WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Europe's four Visegrad countries on Friday lifted travel restrictions between the Czech Republic and Hungary for people vaccinated against COVID-19 and discussed how to cooperate to boost tourism.
The foreign ministers' meeting 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 four economies, which had been among Europe's most vibrant before the pandemic, will “assure a quick restart of our economies.”
Szijjarto said vaccinated people can travel between the Czech Republic and Hungary starting Saturday. Such 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 policies that it has called undemocratic, is a supporter of a strong Europe that respects Christian values and a sense of unity.
He spoke, however, against U.S. President Joe Biden's plan for a global corporate tax, saying Hungary will “never contribute to the introduction of any kind of global minimum tax.
"We will not raise taxes due to international pressure and we insist that tax policy will remain a national guarantee of competitiveness,” Szijjarto said.
Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said the ministers also talked about wider European Union virus certificates that would allow travel across the 27-member bloc.
Rau said the talks confirmed that one of the Visegrad Group's priorities was to "support the Eastern Partnership countries and the Western Balkans both in the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic and to continue to support their general Euro-Atlantic direction” in security and economic development.
The Eastern Partnership nations cooperating with the EU are Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
He stressed that cooperation with the United States and NATO was "one of the main pillars of our joint security.” Rau 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
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.
Follow all AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.
Monika Scislowska, The Associated Press