Event

European Elections: The Next Chapter for Slovakia

22.05.2024
ep elections

The public discussion titled “European Elections: The Next Chapter for Slovakia”, organised by GLOBSEC as part of the EUact2 project was held on the 15th of May 2024 in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Less than a month before the European elections, it is urgent to debate the importance of participation in elections as an element of democracy that needs to be protected, especially in today’s context of complex internal and external challenges. The event aimed to look back at Slovakia’s 20 years of EU membership and answer the key question: What will Slovakia’s next chapter be after these elections? A keynote speech from the President of the Slovak Republic, Zuzana Čaputová, enriched the discussion.

166 people (115 women (70%) and 51 men (30%)) from more than five different countries gathered at the Comenius University campus. The audience consisted of ambassadors, representatives of international institutions, NGOs, and academia, as well as a large majority of young students whose futures will be decided in the coming period. All speakers agreed that the participation of young people could be a crucial element in these elections.

Welcoming remarks were made by the Dean of the Faculty of Art at Comenius University, Marián Zouhar, who stressed that the European Union is Slovakia’s home and a space that gives a small country a stronger voice in the international arena. He was followed by Róbert Vass, Founder and President of GLOBSEC. While he celebrated Slovakia’s 20 years in the EU, describing it as a period of unprecedented prosperity, freedom, and strengthened sovereignty, he also warned that these benefits are not simply guaranteed. Rather, they must be protected and promoted. Mr Vass remains optimistic about the EU’s resilience in today’s complex and critical times, as the Union’s track record so far has shown its ability to come out stronger.

The keynote address was delivered by the President of the Slovak Republic, Zuzana Čaputová. In her inspiring speech, she underlined that we are all facing difficult times and that defending European democracy, along with its fundamental values and principles, is an absolute key responsibility for everyone. She called the EU a story with an open ending, at the end of which all EU Member States have a part to play. At the same time, she stressed that it is a project that has clear principles and values that we must respect.

The President’s speech was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Denisa Hopková, Journalist for Aktuality.sk, in which the four main speakers shared their experiences and insights, explored the causes and consequences of low electoral turnout in Slovakia, and addressed where they envision Slovakia in the coming years. First, Vladimír Šucha, Head of Representation of the European Commission in Slovakia, recalled the period before EU accession. He reminded the audience that the EU is not only a distant entity in Brussels, but it also includes Slovakia, with its own ministers and representatives, who are also involved in the decision-making process. He pointed out that smaller countries often benefit more from the EU in comparison to their contributions, citing Slovakia’s significant economic growth since joining the EU.

The next five years will bring with it many more crises and major disruptions, and as a small state, Slovakia can only be more resilient and prosperous through its responsible membership in the EU. Jozef Bátora, Professor at the Department of Political Science at Comenius University, pointed out that Slovakia benefits
from being in a stable and prosperous environment within the EU. Given the complexity of the EU as an institution, civil education and well-structured curriculum reform can play a crucial role. This means increasing the buy-in from citizens, not only for gaining more knowledge and understanding but, more importantly, for fostering a genuine sense of belonging to the EU and participating in European integration.

Zuzana Hozlárová, President of the Student Council for Higher Education, emphasized the importance of recognizing the EU’s benefits, particularly freedom of movement, by comparing it with non-EU countries. She highlighted the potential of young people and underlined the need for policies that engage this demographic. She identified security and freedom of speech as the most critical issues in the near future and emphasized the EU’s role in ensuring these freedoms.

Lastly, Marek Mach, Activist and Founder of Mladí o.z., discussed the importance of improving strategic communication with civil society. He particularly advocated for the transition from centrally planned communication to communications specifically tailored for different countries, cultures, and contexts. He also highlighted Slovakia’s great potential on a global scale and the need to effectively transform this potential into reality and expressed optimism about Slovakia’s future.

Participants had the opportunity to listen to very diverse and inspiring words and to actively participate in the discussion with their questions via the Sli.do platform. The discussion was also streamed on social media channels.

Key takeaways:

  • Slovakia’s EU membership has contributed significantly to its economic prosperity, improved living standards, and enhanced sovereignty.
     
  • The EU now faces an existential threat, and building and maintaining democratic values is more necessary than ever.
     
  • There is a great need for active participation and the use of one’s voice in elections, as well as to improve future communication and education on European initiatives.
     
  • Even as a small country, Slovakia can make its voice heard on key issues and defend its national interests in Europe. It can use the available mechanisms to persuade and negotiate its position.
     
  • Youth engagement in the process remains a necessity and will be a decisive factor in the future development of the Union.
     
  • Slovakia’s contribution to the EU must remain as strong as the benefits it takes away from membership.

 

 

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