Foto: A. Jansons
The official Yes campaign started only 2 weeks before the referendum and it cost almost one million Euro. Several NGOs have announced their plans to file a complaint with the Constitutional court - they claim the referendum was undemocratic, as the few public discussions on the EU excluded EU-sceptics.
Let’s go Slovakia, let’s go, everyone, let’s go Slovakia, let’s go in unison! So went a song that the Slovak government used in its EU campaign. Ironically, as informative as it is, the slogan precisely reveals the main focus of the campaign, namely, that it was not about providing people with the necessary information about life in the EU. Instead, its main goal was to urge Slovaks to participate in the vote on the country’s EU membership. In the end, this goal was achieved with 51.2% of voters participating in the referendum, 92.4% of whom voted for the EU while only 6.2% voted against it.
This aim seemed appropriate because Slovakia has quite a sad history with referenda. Four votes in the past, all on internal issues, had to be declared invalid because they lacked the necessary quorum. However, political analysts agree that the government’s campaign was too short, one-sided and not based on information.
It’s better to be in than out
The official Yes campaign started only 2 weeks before the referendum that was held on May 16-17. The government spent 40 million Slovak crowns or approximately 952,000 Euro. On the opposing side, the No campaigners were left with no financial support from the state. They also accuse the government of ignoring the No side and the possible negative aspects of EU membership. The few public discussions on the EU excluded EU-sceptics. As a result, several small non-governmental organisations have announced their plans to file a complaint with the Constitutional court.
According to some officials, there was no use in talking about the possible threats of EU membership. Joining the European block is like a marriage: only after the wedding do you get to know your partner’s bad sides, said Pal Csaky, deputy Prime minister for EU integration, who also chaired the government’s EU campaign. Considering these sentiments, it was not surprising to hear statements on the historical chance of Slovakia returning to the Western family repeated over and over again.
People’s hopes and fears
Like most of the people in EU accession countries, Slovaks also hope for a better life in the EU. They expect more employment possibilities as well as more financial investment. But the younger generation is particularly interested in enjoying one of the four freedoms of the EU, the free movement of people. Slovaks still need a visa to enter the UK and Ireland because many Slovak gypsies asked for asylum in these countries in the late 90s. This will change when the country enters the EU.
At the same time, people fear that open borders will bring tough competition from European businesses. Slovaks also believe that the prices of most products will go up. Still, although many think that the EU is quite a messy organisation, they believe that Slovakia should be a part of it anyway.
Then why did they stay at home?
Looking at the results, it is evident that many people from poorer regions did not participate in the referendum. For them, this was a way of punishing a government that has introduced weak pension and health care reforms. However, most of them would have said Yes to the EU if they had gone to the polls.
Another group, the EU-sceptics, used their only chance to block the country’s EU membership. They hoped that the referendum would be invalid because of low participation. But many Slovaks knew that the government had thought of a back-up plan. In case the referendum lacked the necessary quorum, the Slovak parliament would have voted on the country’s integration into the EU.