The Visegrad Group, also known as the "Visegrad Four" or simply "V4," reflects the efforts of the countries of Central Europe to work together in a number of fields of common interest within the all-European integration. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, members of the Visegrad Group, all aspired to become members of the European Union, perceiving their integration in the EU as another step forward in the process of overcoming artificial dividing lines in Europe through mutual support. They all became EU members in May 2004 and are now willing to assist Western Balkan countries, including Albania, in their Euro-Integration efforts.
"We support Albania on its way towards the EU," Jaroslav Ludva, junior Deputy Foreign Minister of Czech Republic told Albanian Daily News, adding that they are willing to assist through sharing their experience on Euro-Integration path. Ludva noted that justice reform is a basic condition for the EU integration process; it is one of the problems that have to be overcome. Czech experience after the toppling of communism has shown that political will and professional knowledge are needed to carry out the justice reform. "I am pretty sure you will manage (the justice reform)," Ludva said, adding that Albania is willing to open the negotiations with the European Union, striving to become a member and that is a condition to be fulfilled. Every region has its ups and downs, but still, as Ludva says, "the European solution is the only solution."
V4 extends a hand to the Balkans in its Euro-Integration efforts
Visegrad Group members came out with a joint statement on November 12 last year offering a helping hand in EU integration processes. They said that the idea of a peaceful unification of Europe has never been something to be taken for granted. "It may seem obvious at first sight; nevertheless, there have always been many obstacles in the way. But today, with the involvement of the Western Balkan countries in the unification process, the end of this long journey is nearer than ever before. European Commission's reports show that, year by year, your countries are moving ever closer to EU membership. And this is good news. Looking at the map, it is clear that without you Europe is incomplete. One can never fully understand European history without knowing the rich history of your region," it reads.
The European Union was founded as a peace project and it has succeeded in this ambition. Nevertheless, beyond the Union's borders history continued to run its own course. "But you also deserve life in peace, stability and security symbolized by the Union. The EU is more than a group of countries working together on issues of common interest; it is a community of states and citizens who decided to share their fate and face the future together. European unification is not only about turning an ideal into reality. It offers tangible political, economic and security benefits based on the solidarity and cohesion of the Union's members. The zone of peace, stability and prosperity is not an empty concept; it is a real programme for the European project and the external challenges that Europe is facing and the current migration crisis in particular confirm this," it further stated.
They also show the necessity of being able to offer more efficient and coherent answers. "The importance of the Western Balkan countries for the Union in this context is crucial as your region is geographically--though not yet politically--inside the European Union." V4 wanted all enlargement countries to be measured with the same yardstick and they noted that they would oppose "the setting of any additional conditions or efforts to slow down your accession process." But that also means that the rules governing enlargement should not be relaxed. "In order to join the Union, necessary reforms have to be adopted in the areas of rule of law, fundamental rights and economic governance." The shared values of freedom, democracy and human rights remain crucial.
The Balkans has marked progress in building good neighborly relations and V4 countries are located in the close neighborhood of the Western Balkan region. "That is why we follow closely your progress on the path to the European family with the strong conviction that this serves the best interest of the Western Balkans as well as the EU" However, it does take time to prepare for membership and V4 countries are offering their helping hand and their experience on the road that is still ahead. "We believe that all sides will benefit from the accession of the Western Balkan countries to the Union and we will endeavor to make sure that the Union's actions are guided by that," it reads.
However, the V4 was not created as an alternative to the all-European integration efforts, nor does it try to compete with the existing functional Central European structures. Its activities are in no way aimed at isolation or the weakening of ties with the other countries. On the contrary the Group aims at encouraging optimum cooperation with all countries, in particular its neighbors, its ultimate interest being the democratic development in all parts of Europe. "We have a very similar past," said Ludva, mentioning the former communist regimes and then, the common aspiration to become EU members. "Western Balkans is following out steps," he stated. Most of the V4 countries are naturally interested on the Western Balkans, also due to the historical ties during the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
The Visegrad Group also wishes to contribute towards building the European security architecture based on effective, functionally complementary and mutually reinforcing cooperation and coordination within existing European and transatlantic institutions. Albania and Croatia in the region are already part of NATO and Montenegro has finally got the green light to become a member. External security and defense are seen through NATO and the OSCE. NATO is especially as a defense mechanism that provides and guarantees security and safety for its members. All the activities of the Visegrad Group are aimed at strengthening stability in the Central European region. The participating countries perceive their cooperation as a challenge and its success as the best proof of their ability to integrate also into such structures, such as the European Union. But that cooperation extends to the Western Balkans or the Balkans as a peninsula. The Visegrad Group cooperates with other regional bodies, as well as with single countries in the region and beyond on an ad-hoc or regular basis. The Benelux countries, countries of the Nordic Council of Ministers, countries within the EU's Eastern Partnership and the Western Balkans belong to the Group's priorities.
International Visegrad Fund provides scholarships for the students from the Balkans
The International Visegrad Fund is an international organization based in Bratislava founded by the governments of the Visegrad Group on June 9, 2000. The purpose of the fund is to facilitate and promote the development of closer cooperation among citizens and institutions in the region as well as between theV4 region and other countries, especially in the Western Balkan and Eastern Partnership regions. The fund operates several grant programs, and also awards individual scholarships, fellowships and artist residencies. Grant support is given to original projects namely in the areas of culture, science and research, youth exchanges, cross-border cooperation and tourism promotion, as well as in other priority areas. 80 to 90 students per year from the Balkan countries receive scholarships to study in the V4 countries. The Fund served as a model for the Balkan countries to create their own Western Balkans Fund last year. The V4 Fund is not only a tool within the Visegrad countries; it is a project of common interest. A concrete project has just started in Albania, on the establishment of the red mountain rescue service which is in its initial phase.