Sunday

15th Jul 2018

Focus

EU presidency strengthened Slovakia's government

  • Fico and his government present the Slovak EU presidency as a great triumph (Photo: eu2016sk/Flickr)

Slovakia's first ever EU presidency drew praise from Brussels officials and succeeded in strengthening the government's political position at home, but probably failed to spark higher public interest in European affairs.

Prime minister Robert Fico's government will pass its six-month chairmanship of the EU Council to Malta in January after a turbulent period that included the fallout from the Brexit vote, disputes on trade agreements with Canada and US, and the surprise American presidential election result.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

“The key success of the Slovak presidency was to get the remaining EU-27 [minus the UK] to agree on the need to keep convincing the European public that it is essential to continue in this unique project,” Fico noted.

The Slovak presidency has repeatedly used similar rhetoric about the positive outcomes of European integration.

Political scientist Michal Cirner of Presov University told EUobserver that despite the “utmost effort" of the government, the presidency "has not become a top public debate issue, because there is a weak understanding of the whole Brussels business and more interest in other less abstract topics".

“Most ordinary people would probably comment that the whole EU presidency was just about gentlemen's entertainment paid by our money,” he said.

For some Slovaks, such sentiments were boosted by accusations against the foreign affairs ministry of Miroslav Lajcak regarding overpriced presidency events in Bratislava and alleged fraud in their management.

On the national political level, some analysts expected key changes in the Slovak government after the country's term at the EU helm, mainly on the part of Fico's Social Democratic Smer-SD party.

Some speculated that Fico would resign next year due to health problems, following heart surgery just weeks before his presidency tasks kicked off in July.

But “towards the end of this year, we can see that Robert Fico feels as fit as ever for future political fights”, noted political commentator Marian Lesko.

He suggested that the ruling coalition, composed of Smer-SD, the centre-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and Slovak-Hungarian Most-Hid party, would continue despite some internal disputes or different political views – in a bid to prevent early elections and a likely boost of far-right parties.

A 'responsible coalition'

It was also initially widely assumed that interior minister Robert Kalinak (Smer-SD) would walk out after finishing his duties in Brussels because of corruption allegations linking him to a prominent businessman who faces charges of tax fraud.

However, as Michal Cirner stated: “If he hasn't left in the heat of the pressure by media, opposition and a part of the public, why would he go now?”

Kalinak was recently re-elected with a high support as Smer-SD vice-chairman, while top party officials praised him for how well he managed things at the EU level.

“The ruling parties present the Slovak EU presidency as a great triumph and a reason to maintain their 'responsible' coalition of standard political parties,” said Cirner.

“They will loudly refer to their performance in Brussels as a key success and remind it to the voters well until the next election.”

Despite all the pro-Europe messages over the past six months, the Slovak government may return to a more critical rhetoric, primarily following their national interests in key policies and agendas.

Fico has often highlighted Slovakia's role in achieving a quick ratification of Paris climate agreement at the EU level but “it is just logical that Bratislava will continue to protect its industry and energy-intensive sectors”, energy analyst Jozef Badida told EUobserver.

No more political correctness

Similarly, Bratislava has tabled a new concept of “effective solidarity” to establish new EU asylum rules and called for a compromise on the controversial issue of migration and refugee crisis. But it continued to vehemently resist the agreed EU quota on migrant relocation.

While the image of Slovakia and its EU presidency was initially strongly influenced by Fico's anti-refugee rhetoric, he is finishing the job with the same appeal for stopping political correctness in European and national public debates.

In a speech at a European socialists meeting in Prague early December, he said it was essential to speak openly about the EU's hypocrisy and bureaucracy, because the far-right makes progress by doing so.

Recent polls have shown that radicalism is on the rise in Slovakia.

A survey by Polis agency published on Wednesday (21 December) put the extreme-right People's Party-Our Slovakia (LSNS) of Marian Kotleba at 11 percent of voting intentions, ahead of all the ruling coalition parties except Smer-SD (27.7 percent). At the March elections LSNS got 8 percent of the votes.

According to a research by the Institute for Public Affairs, Kotleba's party is the most popular among Slovaks aged 18-39.

In another poll by INEKO institute, over 40 percent of Slovaks said they were convinced that the quality of democracy has deteriorated over the past five years, and one quarter did not oppose the idea of establishing dictatorship.

Schengen at stake in Austria-Germany talks

German interior minister Horst Seehofer is in Vienna on Thursday - as his plan to reject some asylum seekers was met by an Austrian threat to close its borders too.

News in Brief

  1. EU opens case on Siemens' Alstom buyout
  2. Trump: May found my Brexit advice 'too brutal'
  3. Italy will reject EU-Canada trade deal, says deputy PM
  4. Commission: Juncker suffered from sciatica attack at Nato
  5. EU free wifi plan struck by IT error
  6. Europol launches 'World Cup game' to catch criminals
  7. Germany's Gabriel urges tougher dealing with Trump
  8. Eurozone to give Greece last bailout loan in August

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us