Monday

23rd Apr 2018

Focus

Slovak politicians battle apathy ahead of EU vote

  • Nitra - a town marred by repeated violence by neo-nazis and a slow response by the authorities (Photo: Strocchi)

Slovaks might once again become the EU's least interested voters when it comes to the European elections.

Although some political parties are set to spice up their campaign with criticism of the European Union, something unseen in 2009 and 2004, Slovak voters are likely to channel their energy into an earlier race for the country's presidential seat.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The presidential contest is already highly divisive and marked by far-right views which have recently surfaced at the regional level.

"The European elections are seen as second-class elections in major political parties," says political analyst and EU expert Radovan Geist.

The national vote simply outweighs its European twin on all fronts - be it the list of candidates or the amount of time, energy and money invested in the campaign.

But there is something else too, according to Geist.

"In Slovakia, the process of European integration is not perceived as something driven by voters' interests or preferences." He links the phenomenon to complex relations between national and European institutions and the unclear distinction between the "ruling government" and the "opposition" at EU level.

The central European country, which joined the EU 10 years ago, saw the lowest turnout twice in a row. Only 19.6 percent of Slovaks voted in the 2009 European elections and 16.9 percent in 2004. The latter was the lowest ever score in the bloc's history.

EU-related themes rarely occupy the domestic political arena, according to academic and analyst Eduard Chmelar.

During previous EU elections "there was no significant political conflict that would have helped form people's interests," he notes.

But this time round could be different.

Some politicians are hoping to campaign on a eurosceptic ticket.

A new Eurosceptic flavor

"Deep reform of the EU's institutions" is advocated by the liberal Freedom and Solidarity Party (SaS), which played a significant role in the collapse of the government of the then prime minister Iveta Radicova in 2011.

At the time, the junior ruling party remained steadfastly opposed to raising the Slovak contribution to the eurozone’s temporary bail-out fund (EFSF). It also wanted Slovakia to stay out of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

SaS' Richard Sulik is the first party leader in Slovakia to be interested in an MEP seat, although the party is now struggling to reach the threshold needed to enter the national parliament.

Similarly, a newly-formed centre-right party, Nova, has put two of its vice-chairmen forward as top candidates and is set to campaign against "efforts to move the EU towards a political federation.”

"The entry of eurosceptic parties into the political arena is a positive development," says Chmelar, underlining the importance of "a significant political conflict" not only to shape peoples' preferences, but also to strengthen European democracy.

But voters should "carefully scrutinise" what the political parties are offering, he notes.

The majority of parties have yet to announce their list of candidates and programmes for the 24 May vote, but they are unlikely to surprise with unexpected frontrunners or themes.

The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) is primarily betting on its experienced MEPs Anna Zaborska, the former chair of the European Parliament’s gender equality committee, and Miroslav Mikolasik.

Meanwhile, Peter Stastny - a former NHL ice hockey player who represents the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party (SDKU-DS), which brought Slovakia into the EU - is said to be finishing his career in Brussels.

In the shadow of a divisive presidential campaign

During the coming weeks, Slovakia will be busy watching the competition for the country's presidential seat, marked by the first-ever participation of an incumbent Prime Minister.

The first vote will be held in mid-March and is likely to be followed by a run-off between the two most successful candidates. Prime Minister Robert Fico, the leader of social democrats (Smer-SD), is set to be one of them.

According to the latest poll by the Polis Slovakia Agency, published on 4 February, Fico would win the first round of elections with over 40 percent of votes, followed by entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrej Kiska, who would gather around 15 percent.

A Fico victory would enable the Smer-SD party, which already enjoys an absolute majority in the parliament, to occupy all the top positions in the country.

To prevent this happening, the fragmented centre-right, which failed to put forward a common candidate, would have to unite behind Fico's challenger and succeed in mobilizing enough voters.

In any case, the entire presidential campaign is set to be divisive, with the economy, corruption, law enforcement and overall political culture among the likely themes.

Signs of rising extremism

The general political discourse has also been influenced by the success of a far-right politician in the local elections.

Marian Kotleba, who now leads the administration in the central region of Banska Bystrica, used strong anti-Roma rhetoric and capitalised on growing general distrust in traditional political representation.

In the light of the far-right politician's election - unprecedented in Slovakia's modern history - how mainstream politicians deal with themes hijacked by extremists and with extremism more broadly is seen as crucial.

The ruling party has faced criticism over two cases - a controversial police raid on a Roma settlement in Moldava nad Bodvou, and the police and a regional prosecutor's allegedly foot-dragging response to repeated violence by neo-Nazis in the town of Nitra.

Analyst Radovan Geist does not expect Kotleba’s electoral success to have a significant "spill-over effect" on the European elections.

"He and the movement he represents have strongly eurosceptic views rooted in their extremely chauvinist and conservative ideology, but the EU is not their main target," says Geist.

It may only be a matter of time before this changes.

Kotleba recently said the regions he governs should have "greater independence" from the EU, although stopped short of decoding the eye-catching phrase.

The real problem comes when mainstream politicians chase supporters of the extreme right by focusing on similar themes, be it the Roma minority, immigration, Islam or the EU.

According to Chmelar, anti-EU campaigning cannot be stopped but could be diluted.

"If the European idea is to be preserved, we must address the EU's democratic deficit before we take another step towards a more centralised vision," he says.

One way is to beat the poor turnout that undermines the European Parliament's claim to democratic legitimacy.

The EU assembly’s Information Office in Bratislava has taken on the challenge.

It is organising a "go-to-vote phase" between March and May, with outdoor events marking the 10th anniversary of Slovakia's accession to the EU hoped to gain voter interest and awareness.

"We are working with all important stakeholders who can further encourage their respective communities to participate in the elections," says the head of the office, Robert Hajsel.

Slovak voters will elect 13 MEPs to the 751-strong European Parliament on 24 May.

Risk of eurozone break-up 'very real,' Slovakia says

The debt-ridden eurozone risks break-up unless it forces banks to eventually share the crisis bill with taxpayers, Slovakia, the euro area member who recently refused to participate in the Greek bail-out, has suggested.

Slovakia keen to boost legitimacy of EU commission

Slovakia's ruling party has said it will try to boost the democratic legitimacy of the EU executive by sending the country's current commissioner to campaign in the upcoming European elections.

Slovakia's eurosceptics end EU honeymoon

The EU honeymoon is over for Slovakia, say analysts, as eurosceptic voices for the first time make themselves clearly heard in the run-up to European elections later this month.

EUobserved

When two worlds collide

Two worlds collided at the end of last week. The shrill, uncompromising one of British politics and the technocratic, dry, world of the European Commission.

EUobserved

Schadenfreude and fire-walking in the EP

There was outright glee in the EP on Thursday. It was time to dust off everyone’s favourite German word for pleasure in the misfortune of others.

News in Brief

  1. Commission will 'not shy away' from Malta killing repercussions
  2. EU Commission opens probe on Alitalia state loan
  3. Paris suspect given 20-year sentence for Brussels shoot-out
  4. Merkel and Pena Nieto praise EU-Mexico trade agreement
  5. Nahles elected new leader of Germany's SPD
  6. Report: EU budget to refocus on South
  7. Audit office: Brexit 'divorce' bill could be billions higher
  8. MEPs urge better protection for journalists

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  2. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  3. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  5. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  6. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  7. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  8. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  9. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  10. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  12. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations

Latest News

  1. Hungary activists defiant after 'Soros Mercenaries' attack
  2. European Commission proposes whistleblower protection law
  3. Secrecy of VW fraud report 'unacceptable', says MEP
  4. 'Strong suspicion' of corruption in Council of Europe assembly
  5. France tightens immigration law, sparking division
  6. ECJ ruling set to end 10-year 'mouth tobacco' lobbying saga
  7. Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK
  8. MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  2. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  5. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  6. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  7. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  8. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  9. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  10. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  12. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  2. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  3. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  4. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  5. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?
  6. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  7. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  8. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  9. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  10. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  12. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!