Slovakia joined the EU as part of the large expansion of 2004. It joined the Eurozone in 2009, officially becoming the last country to join the Euro before the Eurozone crisis.
Formerly part of Czechoslovakia, Slovakia was more rural, and less developed part of the former country. After the fall of Communism, Slovakia came to be dominated by Vladimir Meciar’s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. Meciar fought with his Czech equivalents over the correct structure of the Czechslovak state, with the Czechs desiring a more centralised Czechoslovakia, and Meciar desiring deeper federalism. The gap proved impossible to bridge and the country split in the amicable Velvet Divorce.
Slovakia has a history of being side-lined by the more affluent and powerful Czechs (Slovaks used to claim Czechoslovakia was ‘Prago-centric’). There are also concerns about the country’s large Hungarian population. 8.5% of the population is ethnically Hungarian and they form the majority along the border with Hungary. Entire towns and villages near the border are practically totally ethnically Hungarian. Hungary and Slovakia have one of the most contentious relationships of any EU member states. Slovakia is still a relatively new nation-state, there had never been a true Slovak state prior to 1993 (a Slovak state was formed during WWII, but in reality it was a puppet of Nazi Germany), and so national identity is still in the process of being constructed. This makes Slovaks understandably insecure about their identity, and so nationalism is a particularly strong issue.
Post-independence Slovak politics became sharply divided between Meciar’s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, which ran a nationalist, pro-Russian corrupt regime with autocratic tendencies and an incredibly splintered opposition composed of various pro-Western and more liberal democratic parties. Meciar ruled Slovakia until 1998. Meciar’s rule was deeply controversial in the West, and Slovakia was internationally isolated in this period when it was seen as semi-authoritarian, corrupt and slow to liberalise the economy. While his party remained Slovakia’s largest until 2006 the splintered opposition were now able to form a government.
The late 1990s saw a late liberalisation of the economy which was seen positively in the West but controversially at home due to its effects on the poorest Slovaks. As such a new dominant party emerged – Smer (Direction), a left-populist party.
Smer currently holds an absolute majority in the Slovakian parliament. Its leader, the Prime Minister Robert Fico, is much more liberal than Meciar ever was but maintains a certain degree of nationalistic discourse, populism and has been accused of authoritarianism, especially in his dealings with the press (whose utter loathing of Fico is mutual) and he has been accused of trying to take over the judiciary. Between 2006 and 2010 Fico formed a controversial coalition with the far-right Slovak National Party. There are serious concerns over Fico’s nationalist discourse.
According to opinion polls Fico is both the most popular and most loathed politician in Slovakia, demonstrating the serious polarisation of Slovakia.
Fico’s attempt to become President earlier this year failed, as he lost to the independent former businessman turned philanthropist Andrej Kiska, demonstrating that he is not invincible, but also the weakness of opposition parties and the unpopularity of mainstream political elites.
Yet the short-lived 2010-2 four party centre-right government demonstrates the problems of the opposition to Fico. The Freedom and Solidarity party voted against the European Financial Stability Fund, a vote which threatened to stop all future EU bail-outs, arguing that Slovakia, as the second-poorest Eurozone member, should not bail out richer states. The government fell, and was forced to rely on Fico and Smer to pass the legislation, in exchange for snap elections.
If anything the opposition to Fico has become even more divided since then.
Economically Slovakia was slow to liberalise and experienced poor growth in the initial post-communist era.
Liberalisation came late, in the late 1990s, but has broadly continued. However Fico spent rather large amounts in his first term and created a wide budget deficit of 7.4% of GDP in 2009. The economy initially did poorly, bounced back well, slowed and is now growing relatively decently. Slovakia’s economy is projected to grow by 2.2% this year and its budget deficit is now under control, projected at 2.9% of GDP for this year. Unemployment remains relatively high, however, at 13.3%, though down from a peak of 14.8%.
As with most things, views on the EU are sharply polarised in Slovakia.
Slovakia elects 13 MEPs to the European Parliament.
Slovakia uses a semi-open list system to elect its MEPs. Voters vote for parties who receive seats broadly in line with their support. Parties must receive at least 5% of the vote to be represented.
Voters may cast a preference vote for their preferred candidate. Any candidate receiving at least 10% of the votes of their party will fill their party’s seats first, on the basis of who got the most votes. If a party exhausts its selection of candidates who have passed this threshold then their candidates will be elected based on party rankings. Unusually, for a semi-open list system, most candidates elected in the 2009 election were predominantly elected based on preference votes. 11 out of 13 candidates were elected in this way.
Slovakia has the lowest turnouts of any European country in European elections. 2009 saw a turnout of 19.6%. 2004 had seen a turnout of 17.0%.
2009 Election Result
New parties since 2009:
Slovakia’s oddball polarisation between Smer and an increasingly fragmented series of opposition parties is likely to see a very odd result indeed.
Smer could win as many as eight or nine seats, while a multitude of other parties win only a single MEP. The one seat club is likely to include KDH, Ordinary People, SDKU-DS, and Most-Hid. It might also include the SMK, SNS, NOVA and L’SNS.
The final result may actually be defined by how many parties manage to achieve the 5% voter threshold therefore. If only five parties achieve representation Smer might win as many as nine seats and KDH, or whoever comes second could pick up a second seat. If more parties qualify for seats then Smer could be reduced to as few as five or six seats but the one seat club will be significantly larger.