Slo­vak pres­i­dency failed to im­press Euroscep­tics

One in three Slo­vaks knew that the coun­try held its first ro­tat­ing pres­i­dency in the Coun­cil last au­tumn. But, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey, the rest were ei­ther un­clear, or didn’t know about it.

The Malta Business Weekly - - FRONT PAGE -

Twelve years af­ter its ac­ces­sion to the EU, Slo­vakia held its first ro­tat­ing pres­i­dency in the Coun­cil dur­ing the sec­ond half of 2016.

Its agenda was am­bi­tious: to over­come the frag­men­ta­tion caused by mi­gra­tion, to bridge the East-West di­vide, and to cre­ate tan­gi­ble re­sults of im­por­tance for EU cit­i­zens.

Con­nect­ing Slo­vaks with the EU

The gov­ern­ment in­tended to use the pres­i­dency to make the EU more in­ter­est­ing do­mes­ti­cally and to im­bue Slo­vaks with a sense own­er­ship of Union poli­cies.

Al­though it was mostly a Brus­sels­cen­tered pres­i­dency, in­for­mal Coun­cil meet­ings, as well as the high-pro­file Bratislava sum­mit, took place in the Slo­vak cap­i­tal.

Me­dia cov­er­age was sub­stan­tial. The pres­i­dency teamed up with the Slo­vak pub­lic broad­caster as a me­dia part­ner but was also able to gain the at­ten­tion of other me­dia as well.

As con­firmed by one of the spokes­women for the Slo­vak Pres­i­dency, Elena Vis­nar-Mali­novska, me­dia mon­i­tor­ing, done on a daily ba­sis, clearly showed that Euro­pean themes had pen­e­trated the Slo­vak me­dia “in a very pos­i­tive man­ner”.

Pres­i­dency? Yes, I heard about that

EurAc­tiv.sk com­mis­sioned a spe­cial pub­lic opin­ion sur­vey by the Fo­cus polling agency ask­ing ba­sic ques­tions about the Slo­vak Coun­cil Pres­i­dency.

It showed that 65% of the re­spon­dents were fully aware that Slo­vakia held the EU pres­i­dency and an ad­di­tional 20% had an am­bigu­ous feel­ing they might have no­ticed some­thing, but are not re­ally sure about it. 14% had no knowl­edge about it what­so­ever.

Some ex­pected fac­tors played a part. Univer­sity ed­u­cated per­sons, aged 35-44, em­ployed in a cre­ative field were most likely to no­tice the pres­i­dency. On the other hand, the low­est level of aware­ness was recorded among the un­em­ployed.

Dif­fer­ing lev­els of ap­pre­ci­a­tion

When asked whether and how the pres­i­dency af­fected their per­cep­tion of the EU, a clear ma­jor­ity of re­spon­dents (56%) said it had no ef­fect at all, 35% said the pres­i­dency in­flu­enced their views on the EU in a pos­i­tive way and 5% re­port a neg­a­tive im­pact on their per­cep­tion.

These num­bers are more in­ter­est­ing when looked at against the at­ti­tude of the re­spon­dents to­wards the EU as such. The pos­i­tive im­age was re­in­forced by the pres­i­dency mainly in those in­stances where the per­son al­ready agreed with Slo­vakia’s mem­ber­ship in the EU.

More than 42% of re­spon­dents who sup­port EU mem­ber­ship of Slo­vakia re­port that the pres­i­dency boosted their pos­i­tive im­age of the EU.

13% who do not see Slo­vakia be­ing part of the EU tes­tify favourably to a pos­i­tive shift due to the pres­i­dency. Only 12% with no opin­ion on Union mem­ber­ship in­di­cate that they’d been pos­i­tively in­flu­enced by it.

In other words, the Slo­vak pres­i­dency “spoke” to those who al­ready took some in­ter­est in a pub­lic life. It failed, how­ever, to reach out to those who are scep­ti­cal of Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion or who do not take any in­ter­est in it.

Achieve­ments

Those who were aware of the pres­i­dency were also asked whether they agree with var­i­ous state­ments about it. 73% of the re­spon­dents agreed with the claim that the pres­i­dency is mostly ad­min­is­tra­tive and or­gan­i­sa­tional in na­ture.

Only 50% agreed that “Slo­vakia helped to forge com­pro­mises among the mem­ber states“in the Coun­cil as a pre­sid­ing coun­try. 38% dis­agree with this claim, and 12 did not know the an­swer.

A slight ma­jor­ity thinks that Slo­vakia pro­moted it­self abroad dur­ing the pres­i­dency and that the EU was pos­i­tively pro­moted in Slo­vakia.

More than a half of the re­spon­dents do not think cit­i­zens have been in­volved in the pres­i­dency.

This was one of the other pro­claimed goals of the gov­ern­ment – to en­gage cit­i­zens di­rectly. To this end, in­tern­ships were of­fered for young peo­ple and a spe­cially de­signed grant scheme sup­ported 30 aware­ness-rais­ing projects by schools, NGOs and re­gional ac­tors.

As a para­dox, 58% of those who felt in­formed some­how about the pres­i­dency would agree with the state­ment that “or­di­nary cit­i­zens have not no­ticed the fact (that) Slo­vakia was the pre­sid­ing coun­try of the EU”.

Sup­port with­out trust

For a long time, the EU has en­joyed a high level of sup­port in Slo­vakia. The data col­lected by Fo­cus at the be­gin­ning of Fe­bru­ary showed that over 72% of Slo­vaks ei­ther “strongly” or “fairly” agree with Slo­vakia’s mem­ber­ship in the EU.

When asked about trust, the num­bers tell a bit of a dif­fer­ent story. In au­tumn 2015, the level of dis­trust of the EU sur­passed the level of trust (39% to 51%) for the first time, ac­cord­ing to a Euro­barom­e­ter sur­vey.

For 2016, the per­cent­age of those say­ing they trust the EU is slightly higher, at 42%, but still lower than the 47% who say they mistrust the union.

This slight shift may be at­trib­uted to the much more pos­i­tive and con­struc­tive rhetoric of the gov­ern­ment to­wards the Euro­pean Union right be­fore and dur­ing the Coun­cil Pres­i­dency, when it also toned down state­ments ac­cus­ing “Brussels” of forc­ing large num­bers of mi­grants upon Slo­vakia.

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