The outstanding strategic significance of Central Europe in Hungarian foreign policy is quite frequently discussed nowadays apropos of the Hungarian presidency of the Visegrád Group (V4), which commenced as of 1 July. One of the often-emphasized goals of Hungarian foreign policy is the creation of a Central European economic area, where—due to its size—Poland would play a leading role in the domains of the economy and security policy. Of course, the realization of this goal does not depend of the efforts of Hungary alone.
CENTRAL EUROPE IS NOT AN IDEOLOGICAL GOAL, BUT A PRACTICAL ONE
When looking back on the last three decades, it may be stated that the most spectacular development in Hungarian foreign policy did not occur in relation to the Central European area. The network of Hungary’s foreign representations has of late shown rapid growth: the number of posts was about one hundred at the beginning of 2010, and today stands at over one hundred and fifty. Never has Hungary had such substantial diplomatic representation worldwide. Central Europe, however, only represented a modest portion of this growth, with the opening of Hungarian representations in Banská Bystrica, Gdańsk, Kraków, Lendva, and Wrocław (corresponding roughly to 10 per cent of the new or reopened posts). Moreover, the opening of new representations in the southern hemisphere and in the East took place to the detriment of the Central European part of the network, as the Hungarian Embassy in Tallin had to be closed, and was reopened only recently.
If we compare where we started out in 2010 with where we are now, we can see that the most extensive development was achieved in our relations with states in the southern hemisphere (sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and Oceania). These were almost completely suppressed in the period between the regime change of 1990 and 2010, especially in the last years of that period, but recently, in the spirit of the so-called ‘Southern Opening’, they have been rebuilt with a mostly foreign trade and humanitarian vocation, in contrast to the earlier geopolitical focus. In the sub-Saharan area and in South America, for instance, the number of our representations previously reduced to two or three has been multiplied.
However, our ‘Eastern Opening’, i.e. the spectacular development of Hungary’s relations with China, Russia, and other partners in the East, is better known. Let us also add here that our relations with China and Russia were not reduced before 2010 to such an extent as those with the countries of the southern hemisphere. Liberal post-communist Hungarian governments also made efforts, as much as they were able to, to maintain intense cooperation with these countries. However, the advantages of these Eastern relations were incomparably less marked than in the period after 2010. For instance, Ferenc Gyurcsány, the prime minister between 2004 and 2009, only shrugged his shoulders when Gazprom appeared unwilling to provide cheaper gas for Hungarians. Viktor Orbán’s Eastern Opening, on the contrary, obtained that gas unused but paid for in the framework of a long-term contract which subsequently could also be utilized by us—as if we had received the full volume of gas at a lower price. The successful procurement of COVID-19 vaccines should also be mentioned in this respect. Thanks to our new relations with Russia and China, we were able to ensure the free movement of people in Hungary in the summer of 2021, which was not the case in most European countries, and this has also had its impact on our economic growth. The big news regarding our Eastern Opening, however, is that the Fidesz government, despite its anti-communist traditions, has managed to achieve profitable cooperation with China, although it still has a communist system, and with a Russia increasingly bent on rehabilitating its Soviet traditions.
All this clearly signals that the pragmatic approach, without regard to ideologies, is not just a stated value, but is indeed the adopted practice of the Hungarian government, aimed at securing Hungarian national interests. This is also apparent in the government’s Central Europe policy: the focus of Hungarian foreign policy on Central Europe is not a matter of ideology, nor is it an end in itself, since it is expected to produce practical results.
The strategic significance of Central Europe for Hungary does not mean that this area must produce the highest figures in all the fields of Hungarian foreign relations, including the number of representations, the number of meetings, or the volume of trade. What is essential is that we hope to see an especially substantial contribution by the Central European system of relations to the economic and social stability and development of our country, without questioning the significance of our relations with the southern and eastern countries, the benefits from our Western European markets, and the importance of our country’s security as guaranteed by the United States and NATO.
The goal of our Central Europe policy is to play a key role in maintaining and enhancing the development dynamics by which our country has managed to leave behind the economic and social crisis of the years preceding 2010 and become one of the fastest growing national economies in Europe. To achieve this goal, it must contribute to the performance of the Hungarian economy by ensuring benefits from the synergies between Central European national economies, especially by the creation of the Central European economic area mentioned above, and it must also protect the Central European regional interests that are shared with the countries in the region, which are thus also Hungarian interests.
INTELLECTUAL SUPPORTERS AND OPPONENTS OF THE VISION OF THE CENTRAL EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AREA
Nevertheless, in Hungary, perhaps more than anywhere else, Central Europe could have considerable significance even on the level of ideology. In Hungarian politics, Central Europeanness is an ethos with a long history—we need think only of Jenő Szűcs’s essay on the three regions of Europe, László Németh’s ideas about the ‘foster- brotherliness’ of the Central European nations, István Bibó’s writings regarding the appropriate remedy for the common ‘misery of small states’, or Lajos Kossuth’s plans for a Danubian Confederation (further developed later by Oszkár Jászi), to mention but a few of the best-known Hungarian visions of Central Europe. The special emotional resonance of some bilateral relationships ought to be mentioned too, including the tradition of the one-thousand-year-old friendship between Hungary and Poland, and the historical memories we share with Croats, Slovaks, and Ruthenians of living together for many centuries under the same crown. We can say, then, that this foreign policy meets the expectations of many Hungarians— especially intellectuals—by being engaged in Central European cooperation.
It is also due to this expectation of the society that contrary to several other Central European countries, the necessity of Central European cooperation— the Visegrád cooperation in particular—has never been the subject of vehement debates in Hungary. With varying levels of enthusiasm, every government elected since 1990 has taken part in negotiations concerning coordination between the member states, and has fulfilled their obligations stemming from Hungarian V4 presidencies. It is true that the Central Europe policy has always been a subject of sometimes fierce debates between Hungarian political forces, but these debates were not about whether such cooperation was necessary, only about its content and priorities. As these debates have shown, however, it is not just a single Hungarian vision of Central Europe we should take into consideration, but several different ones, which, while agreeing on the necessity of regional cooperation, are opposed to one another, sometimes in bitter rivalry.
The oldest such vision on which the original fourteenth-century Visegrád cooperation was based was the agreement of the kings Charles Robert of Hungary, Casimir the Great of Poland, and John of Luxembourg of Bohemia on the military cooperation of the three countries and the development of trade routes between them, in order to prevent Vienna from dominating Central European trade. The core of Central European policies of this kind is the joining of forces to protect our countries from harms caused by powers stronger than ourselves; this could be called Central Europeanness with a geopolitical focus. This was also the primary idea behind the revival of cooperation at the end of the twentieth century. József Antall, Lech Wałesa, and Václav Havel joined forces in 1991 against the attitude of Western powers willing to give in to Soviet pressure aimed at preventing full membership of the countries of Central Europe in NATO and the European Community, and assigning to Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary an in- between position between the Western world and the Soviet sphere of interest. The goal of the three countries of the Visegrád cooperation was to defy the strong headwinds from two directions and to achieve full membership in the Western organizations, which they managed to attain with sustained efforts in the span of thirteen years.
Another historical example of Central Europeanness was the participation of Hungarians and Poles in each other’s wars of independence. We should also add that Polish struggles for freedom were also joined by Lithuanians, and the number of people belonging to ethnic minorities (especially Slovakians and Ruthenians) helping the Hungarians in their wars of independence was significantly higher than the number of those fighting against them. This heritage is present in the cultural genes of Poles and Hungarians, as well as other nations in Central Europe. Fighting for our freedom was not only about regaining sovereignty, but also about defending our social order, first as a noblemen’s democracy, then civil democracy, against the autocracy of the emperor of Austria, and against the political order Prussia and Russia wanted to impose on Poland. This form of Central European cooperation is about ensuring that major powers let us take the road we choose for ourselves, and that they do not impose their own social and economic models on us. This form of combined efforts could be called freedom fighters’ Central Europeanness.
Nevertheless, we should not forget that there were some Hungarians who did not object to the Austrian influence and the Austrian social model, but rather advocated them. After the Austro-Hungarian Compromise in 1867, the robust economic development of Hungary appeared in many people’s eyes to vindicate those who were convinced that it was only in a close cooperation with the German- speaking area that the region could realize a stable and dynamic development. The 1920 Trianon Peace Treaty confirmed this conviction, when regaining our sovereignty entailed the loss of two thirds of the territory of the country. There are many people even today who prefer describing the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy as one of the models of Central Europeanness—and not without reason. In this approach, Central Europe is nothing but a Finno-Ugrian and Slavic adaptation of the Austrian and German economic and social model, or, with a less flattering expression, a relatively comfortable life in the backyard of the German language area. This concept also exists on the German side under the name of Mitteleuropa. It is based on the fact that the impact of the German language area has played a significant role in shaping Hungarian civilization for many centuries. Moreover, when Central Europe was under Soviet occupation, the influence of Austria and West Germany on our country was nothing short of a breath of freedom. We should also remember, however, that the history of the German language area was not one of linear progress. With Hitler’s accession to power, and, subsequently, after the Anschluss, the vision of a German-oriented Central Europe based on the unconditional acceptance of the German model paved the way for submission to Nazism in several Central European countries, including our own.
Not only did struggles for freedom erupt against the vision of a German-oriented Central Europe, but alternative visions were also formulated. These tried to adopt a wider perspective, and to counterbalance the German influence they either chose the Anglo-Saxon model as the road to follow for Central Europe (or at least for Hungary), or else sought to adapt the French system. But Hungarian advocates of a French-oriented Central Europe were set back by the 1920 Trianon diktat, of which the French were the primary architects, while the positions of those promoting a German or English orientation were strengthened. Subsequently, the advocates of an Anglo-Saxon orientation received unprecedented impetus with the accession of the United States to the position of the number one global power. The Cold War, however, blurred the lines between the German, French, and Anglo-Saxon orientations, and resulted in the emergence of ‘the West’ as the unconditional and undisputable model for social and economic development. According to this Westernizing approach, the goal and purpose of Central European cooperation is about nothing more than supporting one another in copying Western economic and social models, the smooth adoption thereof, and adjusting to the expectations of Western powers.
In the meantime, however, the European order established at Yalta also implemented its own version of Central Europe: a zone of European countries under Soviet occupation, enjoying various degrees of independence. Although it triggered a series of independence movements and fights for freedom (as in 1953, 1956, 1968, and 1980), it also had its advocates and beneficiaries in the countries of Central Europe. From the 1960s, the six countries within the Soviet bloc (Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Bulgaria, and Romania) started to form a more or less common area where travel was relatively free, regional infrastructural developments were implemented, and their economies were connected along a number of lines, based on the division of labour under the aegis of COMECON (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance), with relatively strong links between them. In Soviet foreign policy thinking, the phrase coined to describe this area was blizko rubezh (close periphery), where life was worse than in Western Europe, but undoubtedly better than in the Soviet Union. About forty years later, this situation generated another vision of Central Europe, based on the acknowledgement, or even acceptance, of the fact that this area—whether one liked it or not—was part of the Russian sphere of interest, but had its own characteristics, and if it was smart enough, it could benefit to a certain extent from its voluntary or involuntary connections with the major power in the east. We may call this Russian-oriented Central Europeanness.
I illustrated these models with historical examples, but there should be no misunderstanding: these are not memories of the past. The current versions of these visions, each of them, continue to live on and compete with one another, struggling for dominance. It would be too simplistic to identify any of the current political camps with one vision or another. Advocates of all these visions have a presence in every camp, although to different degrees. Obviously, some of the above-mentioned concepts of Central Europe are strongly reflected in the foreign policy of the Hungarian government, while the government distances itself from others. The actions of the Hungarian government help decide which visions are adopted and which are not. As regards specific Central European issues, such as the creation of a Central European economic area, the Hungarian government regards advocates of all versions as allies and tries to win their support for this goal.
In order to see the overall picture, one must also understand that while the expectations of society compel almost everyone in Hungary to adopt, at least rhetorically, the ethos of regional cooperation, there have always been and will always be those who—similarly to other Central European countries but perhaps in a somewhat more concealed way—feel that solidarity with other Central European nations is a burden. These are especially the nationalists for whom the only thing that matters is to see their country or nation as ‘better’ than other Central European states, and especially their neighbours. And Hungarian nationalists want Hungary to be ‘better’ than Poland, because Poland is so big that they feel small next to it. Interestingly, adaptation to external expectations also has its nationalist version. In the 1990s, for instance, a certain Hungarian complacency existed, claiming that we were ‘ahead’ of our neighbours in European integration. After 2002, our fellow compatriots who took blind comfort in this belief were forced to recognize with dismay that luck can indeed change. We even saw a Slovakian ambassador to Budapest who tried to promote himself in the diplomatic corps by continually denigrating Hungarian democracy, comparing it with Slovakian ‘liberal democracy’ (a ‘liberalism’ which was exemplified at the time in the person of his boss, Robert Fico, who was fiercely criticized by Western liberal democrats despite his left-wing views).
The political map of Central Europe, then, comprises the approach of ‘let us help one another in enforcing our national interests’, the approach of ‘let us prevail at the expense of others’, and the approach of ‘let us adapt to external expectations’ (either supporting one another in doing so or winning to the detriment of others). The aim of Hungarian foreign policy is no less than to ensure that, sooner or later, the Central European economic area will become a reality despite the described political diversity of this region—and the sooner, the better.
KEY PRACTICAL ELEMENTS OF THE CENTRAL EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AREA
The most frequently mentioned specific component of the Central European economic area is the planned ‘super railway network’ connecting the capitals of the Visegrád countries with a speed of 230–320 km/h. Let us also add that a modern railway line is already being built between Budapest and Belgrade, with the prospect of an extension to the Greek coast, and there is an ongoing dialogue with Romania on connecting Budapest with the Romanian beaches by a similar high-speed train via Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) and Bucharest. At the same time, Poland and the Baltic states are constructing a super railway called Rail Baltica. A high-speed railway network, already well past the pipe-dream stage, which would actually connect the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, and the Aegean Sea (and perhaps even the Adriatic), is currently being planned. Let us keep in mind that the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, on a recent visit to Ljubljana, spoke publicly and in detail about the concept of a Central European super railway network, in the hope of stirring interest in the countries north of the Adriatic Sea regarding participation in the undertaking.
At the same time, there are still many open questions regarding the implementation of ‘Rail Visegrád’. Whereas the related developments in Hungary or the Czech Republic would be in the interest of international as well as domestic transport, in Slovakia there would be hardly any domestic benefits of connecting Bratislava with Záhorie (which in any case is nearby) by super train. Let us just think about the idea of a high-speed Bratislava–Malacky line—perhaps Slovakia has more important directions of development to consider. In Poland, however, the idea emerged that the tracks accommodating high-speed trains should be built further west, two hundred kilometres away from the initially planned route, through Lower Silesia instead of Upper Silesia, which would create an unbroken line between Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest, instead of a Y-shaped network with its centre in Brno. But it is an open question whether its implementation would accomplish what we have always emphasized from the Hungarian side as the main point of the whole project, that is, making Warsaw accessible from Budapest by train in five and a half hours. If the journey is much longer, is it still worth spending so much money on it? This clearly signals that the creation of the economic area requires very hard work, and efforts should be made to ensure optimal coordination of regional and national interests in order to find solutions that are advantageous for each participant separately, as well as for the region as a whole.
From the strategic perspective, it must be recognized that the high-speed railway—even if it is complemented with modern cargo lines and motorways— will not create a regional economic area by itself. Investing in a high-speed railway promises a substantial economic benefit if it connects closely cooperating, mutually dependent academic centres with one another, and serves as the physical infrastructure of a common Central European centre of knowledge. Therefore, it is crucial, along with the plans of high-speed railways, to invest in the joint projects of innovative companies and academic centres of Central Europe in order to manage the two sets of projects together. Central European ‘railway diplomacy’ will only produce considerable benefits if it progresses hand in hand with science diplomacy. For the moment, there is still much to do in the Hungarian Central European project, since the network of Hungarian diplomats specializing in technology and science does not yet extend to Visegrád countries. It is time to change this, as the implementation of a Central European economic area of considerable significance for the global market depends primarily on the successful linking together of the knowledge bases of the region.
The Three Seas Initiative comprising twelve Central European countries (the four Visegrád countries, three Baltic states, two countries in the Eastern Balkans, two North Adriatic countries, and Austria) was proposed by Poland and Croatia, with strong American support, to be established in the interest of the harmonization and coordination of the divergent national interests of these countries. The central element of this cooperation is the planned connecting of the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic seas with gas pipelines and motorways. From among these motorways, the Three Seas Initiative intends to promote especially the construction of a ‘Via Carpatia’ on the eastern border of the EU. In a manner quite similar to the concept of the original Visegrád cooperation in the fourteenth century, this is about joining forces to reduce the commercial vulnerability stemming from the infrastructural deficiencies of these countries.
If we look at practical results, it can be stated without exaggeration that Hungary is the most committed to the Three Seas Initiative, as we are the only participating country that is just a few months away from full completion of its own part of the infrastructural concept. During the 2010s, we developed our gas pipeline network—i.e., before the Three Seas Initiative was born—in line with the Three Seas concept, implementing satisfactory connections with all our neighbours. The reader should appreciate the strategic vision and determination that was required from Hungary at the very beginning of the 2010s, at the lowest point of the economic and financial crisis inherited from the previous decade, when it implemented and paid for the gas connection with Slovakia ‘from its own pocket’. The strategically significant connections and gas storage facilities were constructed despite the precarious financial situation of those years. It is therefore perfectly justifiable to say that Hungarian foreign policy has been following the Three Seas strategy since 2010 without interruption. With the completion of the Miskolc–Košice motorway this year, the sections required for the Via Carpatia road network will also be ready.
From an infrastructural perspective, the Three Seas Initiative is simply the best deal for Hungary, as it prompts our foreign partners to execute their parts of the projects we have completed on our side. We hope to see the same with the super train project.
It is important to note that the Three Seas Initiative also assumes a role in coordinating economic development based on the infrastructure, especially by creating an investment fund to that end. Thus, the challenge regarding the cooperation is the quality, modernity, and productivity of the economic capacities resulting from these efforts. For implementing the concept of the economic area, it is not enough to see major investments taking place. What we need to see is the realization of investment projects which are as up-to-date and competitive as possible. The interest of Hungary is to see the establishment of Central European clusters employing green technologies and connected to the data economy, and the emergence, primarily in these sectors, of a great number of Central European joint ventures capable of acting as full players in the world market. In view of the considerable American participation in the Three Seas Initiative, it is worth noting (even though it was the Trump administration that assisted at its birth) that as regards the preference for green and digital technologies, Hungarian interests fully coincide with the Biden administration’s economic policy and the philosophy behind it, to which appropriate attention should be paid in Hungarian–American relations.
When the Three Seas Initiative was established, the relation between this new form of cooperation and the Visegrád cooperation was frequently discussed. Some people were worried that the waves of the Three Seas would engulf Visegrád, but those well-intentioned worries originated from multiple misunderstandings. They failed to take into consideration that the Three Seas Initiative is basically a development cooperation, whereas the Visegrád cooperation, although it also has development dimensions, is essentially a forum for political coordination (with particular focus on European policy). Even if the political dimension of the Three Seas Initiative is amplified (which would be preferable for Hungary as it would further strengthen Central Europe), a twelve-member forum will work with much slower coordination mechanisms and a much narrower content focus than the quick, well-organized, and agile Visegrád Four.
The essential difference, however, is that the main goal of the Three Seas Initiative is the harmonization of diverging national interests (with regard to developments, primarily), while the Visegrád cooperation is aimed at enforcing through joint action the convergent interests of the four countries. From Hungary’s point of view, the two forums complement each other in such an ideal way that the two structures together could be considered ‘a fairy tale’ to us, if Hungarian efforts had not played a part in their emergence. Hungarian foreign policy must be conducive to ensuring that both forums utilize each other’s potential as effectively as possible.
THE CENTRAL EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AREA NEEDS NOT ONLY TO BE BUILT, BUT TO BE DEFENDED
Since there is continuous competition and rivalry in the world, every success story unfolds to the detriment of opposing interests. This is important to realize because Central Europe has undoubtedly been one of the outstanding success stories of the last couple of decades. The nations of the region have regained their sovereignty; what is more, the empire that had curtailed it, the Soviet Union, fell apart. We have mentioned that full membership in the EU and NATO was not a self-evident result of the transition which took place in the region. Central Europeans had to lobby for it, and they did so successfully. Meanwhile, they managed to build democratic systems and market economies based on free competition, replacing the communist system. Their living conditions—compared with those before the political transition—have come a lot closer to those in Western Europe. Still, success in this respect has so far only been relative: incomes and thus standards of living in Central Europe continue to be significantly lower than in Western Europe, drawing a sharp dividing line between the countries formerly situated on the opposing sides of the Iron Curtain.
That said, it can be stated that few countries or regions of the world have managed to achieve their goals over the last few decades with a similar success rate. Therefore, one of the most important preconditions for establishing and stabilizing the Central European economic area is to ensure that Central European countries can defend their success story. ‘Defence’ in this sense means the civil and military security of the region, and fending off international political pressures which jeopardize the progress of Central European nations.
Crime rates in Central European countries have shown spectacular improvement since the 1990s. Their situation in this respect is significantly better than in Western European countries, from two standpoints. One is that they have become targets of terrorism to a much smaller extent, and their other advantage is due to the fact that they did not have to face mass immigration until 2015, while since 2015 they have successfully resisted the pressure to open the way for mass migration under the pretext of the refugee crisis. As a result, Central Europeans are avoiding the social and security challenges entailed by uncontrolled mass migration. In all the countries of Central Europe, the security of Jewish communities has been maintained or even enhanced. This is especially important for Hungary, which has the second largest Jewish population in Europe, while in most Western European countries the security of Jewish communities has deteriorated dramatically over the last few years. There, in addition to verbal acts of anti-Semitism, physical attacks against Jews have been committed in numbers unprecedented for many decades.
The main pillars of military security of the region today include the projects for the development of the armed forces of Central European countries. For Hungary, it would be desirable if all national military forces of the region effectively complemented one another, meaning that their combined strength would constitute the best possible defence for the region as a whole. Enhancing the spirit of comradeship between the defence forces and the nations of the region should be an important area of cooperation as well. The other pillar of the military security of the region is Euro-Atlantic military cohesion, primarily in the framework of NATO, the preservation of which is a vital interest and ambition of the countries of Central Europe. Within this framework, Hungary intends to promote those military development projects of the European Union, which should result in a substantial reinforcement of the European arm of the Trans-Atlantic alliance. And, accordingly, a European defence industry should emerge which—especially through its close integration with American technologies in particular—would be able to substantially contribute to the preservation of Europe as one of the safest areas of the world.
The pragmatism of Hungary’s Central Europe policy also entails that we acknowledge that Central European countries are our allies with respect to several strategic issues, but not on every issue. Based on Central European cooperation, it cannot be expected of any nation in the region to subordinate its perceived or real interests to those of others. The Central European success story is built on national success stories, and, consequently, if a country puts its own success at risk, it will put the success of the entire region at risk by doing so. Central European cooperation does not demand sacrifices from participants, but requires working together in a pragmatic way, securing our joint interests. We cooperate with everyone, either bilaterally or multilaterally, only in matters considered the joint interest of all concerned parties, and we provide as strong support as possible to one another. We could say that what makes Central Europe what it is—at least for Hungary—is that it is free from any constraint.
Thus, it is only natural that narrower or wider Central European alliances are formed regarding specific issues. In order to protect the traditional model of the family, and especially the parents’ right to decide about the sexual education of their children, for instance, we are trying to set up a Hungarian–Polish–Italian alliance of conservative political parties. We saw with regret that regarding this issue the Baltic states, whose airspace is protected from external aggression by, among others, Hungarian fighter planes, not only failed to stand up for Hungary’s right to self-determination as guaranteed by EU covenants, but in fact joined those exerting unjustifiable pressure on Hungary. But what shall we do if for some reason they deemed it to be in their interest? This will not prevent Hungary from providing help in the spirit of our Central European shared destiny and even organizing international support for Lithuania, which is exposed to the pressure of mass migration.
At the same time, it is important to continuously identify and focus on issues where the interests of the peoples living in the region are clearly the same. Most of these issues are related to the project of the Central European economic area.
The decision of the EU in 2020 to bring back the production of strategically important goods to Europe (primarily products in the healthcare industry, the digital and green economies, and the defence industry) is one of those issues. In the light of the COVID crisis, this is a fully justified pursuit, and is to be welcomed. It is important, however, to be clear on precisely how these new production capacities to be created in Europe will be divided between Western and Central Europe. What will be the ratio of facilities producing high added value and thereby offering higher incomes and of facilities producing lower added value and lower incomes in the respective areas? It greatly depends on the modalities of how the strategy is implemented whether the difference between Central and Western Europe regarding the production of added value, productivity, and income levels will be reduced, or the rift between the two regions will become even deeper. It is in the joint interest of all Central European countries to ensure that the process contributes to the levelling of the differences between European regions, or at least does not lead to Central Europe falling any further behind.
The decision of the EU, announced in July 2021, to implement the European version of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) supporting the infrastructural development of financially disadvantaged countries should be interpreted from the same angle. While it must be understood that providing support for developing countries against something is basically alien to the Hungarian style of foreign policy (in the framework of the imposed Soviet alliance we had to provide this kind of support against the US at the time), and international cooperation in order to further their development would better fit our philosophy, it is also unquestionable that Central European countries must take part in such an ambitious undertaking. It is a shared regional interest to ensure that the national economies of Central and Western Europe benefit equally from international development projects financed from common European resources.
Another example of common interests to be protected is the initiative of the G7 (the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Canada) to introduce a global minimum corporate tax. This would clearly compromise the development prospects of Central European national economies which—lacking the necessary quantities of national venture capital investment—are able to ensure the resources required for their investment projects by providing an advantageous tax environment. If we estimate the possible impact of the minimum tax on the European level, then we must conclude that its implementation would not strengthen the cohesion of Europe as an economic area and the position of the Central European region in particular, but would rather weaken it. Thus, in the interest of a globally competitive Central European economic area, Hungarian foreign policy must promote the adoption of a joint and resolute Central European position against this diktat from the major powers.
Translated by Balázs Sümegi