WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The foreign ministers of Europe’s four Visegrad countries discussed cooperation to boost national economies and tourism after the pandemic and announced free travel between the Czech Republic and Hungary for those vaccinated against COVID-19.
The meeting Friday in Lodz, central Poland, was hosted by Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau and included foreign ministers from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Poland currently holds the rotating annual leadership of the four Visegrad nations. Hungary will take over on July 1.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said close cooperation of the economies, which had been among Europe’s most vibrant before the pandemic, will “assure a quick restart of our economies.”
Szijjarto said the meeting approved free travel for those who have been vaccinated between the Czech Republic and neighboring Hungary, starting Saturday. Such free travel is already possible between the Czech Republic and Poland.
“Vaccination gives us security and such people should be able to have normal lives and travel,” Szijjarto told reporters.
He said Hungary, which has been criticized by the European Union for many of its policies, is a supporter of a strong Europe that respects Christian values and a sense of unity.
Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said they also talked about wider, European Union certificates that would allow travel across the 27-member bloc.
Slovakia’s Ivan Korcok stressed the need for wider cooperation that will serve the nations, for example in culture and national heritage.
Rau said the group should continue to support Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and other EU partnership nations in fighting the pandemic but also in their ambitions to join European and trans-Atlantic security and economy bodies.
He stressed that cooperation with the United States and NATO were the foundations of the region’s security. He spoke at a time when neighboring Russia has increased military activity along its Western borders.
Before the meeting, Rau said climate policy and introducing new, environment-friendly technologies was another big theme for the four nations.
In March, the ministers held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Brussels.
The ministers also marked 30 years of the Visegrad Group, a way to increase political and economic cooperation in the region. Rau had the meeting held in Lodz, where he was the provincial governor before becoming foreign minister.