Slovakia

1. Euroscepticism and European Parliament elections

Vladimír Bilčík

For more integration and a strong Commission

The Euro­pean Par­lia­ment (EP) elec­tions took place less than two months after Slovakia’s pres­i­den­tial con­test. The cam­paign before the EP elec­tions con­tained lit­tle sub­stan­tive con­flict across polit­i­cal par­ties and the issue of can­di­dates for Com­mis­sion Pres­i­den­cy was not known or dis­cussed out­side nar­row expert cir­cles. With the tele­vised cam­paign of the five can­di­dates the elec­tion process was more vis­i­ble but failed to mobi­lize the vot­ers or gar­ner the pub­lic sup­port of polit­i­cal par­ties in Slo­va­kia. Since the choice between Mr. Junck­er and Mr. Schulz was not an elec­tion issue in Slo­va­kia, vot­ers here will not be con­cerned with which can­di­date gets nom­i­nat­ed for the job of Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent.

Although the Euro­pean People’s Par­ty won the Euro­pean elec­tions in Slo­va­kia and in the EU, there was no explic­it sup­port for Jean-Claude Junck­er in Slo­va­kia. The sup­port has been rather tac­it. Slovakia’s inter­est is to have a strong Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent and a stronger Com­mis­sion than the pre­vi­ous one. The politi­ci­sa­tion of the selec­tion makes the cri­te­ria of strength and inde­pen­dence weak­er. Inter­nal debate in Slo­va­kia about the future Com­mis­sion has there­fore focused on greater auton­o­my and bet­ter man­age­ment of the Com­mis­sion. In short, Slo­va­kia wants a Com­mis­sion which is not trapped by the inter-insti­tu­tion­al agree­ment with the EP in set­ting its pol­i­cy and leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties. Slo­va­kia is keen to finalise impor­tant projects of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion such as the inter­nal mar­ket (in ser­vices), ener­gy mar­ket and secu­ri­ty of sup­ply, fis­cal coor­di­na­tion and finan­cial reg­u­la­tion issues includ­ing the Euro­zone gov­er­nance.

Low euroscepticism and even lower turnout

While the Euro­pean elec­tions in May 2014 are inter­pret­ed through­out Europe as a sign of polit­i­cal earth­quake with Euro­pho­bic and extrem­ist par­ties gain­ing more sig­nif­i­cant vot­ers’ sup­port than ever before, this was not the case in Slo­va­kia. The rul­ing par­ty Direc­tion Social Democ­ra­cy (Smer-SD – S&D group) won the elec­tion, albeit it gained four seats as opposed to its five MEPs in 2009. The Euro­pean People’s Par­ty group gained six seats in Slo­va­kia; two for Chris­t­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic Move­ment (KDH), two for Slo­vak Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Chris­t­ian Union – Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (SDKÚ-DS), one for Par­ty of the Hun­gar­i­an Com­mu­ni­ty (SMK) and one for Most-Híd. The Alliance of Lib­er­als and Democ­rats for Europe (ALDE) secured one seat through Free­dom and Sol­i­dar­i­ty (SaS) and the Euro­pean Con­ser­v­a­tives and Reformists (ECR) group gained two MEPs – one from New Major­i­ty (NOVA) and the oth­er from Ordi­nary Peo­ple and Inde­pen­dent Per­son­al­i­ties (OĽaNO).

Even though the elec­tion results in Slo­va­kia pro­duced a deci­sive vic­to­ry for main­stream polit­i­cal forces, Slovakia’s 13 per­cent turnout has cre­at­ed a new record in terms of low­est elec­tion turnouts in the EU. Giv­en this turnout we can­not make any strong rep­re­sen­ta­tive state­ments about the out­come with respect to domes­tic polit­i­cal scene. Where­as in the EU-15 we seem to wit­ness strong inter­est in what is com­mon­ly termed as sec­ond order elec­tion to the EP, in Slo­va­kia this is at best a third-order elec­tion, less impor­tant than local or region­al elec­toral con­tests.

Explaining the “Slovak paradox”

The so-called “Slo­vak para­dox” char­ac­ter­ized by high trust and sup­port for the EU and low turnout in EP elec­tions reflects espe­cial­ly the fact that key polit­i­cal actors – name­ly polit­i­cal par­ties – tend to ignore the EU agen­da and espe­cial­ly the EP. Par­ties and pub­lic insti­tu­tions have made no sys­tem­at­ic attempt to con­nect domes­tic pol­i­tics and pub­lic debates to MEPs or events in Brus­sels more broad­ly. Slo­va­kia con­tin­ues to enjoy high lev­els of pub­lic con­sen­sus about finan­cial, eco­nom­ic and strate­gic ben­e­fits of EU mem­ber­ship. Polit­i­cal debate about the EU is lim­it­ed to dis­tri­b­u­tion­al issues such as the use of struc­tur­al funds and increased costs of Euro­zone mem­ber­ship asso­ci­at­ed with bailout funds and new insur­ance schemes for the com­mon cur­ren­cy.

In gen­er­al, rea­sons for the low turnout in Slo­va­kia have a lot to do with nation­al polit­i­cal par­ties sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly ignor­ing the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. Polit­i­cal par­ties are not moti­vat­ed polit­i­cal­ly (there are few divi­sive issues vis-à-vis the EU), nor finan­cial­ly (unlike in oth­er Viseg­rad coun­tries, there are no finan­cial com­pen­sa­tions from the state for the seats gained in EP elec­tions). In most cas­es the elec­toral cam­paign last­ed for about three to four weeks and its costs and inten­si­ty rep­re­sent­ed a frac­tion of the cam­paign efforts wit­nessed in nation­al par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. Polit­i­cal par­ties gen­er­al­ly offered low-key, pre­vi­ous­ly defeat­ed or dis­cred­it­ed can­di­dates on their Euro­pean Par­lia­ment vot­ing lists. The few excep­tions to this trend could not save the turnout fig­ure. Hence, the cam­paign was large­ly about mobi­liz­ing the core of the core by each par­ty and in many respects only by each rel­e­vant can­di­date.

Low turnout and weak mobi­liza­tion under­line the need for polit­i­cal par­ties to com­mu­ni­cate more sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly with their rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the EP and cre­ate space for their voic­es in domes­tic polit­i­cal dis­course. MEPs should be much more present in the nation­al par­lia­ment, take part in com­mit­tee dis­cus­sions and vice ver­sa, nation­al MPs should get more infor­ma­tion and insight from MEPs and their staff on key ele­ments of the EP agen­da. There should be reg­u­lar meet­ings of Slovakia’s MEPs in Brus­sels. The nation­al per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Brus­sels should also cul­ti­vate more reg­u­lar and sus­tained con­tacts with MEPs. New MEPs from Slo­va­kia should try to secure stronger posi­tions in pol­i­cy rel­e­vant com­mit­tees of the EP (such as ener­gy, agri­cul­ture, envi­ron­ment, cohe­sion, eco­nom­ic and mon­e­tary mat­ters). For exam­ple, in the last peri­od Slo­va­kia had no MEPs in agri­cul­tur­al or eco­nom­ic and mon­e­tary com­mit­tees.

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2. The EU’s Neighbourhood

Alexan­der Dule­ba

Zero conflict with Russia?

If one looks at the Slo­vak East­ern pol­i­cy over the course of the last cou­ple of years one can iden­ti­fy a temp­ta­tion between the fol­low­ing two pol­i­cy lines: first, sup­port for a demo­c­ra­t­ic change in the East­ern part­ner coun­tries, includ­ing their Euro­pean inte­gra­tion, and sec­ond, a prag­mat­ic eco­nom­ic coop­er­a­tion with Rus­sia, includ­ing “zero-con­flict-rela­tions” between the EU/NATO and Rus­sia. The recent Ukrain­ian cri­sis of 2014 proved that per­form­ing both pol­i­cy lines at the same time is hard­ly man­age­able. Where­as the cen­tre-right gov­ern­ments led by Mikuláš Dzurin­da (2002–2006) and Ive­ta Radičová (2010–2012) pre­ferred the val­ue-based East­ern Part­ner­ship, even at the price of poten­tial con­flicts with Rus­sia, the cen­tre-left gov­ern­ments led by Robert Fico (2006–2010, and since 2012 one par­ty gov­ern­ment formed by the SMER Social Democ­ra­cy) rather pre­fer prag­mat­ic zero-con­flict-rela­tions with Rus­sia at the price of pos­si­ble fail­ures of East­ern part­ner coun­tries in their effort of get­ting clos­er to the EU should the lat­ter pro­voke con­flicts between the EU and Rus­sia.

Prime Min­is­ter Fico was among the most out­spo­ken EU lead­ers oppos­ing the impo­si­tion of eco­nom­ic sanc­tions against Rus­sia in the con­text of recent Rus­so-Ukrain­ian cri­sis. When com­ment­ing on the respec­tive deci­sion at the EU sum­mit on 29 May 2014 he said: “Any strong eco­nom­ic sanc­tions against Rus­sia would harm the Slo­vak econ­o­my in a marked way.” Tougher EU sanc­tions against Rus­sia would be “sui­ci­dal” and “non­sen­si­cal”, he added. Respond­ing to crit­i­cism of Slovakia’s low defence spend­ing at odds with its NATO mem­ber­ship com­mit­ment as well as vis-à-vis Russia’s mil­i­tary aggres­sion against Ukraine Prime Min­is­ter Fico said: “Let me put it very frankly: in Slo­va­kia, I can­not imag­ine in the fol­low­ing years any scope to increase defence spend­ing”.

Explain­ing Slovakia’s posi­tion Prime Min­is­ter Fico and Deputy Prime Min­is­ter and For­eign and Euro­pean Affairs Min­is­ter Miroslav Lajčák under­lined that Slo­va­kia will con­duct itself as a respon­si­ble EU play­er with respect to the Ukrain­ian cri­sis, includ­ing the EU’s response pol­i­cy towards Rus­sia. In order to jus­ti­fy his posi­tion Prime Min­is­ter Fico ques­tioned the stance of oth­er EU mem­ber states when it comes to a one-voice pol­i­cy of the EU on eco­nom­ic sanc­tions against Rus­sia. He point­ed to France as an exam­ple of how, despite talk of sol­i­dar­i­ty, it pro­ceed­ed in its own eco­nom­ic inter­ests by sell­ing mil­i­tary boats to Rus­sia. Prime Min­is­ter Fico also not­ed that while every­one is try­ing to resolve a poten­tial ener­gy cri­sis in Ukraine, Russ­ian gas giant Gazprom just signed a deal with a “Ger­man, French and Ital­ian com­pa­ny” on the con­struc­tion of the gas trans­mis­sion line bypass­ing Ukraine, name­ly South Stream. Nev­er­the­less, in April 2014 Fico’s gov­ern­ment achieved a deal with the Maid­an gov­ern­ment that was try­ing to secure alter­na­tive sup­plies to those from Russia’s Gazprom, which raised prices for its gas to lev­els Ukraine refused to pay. It should be also not­ed that Ukraine has been push­ing Slo­va­kia for anoth­er tech­ni­cal solu­tion allow­ing larg­er vol­umes of gas sup­ply it needs, but Fico’s gov­ern­ment refused the deal argu­ing that it would vio­late Slovakia’s gas tran­sit con­tract with Gazprom.

Lead­ers of the par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion par­ties (cen­tre-right Slo­vak Chris­t­ian and Demo­c­ra­t­ic Union, Chris­t­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic Move­ment, lib­er­al Most-Hid, Free­dom and Sol­i­dar­i­ty, etc.) crit­i­cized Fico’s gov­ern­ment for its balky posi­tion towards devel­op­ments in Ukraine and Russia’s occu­pa­tion of Crimea. How­ev­er, the strongest crit­i­cism of Fico’s gov­ern­ment came from the new­ly elect­ed Pres­i­dent Andrej Kiska who defeat­ed Robert Fico in the sec­ond round of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions held on 30 March 2014. In his inau­gur­al speech Pres­i­dent Kiska said: “Secu­ri­ty issues are on the agen­da in Europe again. I will con­tin­ue in the tra­di­tion of pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents who were always strong sup­port­ers of Euro-Atlantic coop­er­a­tion”.

Pres­i­dent Kiska won the elec­tion with clear polit­i­cal mes­sages, includ­ing the con­dem­na­tion of Russia’s annex­a­tion of Crimea, sup­port for demo­c­ra­t­ic changes in Ukraine and stress­ing the need for EU/NATO sol­i­dar­i­ty vis-à-vis Russia’s aggres­sive behav­iour towards Ukraine. Final­ly, for all its pro-Russ­ian rhetoric Fico’s gov­ern­ment is unlike­ly to diverge fun­da­men­tal­ly from the EU main­stream pol­i­cy on Rus­sia.

The Eastern Partnership – no anti-Russian project

The cur­rent Slo­vak gov­ern­ment led by Prime Min­is­ter Fico sup­ports the East­ern Part­ner­ship ini­tia­tive, how­ev­er, with a pref­er­ence that it should not become an anti-Russ­ian project. Nev­er­the­less, Slo­vak East­ern prag­ma­tists feed such devel­op­ment of the EU pol­i­cy towards East­ern Europe, which includes, first of all, prospects for trade lib­er­al­iza­tion with Rus­sia, Ukraine and Belarus. If one wants under­stand a prag­ma­tist line of Slo­vak East­ern pol­i­cy one should look at the map of eco­nom­ic inter­ests of Slo­va­kia in East­ern Europe, which is far from iden­ti­cal with the map of the East­ern Part­ner­ship. The main East-Euro­pean trad­ing part­ner for Slo­va­kia is Rus­sia (bilat­er­al for­eign trade turnover in 2013 was 8.7 bil­lion euro), fol­lowed by Ukraine (1.1 bil­lion euro) and Belarus (100 mil­lion euro). So far, none of the oth­er East­ern neigh­bours play an impor­tant role in either Slo­vak for­eign pol­i­cy or in its for­eign trade. Moldo­va and Geor­gia only recent­ly appeared on the radar of Slovakia’s East­ern pol­i­cy.

The events in Ukraine did not change the approach of the cur­rent Slo­vak gov­ern­ment towards the East­ern Part­ner­ship. It sup­ports sign­ing asso­ci­a­tion agree­ments, includ­ing Deep and Com­pre­hen­sive Free Trade Areas, with Ukraine, Moldo­va and Geor­gia on one hand, and calls for good rela­tions with Rus­sia on the oth­er. Fol­low­ing the offi­cial state­ments issued by the Slo­vak Min­istry of For­eign and Euro­pean Affairs in the course of the Ukrain­ian events start­ing from Novem­ber 2013, Slo­va­kia expressed its sup­port for the new Maid­an gov­ern­ment, ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty of Ukraine and its Euro­pean inte­gra­tion course, includ­ing readi­ness to share with Ukraine Slovakia’s trans­for­ma­tion expe­ri­ence in the field of build­ing sta­ble demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions, eco­nom­ic and social reforms, and har­mo­niza­tion with Euro­pean leg­is­la­tion as required by the Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment.

The for­mer Pres­i­dent of the Slo­vak Repub­lic, Ivan Gaš­parovič (in office till 15 June 2014), was the country’s first politi­cian who pub­licly declared that the EU should respond to Russia’s aggres­sion against Ukraine by offer­ing Ukraine a clear EU mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive. The same view has been voiced by the MPs rep­re­sent­ing oppo­si­tion cen­tre-right par­ties dur­ing the spe­cial debate on the sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine held at the Nation­al Coun­cil of the Slo­vak Repub­lic on 18 March 2014 (Chris­t­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic Move­ment, Slo­vak Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Chris­t­ian Union, and the MOST-Hid). How­ev­er, no rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the cur­rent Fico gov­ern­ment has yet pub­li­cal­ly sup­port­ed an even­tu­al move of the East­ern Part­ner­ship beyond its exist­ing frame, i.e. eco­nom­ic inte­gra­tion with­out polit­i­cal mem­ber­ship.

Support for Turkish EU membership and negotiations with Cyprus

Slo­va­kia under the gov­ern­ment led by Mikuláš Dzurin­da (2002–2006) agreed to start EU acces­sion talks with Turkey with an “open end” in 2004. Whilst the major­i­ty of par­lia­men­tary polit­i­cal par­ties have adopt­ed a hold­ing atti­tude, a clear­ly neg­a­tive stance against acces­sion talks between EU and Turkey was adopt­ed by the Slo­vak Nation­al Par­ty (SNS) and the Chris­t­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic Move­ment (KDH). Fol­low­ing the SNS and KDH instead of full mem­ber­ship, the EU should offer Turkey a “priv­i­leged part­ner­ship.” Unlike oth­er rel­e­vant Slo­vak polit­i­cal par­ties the rul­ing SMER-Social Democ­ra­cy (2006–2010; and since 2012) declares its sup­port for Turkey’s EU mem­ber­ship. Prime Min­is­ter Robert Fico repeat­ed­ly voiced his posi­tion that the EU should con­tin­ue in its enlarge­ment pol­i­cy, and Turkey, pro­vid­ed it meets the mem­ber­ship cri­te­ria, should become an EU mem­ber. The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment thanked the Slo­vak gov­ern­ment for its sup­port by abol­ish­ing visa require­ment for Slo­vak cit­i­zens in August 2013.

The Slo­vak Min­istry of For­eign and Euro­pean Affairs is also an impor­tant actor in Slovakia’s “Turkey dis­course” as it believes Euro­pean inte­gra­tion of Turkey might help to find a diplo­mat­ic solu­tion to the Cyprus con­flict. Slo­va­kia plays a spe­cial diplo­mat­ic role in the Cyprus con­flict as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of both Greek-Cypri­ot and Turk­ish-Cypri­ot com­mu­ni­ties accept­ed the offer by Slo­vak diplo­mat Emil Keblúšek in 1989 (he rep­re­sent­ed Czecho­slo­va­kia at that time) to hold reg­u­lar talks on neu­tral ground. Since then, the Slo­vak Ambas­sador to Nicosia mod­er­ates the bi-com­mu­nal dia­logue between the lead­ers of the polit­i­cal par­ties from both Cypri­ot com­mu­ni­ties at the Ledra Palace. Nev­er­the­less, Slo­va­kia togeth­er with oth­er EU mem­ber states, insists on the imple­men­ta­tion of the Addi­tion­al Pro­to­col to the Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment by Turkey, which should elim­i­nate Turkey’s restric­tions regard­ing Cyprus as a pre­con­di­tion for the pro­gres­sive con­tin­u­a­tion of the acces­sion talks.

Whilst Turkey’s Euro­pean inte­gra­tion process is a top­ic for Slo­vak diplo­mats it is far from being a top­ic for Slo­vak pub­lic pol­i­cy dis­course. In addi­tion, the events in Turkey start­ing from the vio­lent sup­pres­sion of mass protests in Istan­bul last sum­mer till the recent April 2014 local elec­tions, i.e. the way they have been held, raise ques­tions about Prime Min­is­ter Erdogan’s gov­ern­ment abil­i­ty to adopt the Copen­hagen cri­te­ria for EU mem­ber­ship.

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3. Power relations in the EU

Vladimír Bilčík

No fear of economic “Großdeutschland”

Rela­tions between Slo­va­kia and Ger­many enjoy his­tor­i­cal absence of con­flicts unlike Czech-Ger­man or Pol­ish-Ger­man rela­tions. In recent years, bilat­er­al rela­tions are best char­ac­ter­ized by increas­ing insti­tu­tion­al, eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal inter­de­pen­dence, prin­ci­pal­ly inside the Euro­pean Union and the Euro­zone. Dif­fer­ences in polit­i­cal pref­er­ences of the two coun­tries have to do with such fac­tors as size and the lev­el of socio-eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, rather than entrenched atti­tudes.

Since the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions of March 2012, Slo­va­kia has had a new sin­gle par­ty gov­ern­ment com­posed of SMER-Social Democ­ra­cy and led by Prime Min­is­ter Robert Fico. Fico pos­sess­es a com­fort­able major­i­ty of 83 out of 150 MPs, and his com­mit­ment to the EU project has so far been strong. Slo­va­kia approved the EU’s per­ma­nent bailout fund – the Euro­pean Sta­bil­i­ty Mech­a­nism (ESM) – months before Germany’s Con­sti­tu­tion­al Court ruled on the mat­ter. It also sup­port­ed the fis­cal com­pact treaty as a basis for the EU’s fis­cal union, which was ini­ti­at­ed by Ger­many. Dur­ing debates on the so-called EU bank­ing union, Slo­va­kia pledged to sup­port the project (but not at any price). Just like Ger­many, Bratisla­va want­ed to see a good agree­ment, rather than just a quick agree­ment. The Slo­vak gov­ern­ment was keen to keep some com­pe­ten­cies for the nation­al bank­ing reg­u­la­tor. It feared a sce­nario where­by the for­eign own­ers of Slovakia’s banks could freely trans­fer debts and deposits across the EU and thus under­mine the rel­a­tive­ly healthy state of Slovakia’s bank­ing sec­tor.

There are polit­i­cal issues where Ger­many and Slo­va­kia diverge. Exam­ples include the ener­gy sec­tor, where Slo­va­kia fears the poten­tial con­se­quences of Germany’s deci­sion to get rid of nuclear pow­er plants, par­tic­u­lar­ly regard­ing the posi­tion of nuclear pow­er in the EU and the avail­abil­i­ty and qual­i­ty of the elec­tric­i­ty sup­ply in the Union. Slo­va­kia also remains more open­ly com­mit­ted to the pol­i­cy of enlarge­ment, espe­cial­ly in the west­ern Balka­ns. How­ev­er, on the whole, the process of inte­gra­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the EU, has led to greater com­mon under­stand­ing of strate­gic pri­or­i­ties in both coun­tries.

The con­text of the Euro­zone cri­sis makes it espe­cial­ly clear that Ger­many remains Slovakia’s cru­cial polit­i­cal part­ner in the Euro­pean Union. Slo­va­kia active­ly seeks out and shares many of Germany’s posi­tions. In July 2013, For­eign Min­is­ter Miroslav Lajčák wrote in an arti­cle pub­lished in the Ger­man dai­ly news­pa­per ‘die Welt’ that Slo­va­kia has no fear of eco­nom­ic Gross­deutsch­land. Slo­va­kia togeth­er with the Nether­lands and Fin­land belonged to a group of coun­tries that sup­port­ed Germany’s approach to the res­o­lu­tion of the Euro­zone cri­sis.

A preference for fiscal responsibility

The debate on the EU is large­ly shaped by the country’s mem­ber­ship in the Euro­zone and still a rel­a­tive­ly high degree of pub­lic con­sen­sus about con­tin­ued ben­e­fits of Euro­pean Union mem­ber­ship. The lat­ter has been solid­i­fied since the cur­rent sin­gle-par­ty gov­ern­ment led by the Prime Min­is­ter Robert Fico came to pow­er in 2012. Slovakia’s key goals are suc­cess­ful­ly over­com­ing the cri­sis, main­tain­ing a sound com­mon cur­ren­cy and an inter­nal­ly cohe­sive sin­gle mar­ket. Prepa­ra­tion for the EU pres­i­den­cy in 2016 is anoth­er big domes­tic strate­gic objec­tive.

While there is not a sin­gle doc­u­ment explain­ing Slovakia’s pri­or­i­ties, the sin­gle par­ty gov­ern­ment of SMER-Social Democ­ra­cy (SMER-SD) led by Prime Min­is­ter Fico since April 2012 has artic­u­lat­ed a much clear­er polit­i­cal line vis-à-vis the Euro­pean Eco­nom­ic and Mon­e­tary Union (EMU) than its pre­de­ces­sor. Slovakia’s lead­ers view the year 2012 as a break­ing point for the Euro­zone when, in addi­tion to cri­sis man­age­ment, the EU began to work on sys­tem­at­ic steps toward a new EMU archi­tec­ture. Slo­va­kia has firm­ly posi­tioned itself as a part of the north­ern group of coun­tries (togeth­er with the Nether­lands, Fin­land and Ger­many) empha­siz­ing eco­nom­ic and fis­cal respon­si­bil­i­ty and call­ing for more Europe in eco­nom­ic and mon­e­tary mat­ters. Slovakia’s Min­istry of Finance has been play­ing a cru­cial role in delin­eat­ing the country’s strong posi­tion on fis­cal respon­si­bil­i­ty.

How­ev­er, the gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Fico has recent­ly pre­sent­ed a more bal­anced approach in sup­port of mea­sures favour­ing stronger eco­nom­ic growth. This reflects in part poten­tial domes­tic dif­fi­cul­ties with sus­tain­ing Slovakia’s fis­cal com­mit­ments. Hence, the image of a coun­try belong­ing to the north­ern EU economies could suf­fer. With respect to over­all future archi­tec­ture of the Euro­zone, Slo­va­kia has con­sis­tent­ly raised two main points. First, the coun­try is con­cerned about the fragili­ty of the new rules and the weak­ness of the insti­tu­tions designed to guard them, espe­cial­ly the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. In May 2013, the Deputy Prime and For­eign Min­is­ter Miroslav Lajčák was open­ly crit­i­cal of the Euro­pean Commission’s lenient approach toward the prob­lem of France’s deficit. Sec­ond, Slo­va­kia has con­sis­tent­ly under­scored the prin­ci­ple of open­ness in the EMU. The cri­sis should not entrench new divid­ing lines with­in the EU and with­in the Euro­zone.

When it comes to the three pil­lars of the bank­ing union, the sin­gle super­vi­sion pos­es the least prob­lems and was in prin­ci­ple accept­ed by Slo­va­kia. As a Euro­zone mem­ber, it sees very tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits of a com­mon bank­ing super­vi­sion when the sin­gle scheme is going to include “Slo­vak eyes” that may help guard domes­tic inter­ests in a much wider Euro­pean con­text.

While Slo­vak diplo­ma­cy prefers insti­tu­tion­al changes with­in the exist­ing treaty frame­work, it rec­og­nizes that not every­thing can be achieved with­in the cur­rent sys­tem and a treaty change will even­tu­al­ly become indis­pens­able. While this is not the issue of the day, debate among prac­ti­tion­ers and experts has raised the pos­si­bil­i­ty that Slovakia’s EU pres­i­den­cy in the lat­ter half of 2016 may well have to steer the antic­i­pat­ed debate on a new EU treaty.

Drawing the UK closer to the EU’s mainstream

In June 2014, State Sec­re­tary Peter Javorčík, in charge of EU affairs at the Min­istry for For­eign and Euro­pean Affairs, stat­ed that it was impor­tant to keep the Unit­ed King­dom inside the Euro­pean Union. How­ev­er, Slo­va­kia also respects the pos­si­ble Brex­it as the UK’s sole deci­sion. Bratisla­va has always viewed the UK as an ally on poli­cies and insti­tu­tions guard­ing the Sin­gle Mar­ket and Enlarge­ment. At the same time, Slovakia’s posi­tion and pri­or­i­ties are tied to the country’s Euro­zone mem­ber­ship, which it does not share with Lon­don. Bratisla­va is also very keen on con­tin­ued sol­i­dar­i­ty and cer­tain flex­i­bil­i­ty with respect to struc­tur­al funds as opposed to the UK’s calls for a small­er EU bud­get, out­lays and London’s con­tin­ued rebate. Yet, the UK’s exit could under­mine the over­all polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic bal­ance in the EU in favour of more south­ern views and pref­er­ences. Hence, Slo­va­kia, like most Cen­tral Euro­pean mem­ber states, has a strate­gic inter­est not only in keep­ing the UK in the EU but also in draw­ing it clos­er to the EU’s polit­i­cal main­stream.

Slo­va­kia did not engage in the UK’s review of com­pe­ten­cies although it has been fol­low­ing the process close­ly. Bratisla­va views this exer­cise in part as dri­ven by domes­tic pol­i­tics: although led by the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Office (FCO), part of the Con­ser­v­a­tive par­ty has a clear stake in its out­come. Slo­va­kia has also been afraid that the ques­tion of repa­tri­a­tion of com­pe­tences could open a Pan­do­ra box where dif­fer­ent mem­ber states could make claims to re-nation­al­ize some of the exist­ing poli­cies. While the ques­tion of the UK’s exit may become rel­e­vant after a pos­si­ble ref­er­en­dum on this ques­tion in 2017, Slovakia’s diplo­ma­cy and expert com­mu­ni­ty is increas­ing­ly con­cerned about the close out­come of the ref­er­en­dum on Scot­tish inde­pen­dence this fall. Should Scot­land opt to leave the UK, this may not only open new issues for London’s rela­tions with the EU. It could also accel­er­ate the process of inter­nal dis­so­lu­tion in oth­er coun­tries like Spain with Cat­alo­nia and could thus have reper­cus­sions on bor­der and minor­i­ty issues in Cen­tral Europe. Slo­va­kia, espe­cial­ly with its size­able Hun­gar­i­an minor­i­ty (some 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion), is eth­ni­cal­ly the most het­ero­ge­neous coun­try in Cen­tral Europe. Bratisla­va has there­fore strong inter­est in sta­ble EU inter­nal bor­ders.

Links:

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2014. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2014. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the EU-28 Watch web­site: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 10 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.