Closer on migration, but divisions remain
The results of Polish parliament elections have been accepted in Prague with a sort of ‘non-interest’ on the side of the representatives of political parties, despite Poland being the biggest state in the Visegrad group (V4) of which the Czech Republic is a part.
Besides formal expressions of support from the sister conservative-right (ODS) camp, there were not any significant emotionally-coloured congratulations for Law and Justice. Their victory is, however, debated in the context of their following the national-conservativepath set by Fidesz in Hungary. Law and Justice’s win is likely to be more significant in strengthening the conservative cause at both a European and within the V4 than Fidesz’s dominance in Hungary has so far proved.
There are three main reasons for the comparative lack of interest from the Czech political mainstream. First, there is no significant political ally of Law and Justice in the Czech Republic. Even though Law and Justice and the Civic Democrats (ODS) cooperate in the ECR political grouping of the European Parliament, their ideological backgrounds are rather different: fundamentally sharing only a common opposition to deeper EU integration. They are also not comparable in scale, Law and Justice got almost five times more that the Civic Democrats’ 7.7 percent and ties between the two parties have not been cultivated on closer personal level. Secondly, the current Czech governing coalition has few “natural” ideological ties to Law and Justice and to Polish politics in general. This lack of overlap results in the third point: Poland is not of high interest to Czech political parties. This is partly caused by the fact that the Czech ministry of foreign affairs is currently headed by the Social Democrats who have no significant political partner in the Polish political environment. For Law and Justice too, Prague is not as important as Budapest: on both sides there is a lack of political and ideological connection.
This will however have implications for the long term relationships and shaping shared interests within the V4 as well as for the Czech-Polish relations. The migration crisis forced the V4 to determine their shared interests and, even though the outgoing Polish government acceded to migrant redistribution through quotas, the new Law and Justice government will most probably join the other V4 governments in refusing it.
This may result in new space for cooperation and thus create substantive political ties, but a deeper look reveals few positive prospects. Poland as the biggest country in the central and eastern European region will always have its own goals in the EU and international politics and is unlikely to subordinate them to a V4 position, and even if they were to do so, the Czech Republic would not be the first door they would knock at.
Compared to their predecessors in government, Law and Justice is comparably lacking in diplomatic know-how and it seems likely their V4 coalition-building would be based, primarily, on shared national conservative ideology. This is potentially very dangerous for Prague in terms of lost influence and so, regardless of their different ideological backgrounds, Prague has to find a modus operandi for retaining its interest in central Europe. This is particularly important given the challenge that the V4 nations are posing to the ‘Western’ continental states either through the rebuilding of the transatlantic ties (Poland) or Russia neutral foreign policies (Slovakia and Hungary).
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.
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