On 19 June, prime ministers of the Visegrad Group and Benelux met in Warsaw. Also, Poland symbolically handed over the V4 presidency to Hungary, which will officially begin its role on 1 July.
This V4-Benelux summit was special due to the high level of representation. Although the first prime ministerial meeting in this format took place in Luxembourg in 2001, so before the V4 became a member of the European Union, subsequent meetings have been at a lower level, such as the meeting of foreign ministers in March. The debate on the future of the EU was the impulse to resume the talks at the prime ministerial level after a 16-year break, which is why this spring the Benelux countries invited the V4 states for a discussion on the subject.
The talks on the Union’s future were intertwined with the results of the recent elections in France, the outcome of which reinforced EU factions in favour of a “multi-speed” Europe in which countries that want deeper integration could proceed together. Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands are advocates of this approach. Other topics included Brexit, the mass-migration crisis and the EU’s common defence policy. Poland used the opportunity to try to persuade its partners to work more closely with the Eastern Partnership countries, especially in the context of the planned November summit of EaP countries. Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel encouraged continuation of the dialogue with Russia, probably discerning the Visegrad countries' positions on the forthcoming EU debate on the extension of sanctions.
The main division for now between the V4 and Benelux is migration policy. Benelux countries favour the EU quota system while the V4 countries oppose it. All prime ministers present at the meeting expressed the need to protect the EU's external borders. The second dividing line is on European integration, with the current focus on the “multi-speed” scenario. On this issue there are differences also within the V4. While Poland opposes this scenario, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose country is a eurozone member, spoke in Warsaw about the need for talks on deeper integration within the Eurogroup.
During the prime ministers’ meeting, no written commitment was made, nor a joint declaration signed. However, the summit gave an opportunity for them to exchange views on a number of current issues and the EU agenda ahead of the European Council meeting planned for 22–23 June in Brussels. The Warsaw meeting demonstrates that the debate about the future of the EU is largely carried out first within regional groups, then between them, and later, formally in the EU forum. The summit also had symbolic significance: the dialogue between three founding EU states and four relatively new members was meant to show the broad dimension of EU cooperation.
The V4 may try to form a coalition with Benelux on EU votes. To gain an adequate majority in that process, countries have to form supranational agreements. However, a review of issues before the EU—especially reform—raises some scepticism whether it will be possible to find a joint perspective involving the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, much less also the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Slovakia. At the same time, the V4, which seeks to build up its image to a level similar to the Benelux brand, can find examples of interoperability in such areas as new technologies, renewable energy, and innovation—increasingly the focus of Visegrad cooperation, as seen by the adoption of the Warsaw Declaration in March this year at the Central Eastern Europe Innovators Summit.