Zahradil: Visegrád must be firm vis-à-vis Macron
Jan Zahradil (File photo: ODS)
Jan Zahradil (ODS) is a Czech ECR MEP and president of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE).
Zahradil spoke to EURACTIV Czech Republic Editor-in-Chief Adéla Denková.
French President Emmanuel Macron travelled through Europe and met several European leaders at the end of summer. What do you think about his relationship with Central and Eastern European countries? Does he aim for a dialogue, or rather for a conflict?
I think that Mr Macron does not care about Central and Eastern Europe that much. His aim is to introduce himself as a new European leader who will put everything in order. In his European conception, France is at the wheel, Germany pays for everything and all the others have to follow their lead. This is a simplification, obviously. But I think that for Macron, Central Europe is just a tool for presenting himself as the leader. You can see it on his approach towards the Visegrád Group. He met the Czech and Slovak Prime Ministers during his tour de Europe, but not the Polish and Hungarian ones.
Macron met Czech Prime Minister Sobotka and Slovak Prime Minister Fico at the occasion of Slavkov Triangle summit, together with the Austrian Chancellor Kern. Does it mean that the Czech Republic and Slovakia are able to talk to Western countries, unlike Poland and Hungary? And that they may try to find a compromise between the West and the East of the EU?
There is a conflict between Central European countries and France because of the fight against low wages and the attempts to breach the freedom of movement for workers. It does make sense to talk to Macron about these issues. However, I do not think we should pal with Macron just because he performed a lesson of realpolitik and applied the “divide and rule” strategy. He tries to break Visegrád because the group has been too rebellious recently. We should not be taken by him. Mr Fico can do that as Slovakia is a eurozone member and has to follow a different policy. The Czech Republic should not aim to become a “bridge” between the West and the “bad guys” Kaczyński and Orbán. That cannot work. We would outrage Hungary and Poland and be perceived as a flunkey of the West.
You say it does make sense to talk to Macron about the issue of posted workers. But you do not think that the Czech Republic and Slovakia – thanks to their economic situation which is closer to the West that the one of Poland – could bring a compromise between France and the V4.
On the contrary, I think that we should try to keep a firm position in the V4, just like in the case of the relocation quota. We should create pressure, use arguments based on the EU primary law and prove that France breaks the principles of the single market. It is nice to try to reach compromise. But at the beginning, you have to define your own positions very clearly. If you aim for the compromise since the very beginning, you automatically lower your chance of success.
It looks like the matter of posted workers and the related issue of convergence among the EU countries has been one of the most important EU topics recently. Do you perceive that as a serious problem?
It rather shows that regardless of all the proclamations of EU solidarity and integration, we have reached a phase when we can finally see that “charity begins at home”. The countries which constantly talk about the European idea on the one hand fight for their national interests very hard on the other hand. Mr Macron also likes to present himself as someone who will protect the interests of French workers. Rhetoric is one thing, but the practice may be quite another. We should pay attention to this.
Let’s stick to NATO
The Czech Republic says it wants to be the leader of debates about deeper defence integration of the EU. Do you think the bloc should have a more integrated defence policy?
I always ask who will pay for that. What exactly are we talking about? Autonomous defence capacities independent of NATO, or capacities complementary to NATO with a separate budget, command and infrastructure? It is still not clear. And a country, which is still not able to spend 2% of its GDP on defence, wants to be a leader of debates about common EU defence capability. We should rather aim to deliver on our NATO commitments.
It is possible that we will see an intensification of the tendencies which materialised in Donald Trump saying that Europe will have to care about itself and that the US will not act as a world policeman anymore. We should be prepared for this, but we cannot do that by showing the middle finger to the US. The counterbalance of the US has always been indispensable for a country placed between Germany and Russia, and with the United Kingdom leaving the EU, we will now need it even more. Instead of being the leader of debates about an autonomous EU defence policy, we should be the leader of the debate about how to strengthen NATO.
The autonomous capacity could be used in situations when NATO cannot or does not want to intervene. Europe would be able to solve its own problems. Maybe this could be positive for NATO.
But we do not need to develop any new initiative under the EU flag for this. Countries capable to materialise such efforts can decide to do so on their own. There are three such countries in the EU. The UK, which is leaving the EU and NATO, will remain its only connection to European defence, France which already intervenes if there is a problem in francophone Africa, and Germany which will not lead interventions abroad due to historic reasons. So there is practically only one country able to do that. This country tries to cover its activities with the EU flag, but it is still its own policy. We should not pretend it is an EU policy.
If we look at the commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence, it is clear that there are several countries that do not deliver. With the EU defence fund, maybe this problem could be solved, as it should help to spend money more effectively.
That is already a debate about whether we should create new extra-budgetary tools. I do not think so. If there are countries capable of using their defence capacities outside the EU, they can base their cooperation on an intergovernmental agreement. We do not need an EU label for that. With the EU defence fund, we are creating another institutional tool that leads us to federalisation.
Talking about the 2% of GDP, I agree that it is a symbolic number and it is important how effectively we spend the money. But that is in the hands of national governments. It depends on them whether they are able to control the public procurement, how they approach the modernisation of their armies etc. It depends on the effectivity of state administration. I do not know how the EU could help here.