very tough undertaking," Tusk said.

Speaking about Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, the Visegrad Group prime ministers voiced hope that the EU enlargement process would not suffer as a result. "The recent events in Ireland should not cause a slowdown in the ongoing cooperation on enlargement with partners like Croatia and other countries," said Tusk. "It would be bad for the whole EU if complaining and lamenting were to prevail with regard to the Lisbon Treaty," said Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico, adding that "complications with the ratification process should not affect the EU's enlargement."

Topolanek said, "We need to find a solution that will not sweep the existing problems under the carpet or launch a new fundamental institutional debate in the EU, which I think would be a mistake." Topolanek declined to say what the future of the Lisbon treaty would be in his country. Everything depends on the opinion of the Czech Constitutional Tribunal, he said. He also refused to comment on a statement by Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who said that the process of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty "was over" after the fiasco of the Irish referendum.

Despite the crisis triggered by the Irish referendum, the EU should continue to work according to earlier plans, all four government leaders agreed. Tusk said the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty should continue in the remaining EU countries.

"I think it would be a good thing for Poland to show that we accept the essence of the Lisbon Treaty, and it would be good if President [Lech Kaczyński] signed the treaty as soon as possible," he added.

Topolanek referred to concerns that the next European Council might prove to be a debate on the Irish issue instead of dealing with other matters on the agenda. Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany and Slovakia's Fico supported this view. Fico said he would not want ratification problems to overshadow issues that should dominate in the EU. He mentioned growing food and energy prices in this context. He said he had asked the Visegrad Group prime ministers to speak in one voice on these issues so that they would be discussed at the European Council meeting.

The Slovak prime minister also said the Visegrad Group countries wanted to develop consultation mechanisms so that they could propose joint candidates for various posts in the European Union, in addition to coming up with other joint proposals and projects. "If our four-member group wants to be a trustworthy partner in international relations, we have to consult one another more closely on joint candidates and ideas," Fico said.

Tusk agreed that a true test for the EU's effectiveness would be its ability to tackle issues related to the growth of oil and food prices and make decisions to restrict this growth. He said he would support anyone who started such a debate in Brussels.

After the summit, the Polish prime minister said his Visegrad Group colleagues had expressed their support for the Polish-Swedish Eastern Partnership initiative. The Polish-Swedish proposal to strengthen the eastern dimension of the EU's Neighborhood Policy has received preliminary approval from EU foreign ministers.
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