Slovakia and the institutional future of the EU

Slovakia
Slovak Foreign Policy Association

In recent months in Slovakia there has been very little discussion on the fate of the Lisbon Treaty. Since the negative result of the Irish referendum, Slovakia’s politicians have repeatedly emphasised that the future of the Lisbon Treaty was in the hands of the Irish politicians. In expert circles there have been several public events in which the ability of Czech politicians to ratify the Lisbon Treaty while the Czech Republic holds the EU-presidency in the first half of 2009 was questioned. However, on the whole debates on the Lisbon Treaty specifically and the institutional architecture of the EU more broadly have been overtaken by the deepening financial crisis.
 
Preparations for elections to the European Parliament have so far been overshadowed by Slovakia’s direct presidential election whose first round is scheduled to take place on 21 March 2009. Slovakia’s elections to the European Parliament will take place on Saturday 6 June 2009. In the previous elections to the European Parliament in 2004 Slovakia recorded the lowest turnout of eligible voters in all EU member states when only 16.9 percent of voters took part in those elections. Hence, this year there is a general expectation that the turnout should be higher. So far, public opinion polls suggest a low turnout again. According to a Eurobarometer survey conducted in the fall of 2008, only 15 percent of Slovakia’s voters (compared with the EU-27 average of 28 percent) said that they would definitely take part in the European elections.[1]
 
According to Slovakia’s law on elections to the European Parliament[2], political parties have to register their candidate lists at the very latest 65 days prior to the date of elections to the European Parliament. Since Slovakia’s elections to the European Parliament are scheduled for 6 June 2009, candidate lists will have to be registered by 2 April 2009. By the middle of March 2009, most relevant political parties in Slovakia have completed their candidate lists with the exception of the largest governing party, the Social Democrats,[3] and one of their junior coalition partners the People’s Party – Movement for a Democratic Slovakia.[4] Slovakia’s political parties will compete for 13 seats in the upcoming European elections. The selection of candidates by most parliamentary parties for relevant positions on a party list (places 1-3 on the list) is centralised on the national level. Regional bodies in political parties also nominate candidates but these are relevant mainly in the case of the main opposition party the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party[5] because of its system of primaries in selecting the party’s candidates for the European Parliament. Generally, candidates selected by regional structures of political parties end up on unelectable positions on party lists. Political parties currently present in the European Parliament decided to nominate most of their current MEPs again because of their experience and established contacts. Young candidates are reaching lower positions on candidate lists whereby young candidates should gain experience joining the election campaign.
Elections to the European Parliament are clearly second order elections in Slovakia, they are still likely to have some testing relevance for domestic politics in Slovakia as the dominant governing party, SMER-SD, continues to be very popular. According to a recent opinion poll, if parliamentary elections were held in February 2009, SMER-SD would get 46 percent of votes whereas the main opposition party SDKÚ-DS would receive just 12.9 percent of votes.[6] Since SMER-SD is unlikely to replicate these numbers in elections to the European Parliament due to the expected low turnout, Slovakia’s currently strongest political party may decide to ignore the European Parliament contest to some extent.
 
Negotiations on the EU climate and energy package in 2008, together with the gas crisis in early 2009, have underscored the rising importance of the energy portfolio in the European Commission. In December 2008 Prime Minister, Robert Fico, suggested in which seat he would like to see Slovakia’s next member of the European Commission when he stated: “I would like energy policy but it is perhaps not going to be easy since all member states will fight for energy portfolio.”[7] Prime Minister Fico also expressed his preference to nominate as the future EU-Commissioner a professional diplomat rather than a politician when he argued “I cannot quite clearly imagine that we would just pick someone like a rabbit out of a hat and say that this is going to be Slovakia’s new Commissioner. I shall propose a professional who is familiar with the structures and who knows what work in such an organization entails but I do not think it should be a rank politician.”[8] While Prime Minister Fico did not specify who specifically should become Slovakia’s nominee for the next EU-Commissioner, there are widespread speculations that this fall, ambassador Maroš Šefčovič, the permanent representative of the Slovak Republic to the EU, could replace Ján Figeľ, Slovakia’s current member of the European Commission who is planning to return to Slovakia’s national politics and run for the chair of the opposition Christian Democratic Movement[9].[10] There has been no discussion in Slovakia on the appointment of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.




[1] See Special Eurobarometer 303: Europeans and the 2009 European Elections. Results for Slovakia, January 2008, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_303_fiche_sk.pdf (last access: 18 March 2009).


[2] Law number 331/2003 adopted on 10 July 2003.


[3] SMER – sociálna demokracia (SMER-SD).


[4] L’udová strana – Hnutie za demokratické Slovensko (ĽS-HZDS).


[5] Slovenská demokratická a kresťanská únia – Demokratická strana (SDKÚ-DS).


[6] SITA Press Agency: “Prieskum: Preferencie Smeru aj HZDS vo februári klesli”, 17 February 2009.


[7] Renáta Goldírová: “Budúca Európska komisia”, Slovak Radio, 30 January 2009, available at: http://www.rozhlas.sk/ (last access: 18 March 2009).


[8] Ibid.


[9] Kresťanskodemokratické hnutie (KDH).


[10] EurActiv: “Črtá sa podoba novej Európskej komisie”, 7 January 2009, available at: http://www.euractiv.sk/ (last access: 18 March 2009).