Sunday

23rd Jul 2017

Focus

Slovak nationalists weigh up Le Pen, Farage for EP group

  • Slovak MEPs candidates, including Maros Sefcovic and Ivan Stefanec (3rd and 4th from L), in an election debate (Photo: CEA)

While Slovak nationalists consider which group to cosy up to after the EU elections, analysts say that the European debate in the country is superficial and ignores the perils of extremism.

The Slovak National Party (SNS), polling at around 5 percent, currently sits in the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, dominated by Nigel Farage's eurosceptic UK Independence Party.

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But the party has indicated it may eventually be part of a far-right bloc envisaged by Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's National Front.

Party leader Andrej Danko is keeping his cards close to his chest for now. However, he confirmed to EUobserver that talks exploring ways of cooperation with Le Pen's party are under way.

"We have had contacts with potential partners. Our closest ally is the Freedom Party of Austria (FPOe), but we have also met representatives from the National Front and Sweden Democrats," said Danko.

"A group of patriotic parties in the European Parliament would strengthen voices advocating the EU as a community of sovereign states," he added.

Meanwhile, analysts suggest that the political debate in Slovakia is abstract, with parties focussing on another's overall stance towards Brussels, rather than on what they intend to try and achieve in the EP and with whom.

"The majority of parties claim their programme is either pro-Brussels or anti-Brussels. They fail to explain that it is other political parties, not the EU's executive, who is their ally or opponent in the European Parliament," says writer and commentator Michal Havran.

He is particularly critical of attempts to mock the EU in a simplistic, anecdotal style, while ignoring extremist parties that can make it, unchallenged, into the EU assembly.

"Some politicians feel they must fight Brussels' socialism, while the fascist far-right has a chance to make it to the European Parliament."

Slovakia itself has woke up to growing extremism after the leader of the far-right Our Slovakia party, Marian Kotleba, won the last local elections to lead the administration in the central region of Banska Bystrica.

He capitalised on strong anti-Roma rhetoric and general distrust in traditional political representation. A short while later he added the EU to his list of enemies.

He ordered the "occupying" EU flag to be lowered from his regional seat and he is trying to stop European funds going to local schools by refusing to co-finance the projects.

Although Kotleba's party is unlikely to make it into the European Parliament, Havran says this is no excuse for not tackling the causes of extremism in general – the socio-economic consequences of the crisis as well as how the EU talks to its citizens, runs its institutions and strikes internal deals.

The analyst notes the mainstream parties do not pay enough attention to the phenomenon.

Maros Sefcovic, leading the ruling social democrats' ticket (Smer-SD, polling at 39%), admits that frustration and existential uncertainty – which he sees as the main cause of harmful ideologies – are not being successfully addressed.

"We need even stronger emphasis on growth and investment, less administrative barriers that stifle economic activity and education aligned with the needs of labour markets," he says, adding: "anyone proposing a step back in the integration process effectively offers Slovakia's isolation".

Ivan Stefanec from the centre-right SDKU-DS (polling slightly above 6%) advocates "lower taxation, flexible labour laws and a smaller administrative burden" as the way to create jobs.

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.

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