On November 27th – 29th 2014, the Euro-Atlantic Center, a non-governmental student organization, organized the 3rd year of its Visegrad Youth Forum Project, which once again took place at the Faculty of Political Sciences and International Relations of the Matej Bel University in Banska Bystrica. The entire conference consisted of 3 panel discussions regarding the partnership of V4 countries, cyber security and digitalization, as well as energy security. In contrast to previous years, this Visegard Youth Forum also consisted of a new feature – a simulation of the meeting of V4 leaders. The event was conducted under the auspices of the mayor of Banska Bystrica, as well as the State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic, Peter Javorčík.
On Friday, a panel discussion entitled Cooperation between V4 countries and their partners took place. The panel of speakers included Peter Javorčík, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic, H.E. Richard Van Rijssen, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Netherlands to the Slovak Republic, Tomáš Strážay, research scientist of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association. The first panel was moderated by Mário Nicolini of the Slovak Atlantic Commission, with the entire event being launched by an opening speech from Martin Čapliar, President of the Euro-Atlantic Center, in which he presented the main ideas and future ambitions of the Euro-Atlantic Center.
The panel began with introductory remarks from Peter Javorčík, who briefly summarized the history of cooperation in the V4 region while also introducing current and future goals of V4 countries. He supported the idea of closer cooperation between these countries and also devoted time to discuss future ambitions and projects, i.e. the Poland – Slovakia interconnector as it relates to energy security. His remarks were finished by a short presentation on the goals of Slovakia during its presidency in the V4, the motto of which is “A dynamic Visegrad for Europe and the world”.
Peter Javorčík’s opening speech was followed by remarks from Mario Nicollini, founder and honorary president of the Euro-Atlantic Center, who discussed the beginnings of the organization and analyzed past years of the Visegrad Youth Forum. He also devoted time to discussing the current global geopolitical situation, where he discussed the fears caused by Russia’s aggressive stance, which has caused the position of the European Union and NATO to weaken. He added, at the end of his address, that the world is not prepared to face radical global geopolitical change.
Later on, the floor was also given to Veronika Antall – Horvath, who presented the activities of the International Visegard Fund. This organization was founded by V4 countries and its primary goal is to ease and support further development of closer cooperation between citizens and institutions in the region, as well as between V4 and other countries, namely Western Balkan and Eastern Partnership countries.
Following the presentation made by the IVF, the floor was given to Richard Van Rijssen, who talked about the possibilities of expanding the V4 region by including countries of the Balkan region. He also spoke about the European Union’s support for a stronger European Commission, which would help other countries.
The first panel discussion was concluded by Tomáš Strážay, who expressed concerns about the V4 region and remarked that the organization is facing an existential crisis due to the current political developments in Ukraine. He also emphasized the importance of cooperation between not only V4 countries themselves, but also other institutions in Europe and the rest of the world. The most important partners, he stated, are the BENELUX region and OSN. The countries cooperating with the countries of the Visegrad region the most, he mentioned, are Japan, South Korea and others. Tomáš Strážay, similarly to Richard van Rijssen, supports the idea of V4 expansion by way of the V4 plus program.
These opening remarks were followed by questions from the audience, which ranged from queries regarding the crisis in Ukraine and its effects on V4 countries, which led the participants to establish a common ground and remark, that the road to recovery in this area includes a joint policy towards Russia while also stating that our region is especially vulnerable when it comes to outside aggression. Due to this, we should pay special attention towards ensuring a higher level of defense for the entire European Union. The discussion was finished by Mário Nicolini, who summarized the main points of discussion, which included the importance of bilateral cooperation between all V4 countries, solving the crisis in Ukraine and the question of expanding the V4 region.
The 2nd panel, which was entitled Energy Security of the V4 Region, included panelists Petra Hochmannová, director of CSIRT.sk, Milan Hanko, military analyst at the Institute for Security and Defense, Armed Forces Academy of General Milan Rastislav Štefánik, as well as Nikola Schmidt, who works at the Charles University in Prague. The discussion was moderated by Rastislav Kačmár of the Euro-Atlantic Center.
To begin, the floor was given to Petra Hochmannová, who aside from speaking about CSIRT and its work, quickly summarized the history of cyber security. She emphasized that in a time where the development of malware is growing at an increasing rate, it is important to not only place focus on education in the given area, but to also international and private cooperation. She and the other speakers agreed that the effects of cyber attacks are mainly felt by civilians. The Czech initiative of creating a platform for cyber security in Central Europe was also mentioned.
Major Hanko, who spoke 2nd, offered the unique possibility of speaking from the perspective of armed forces. He mentioned that the latest summit of NATO in Whales has changed the strategy and approach of many areas of defense, one of which is also cyber security. He emphasized the topics of discussion in Article 5 of the Washington Agreement. He expressed the view that defense of the cyber sector does not primarily signify its militarization, seeing as the private sector is the main one affected. In his opinion, some countries, including Russia and China, devote a large amount of attention to preventing attacks of this kind – something, which is lacking in the Slovak Republic.
The last speaker in the panel was Nicola Schmidt, who explained the academic position of cyberspace through three discourses – military, public and media. He showed that the information needed to develop defense systems is not equal to that needed for the development of offensive capabilities. From a legal perspective, we cannot blame countries for cyber attacks, because the main issue with this problem is the lack of borders between countries in the cyberspace. It is not easy to determine, where the attack is coming from, as hacker groups use a decentralized network.
The three perspectives were followed by a discussion with the audience, whose main areas of interest were the creation of an effective defense system to prevent cyber criminality, e.g. a special unit for the Slovak Republic. One of the other discussed topics was the possibility of attacking and infiltrating the Bitcoin in a cyber war. Aside from these topics, cyber attacks in Russia and Iran, as well new types of attacks used in Iraq, were also mentioned. After the conclusion of the panel, participants were divided into workshop groups, during which they each represented the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of one of the V4 countries. Aside from a presentation of each perspective, specific situations that each of the V4 countries face were discussed. One such example of this the stoppage of electric supply to Poland, which was the result of hacker activity.
Saturday, November 29th, represented the final panel discussion, which was entitled Energy Security of V4 Countries. The speakers of this discussion were Martin Chren, MP of the Slovak Parliament and Member of the Parliamentary Committee on Public Administration, Miroslav Šarišský, Head of Institutional Matters for Slovak Power Plants, and Samuel Goda, internal PhD candidate for the Faculty of Political Sciences and International Relations. The moderator of the 3rd panel was Peter Mikula, of the Euro-Atlantic Center.
Martin Chren brought the perspective of a politician to the discussion. He views energy policy as a balance of interests, which means that there will always be a winner and loser. He introduced the issue of creating political priorities, which are not always based on correct decisions. The government must decide between decreasing the price of energy and lower employment. The problem with the Slovak Republic was its privatization of energy companies before creating a regulated market and energy strategy. He emphasized, that politicians began to be more sensitive to this issue after the energy crisis that took place in Slovakia in 2009. He presented topics, which should be discussed by the people in charge – perspectives on new technology, decentralization of energy systems and partial home independence. He praised the cooperation of V4 countries and challenged them to diversify their energy infrastructure. He also warned, that Slovakia is the 2nd most energy dependant country, after Hungary.
Miroslav Šarišský offered the perspective of an employee of the Slovak Power Plants group. He mentioned that the investments Germany has made into “green energy” have not gone according to plan, which has had a negative impact on the energy system of V4 countries. He sees finances as an important question – who will pay, how much will it cost and what benefits will that bring? He warns that the question of sources of energy is very important in the current international climate, and that future diplomats studying at the Faculty of Political Sciences and International Relations should know this topic in detail.
Samuel Goda, an expert in the area of international relations, brought a unique perspective of an academic for this question. He made a break-down of the energy infrastructure of the European Union, as well as the possibility of creating the North and South stream pipelines. He sees the biggest potential for the Visegrad Region in South Stream. North Stream is an important pipeline for Hungary, as it has directly affected relations with Russia. He sees the interconnectivity of the North and South Visegard region as key. He also mentioned the issue of a reverse stream into Ukraine. An important role is played by Commissioner for Energy Maroš Ševčovič, whose job is to represent the needs of the Visegrad region in Brussels.
After remarks from each of the speakers, participants had the opportunity to place their questions, which mainly consisted of queries regarding the development of new pipelines, “green energy”, and individual prices of gas and energy. The speakers agreed that it is not the right time to invest in “green energy”, which has already happened in Slovakia. That decision was made at a time, when there was only one type of technology available, which was too expensive. In the end, the Slovak Republic paid a price many times higher than the cost of CO2 emissions. The discussion was concluded by Peter Mikula, who summarized the main points made and praised the cooperation of the V4 region in the area of energy security.