The Progressive Post

🇸🇰 The good, the bad and the ugly Slovakia


Editor in Chief at EuractivSK

In Slovakia, four out of the five parties that made it into the European Parliament had campaigned on an EU-critical and Eurosceptic ticket. That includes two parties that were, until recently, members of the S&D/PES family. This nurtures anti-European sentiments that could be seized by unscrupulous populist politicians demanding a Slovak exit from the EU.

Why did so many Slovaks suddenly realise that the European elections matter? Could the disinformation tsunami be beaten with fact-based arguments? And what happened with the Slovak progressive left? In many aspects, the 2024 European Parliament elections were much different from previous ones in Slovakia. Let’s take these questions one by one.

The good

There are few things certain in this world, one of them was that Slovaks did not bother to vote in European elections. Ever since EU accession in 2004, the turnout in Slovakia was the lowest in the EU, sinking to as little as 13 per cent ten years ago. This time, it was different: 35 per cent turnout might not look massive compared to most EU countries, and it’s still much below usual turnout in the national elections, but it exceeds the 2019 results by around 10 per cent. So, what happened? Did Slovak voters suddenly understand the important role of the EP in the complex EU decision-making? Did they start feeling more European, or even more pro-European? 

None of that! Elections are not knowledge quizzes, nor popularity contests. Voters need to be convinced by politicians and political parties that it’s worth investing their time and energy to follow the campaign, and to vote. For nearly 20 years, EP elections were low-key affairs in Slovakia. Very few political parties (and usually not the major ones) put their heavyweights on the lists. The campaigns were timid and uninspiring; everybody was promising to defend ‘national interests’ in Brussels, and the discussions on political programs were reserved for specialists.

Slovak national politicians (including pro-European ones) were downplaying the importance of the European Parliament as a mere talking shop, insignificant, but often overstepping its institutional role, violating the subsidiarity principle. The change started in 2019 and continued this year. Slovak political parties mobilised their supporters and while messages were different, they worked. More people realised that these elections are (also) important – and that is good news for European democracy.

The bad

The campaign did manage to mobilise more voters. But a closer look gives fewer reasons for joy. Five parties made it into the European parliament – four of them had campaigned with EU-critical and Eurosceptic arguments. The Christian Democrats (winning one mandate) are not anti-European, but on cultural and ethical issues they are at the right fringe of EPP, presenting ‘liberal Brussels’ as a threat to Slovak conservative values. The far-right Republika (two mandates) used the full array of negative messages – from ‘Western Europe flooded by immigrants’, to ‘green nonsense’ destroying the lives of Europeans, to anti-LGBTI hatred. Disinformation played an important role, some of the arguments were totally worn-out (cold weather is a ‘proof’ that there’s no climate change), some quite original (EU legislation that will criminalise criticising the ‘progressive agenda’).

This, however, was trumped by two parties that belonged, until recently, to the PES/S&D family. Smer-SD (five mandates), with the help of social and disinformation media, has successfully mobilised with anti-European and false messages. They accused the EU – and the wider ‘West’ – of fuelling the war in Ukraine and preventing Kyiv from signing a peace deal, they promised to reverse the Green Deal that ‘destroys agriculture, industry and people’s lives’, vowing to defend Slovakia from Brussels and its ‘attacks on sovereignty’, and even accusing ‘Western democracies’ of indirect responsibility for the attempted murder of prime minister Robert Fico.

Hlas-SD (one mandate), fearing it would be squeezed by its bigger brother, used even more exotic fantasies. In the final days of the campaign, the party claimed that the EU will rob 1.3 million Slovaks of their (polluting) cars, demolish houses that are not renovated, or transfer money from pensioners to immigrants. The only party campaigning on a pro-European ticket was the centrist Progressive Slovakia. They have also used generalisations (‘Fico’s government is driving us out of the EU’), and one might not agree with all their positions, but they tried to engage in a fact-based, fair debate – and it worked: they won the EP elections, gaining six mandates for the EU liberals. That’s good news. But probably not for the progressive left which became non-existent in Slovakia.

The ugly 

Given the state of the European debate in Slovakia, one could try to find some comfort in the fact that none of the relevant political parties demanded a ‘Slov-exit’. Despite all of Fico’s anti-European rhetoric, despite his cooperation with the nationalists and fawning on the far-right disinformation scene, he has never questioned the Slovak membership in the EU. But that would be an illusionary comfort. If you constantly paint ‘Brussels’ as a malevolent external force threatening Slovaks’ interests, values, or even existence, voters will start taking it seriously one day. The growing anti-European sentiments, as well as the calls to leave the EU, could be seized by unscrupulous populist politicians – Fico himself or somebody else. This is brewing problems for the EU, and disaster for Slovakia. 

Photo Credits: Shutterstock/KarolSkalnicky

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