Based on the V4@30 Kick-off event, held on the 24th of June, 2021. 

On June 24th, V4SDG introduced its „V4 Vision for sustainability – For a stronger Region Built on Sustainability Cooperation” within the framework of a spectacular event titled: Cooperation for Sustainability – A new purpose for the V4. As the Visegrad Declaration has turned 30 this year, the call for action in the region is as timely as ever.

András Volom, President of V4SDG, sparked some ideas in his opening speech discussing the Visegrad Region’s position in the sustainability scene. According to him, V4 countries and actors are rarely part of the sustainability discussion beyond official statements, and this might not only be due to the lack of channels to the international stage, rather it’s an issue of scale. He believes that the region’s priority ought not be building a pipeline to the global stage, but building regional cooperation to emerge as a sustainability champion. He argued that the current state of the Visegrad alliance is a government-focused, noninstitutionalized platform, while there lies a great potential. Shaping the region from the bottom-up through cross-sectoral work could cultivate an environment of cooperation. To that end, he added that V4SDG’s proposal package, the V4 Vision for Sustainability, is not an exact measure but an effort to launch a genuine discussion to open up ways for the V4 to enter the sustainability game.

On that note, V4SDG’s COMPASS Team Lead, Ildikó Kincses, shared with the audience a first look into the V4 Vision document. The Vision will comprise of 5 chapters:

The ideas entailed in the Vision were later on endorsed by the highly esteemed speakers.

It was a great pleasure to have Ms Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, as the keynote speaker of the event who opened with the statement that “sustainability is the defining challenge of our time”. In her view, time is running short for sustainability in the decade of action, mentioning some of the great challenges of our times we can think of; food security, biodiversity loss, risk of pollution, ecosystem collapse, waste generation, or overuse of natural resources. She upheld that the post-Covid-19 recovery must be aligned with the 2030 agenda and we must identify ways towards faster progress. A cross-sectoral holistic approach is needed to address SDG issues, and concerted regional cooperation against crises remains a desirable goal, as it opens ways to reconnect economies, to reverse negative impact, and to address trans-boundary risks.

The following panel discussion was similarly invigorating which featured, among others, Mr Norbert Kurilla, Advisor to the President, Office of the President of the Slovak Republic. He stated that in the decade of change we must orchestrate a digital transition and a green transition globally which is an ambitious agenda that lies on the notion of cooperation. The Visegrad format is great in various sectors but needs navigation, such as the EGD, to guide action towards decarbonization of economies for example. He formulated some thoughts on the structuralisation of the regional cooperation, highlighting that the V4 governments would like to keep the alliance less institutionalized because it grants them flexibility and empowers cross-sectoral joint projects. The Visegrad states can indeed rise up as a relevant global actor in sustainability in his view, given that they learn the lessons from the transitions process and share good practices with each other, for example how to build resilient infrastructures against weather extremes and scarcity.

Thereafter, Ms Krisztina Varju, Ministerial Commissioner for the Presidency of the Visegrad Cooperation (V4), shared her position with the participants. In her assessment of the pandemic response she added that the Covid-19 virus showed how vulnerable we are and that crisis management capacities must be improved to cope effectively with newly emerging challenges. At the same time, regional solidarity was strong during the pandemic and that the V4 must join forces right from the reopening in order to regain competitiveness. To Ms Varju’s view, cooperation gains large-scale and long-term goals which will direct the region’s actions during the upcoming Hungarian V4 Presidency, and the participants were lucky enough to find out more about the agenda points of the presidency program. She stated that the economic and historic heritage V4 countries share must be taken into consideration when we are talking about reaching ambitious goals, and highlighted the commonalities of the countries which helps facilitate collaborations. Ms Varju identified supply security and affordability as key focuses of the program and mentioned V4 foreign policy which will be directed to the Western Balkans to achieve sustainability and climate goals.

The final speaker of the event was Mr Tomasz Chruszczow, Former High-Level Climate Champion for COP24, Special Envoy for Climate Change, General Directorate for Environmental Protection, Ministry of Environment in Poland. He opened with a quote from Churchill: “never waste a good crisis” which refers to a volatile current situation which holds in itself great potential. According to Mr Chruszczow, cooperation, a vital pillar for SDGs and Paris Agreement likewise, is probably the best tool to inclusively empower the stakeholders and incorporate their best practices into the mainstream of policy making and sustainable action. He then highlighted that challenges, such as energy supply, hunger, sanitation, illiteracy and education, must all be treated as global problems to ensure participation by everybody. He supported the V4 Vision for the fact that it incorporates this thinking in a V4 cooperation perspective, although for it to be successful there must be willingness and a general framework. To conclude his thoughts: we shouldn’t waste a good crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, because it offers a myriad of opportunities, and the Visegrad countries must take advantage of these opportunities in the decade of change.

Now it’s time to create a new V4. One that is based on sustainability cooperation. This is the only way the region will survive as a worthwhile alliance.

Written by: Barnabas Palffy.