Slovakia and the European Union
- Peter LoedelPeter LoedelDepartment of Political Science, West Chester University
Slovakia’s most recent crisis of identity involving the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, and the subsequent anti-government protests (the largest since 1989), indicate that the push of European-wide democratic values and the pull of the old ways of Slovakian politics continue to define the nation’s political and economic landscape. Despite a decade and a half of European Union (EU) membership, Slovakia remains caught between the two competing pressures: one of corruption and the other of the rule of law. On the one hand, the rule of law heavily shaped by the intense Europeanization of Slovakia’s accession to the EU and its strong desire to be seen as a committed, highly integrated European partner, indeed part of the core of EU nations. On the other hand, the state remains relatively weak and captured by a dominant one-party political regime, resistant to fundamental change and punctuated by corruption. Indeed, for many analysts, Slovakia has fallen in line with other Central and Eastern European (CEE) states, high on absorbing EU funds and economic benefits, but less than committed to European political values and espousing nationalist and populist agendas. With pressure increasing from the European Union for accountability, the rule of law, and human rights, in which direction will Slovakia turn? This is not just a question for Slovakia; it is a fundamental question for Europe and the European Union. The direction in which nation-states such as Slovakia develop could determine the fate of the Union.
In order to determine which direction Slovakia is headed, analysis of particular case studies of Europeanization suggest intentional, deep, and lasting impacts on Slovakia. Specifically, by examining justice and home affairs policy issues and inclusion into the European monetary system and eventual participation in the eurozone, Slovakia’s EU approach can be explained by its relative power and influence within the European Union. The first phase of Slovakian Europeanization can be characterized by its relative weakness, defined by rapid acceptance of EU directives, near total commitment to implementing those directives, and little Slovakian leverage over the process. By the time Slovakia joined the eurozone in January 2009, the EU’s ability to shape and impact Slovakia’s political and economic direction was demonstrable. However, following the severe economic downturn beginning in 2008 and the onset of the sovereign debt crisis of 2010, a second phase began to emerge. By the time of the migrant crisis in Europe in 2015, Slovakia surfaced as a key player in the EU’s ongoing struggles with the sovereign debt crisis and defending the external borders of Europe. Shifting relative Slovakian influence within the EU, broken down into two historical time frames, thus provides an overlapping explanation of the dual nature of Slovakia’s relationship with and to the European Union. These dual tracks help us further understand how truly Europeanized Slovakia is, despite its more recent resistance to further integrationist efforts. Slovakia, like the EU, is walking a very delicate tightrope, striking its own distinct and influential path among its CEE and Visegrad partners.