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What can we expect from Fico's government in the EU...another Orban?

Radovan Geist

Date: 05/10/0023
Slovakia has voted. Roberto Fico, former Prime Minister and pro-Russian populist, is poised to return to power in Slovakia after his Smer party won last weekend’s election. With his blend of social populism, nationalism, anti-liberalism and de facto pro-Russian positions (such as his promise to end military aid for Ukraine), he managed to secure 23% of the votes. Albeit not an outright majority, it still gives him a good chance to form a government.

In a country with a low level of trust in standard democratic institutions and the media under the strong influence of Russian propaganda, his campaign strategy proved successful. As such, disinformation and divisive rhetoric have long been present in Slovak politics. Back in the 1990s, nationalists could point to enemies of the “young country” in all corners: Hungarians, Czechs, Romas, the West, and pro-Western politicians, to name but a few.

After losing power in 2020, Robert Fico and his party focused their campaign on disinformation and spreading hatred. Initially, they criticised anti-pandemic measures and spread lies about the efficiency and risks of vaccines during the COVID-19 crisis. Such tactics even led to the suspension of the Facebook account of MP Lubos Blaha, an influential disinformation spreader. Following the Russian aggression against Ukraine, they began echoing the Kremlin narrative, labelling the invasion as a U.S. proxy war, criticising the European embargo against Putin's regime, helping Ukraine, or denying Russian war crimes.  

Fico's success could, therefore, be bad news for Ukraine, hindering the West’s political unity in response to the war. Fico has fiercely opposed Ukraine's bid to join NATO, arguing that it would mark the beginning of World War III. In the case of Fico’s staunch pro-Putin politics, Ukraine and its Western allies should be worried about which intelligence can be shared with Slovakia without endangering transportation routes through serious leaks.

For now, Fico is doubling down on his anti-Ukrainian stance, ready to risk an open rift with the European socialists, where his party is still a member. But he is also a cynical pragmatist, desiring power, and impunity for corruption and misuse of power during his previous tenure. Furthermore, Fico aims to leverage European funds to boost public spending (Slovak central bank has calculated that in 2004-2022, the country had received €24bn net from the EU budget, which translates to €240 per person per year). If past behaviour is any guide to the future, it will line the pockets of well-connected oligarchs. He would probably prefer to follow Orban’s steps, especially now that the EU is flinching from Orban´s blackmail and unfreezing payments to Hungary. For his domestic audience, he would be offering cheap nationalist, Eurosceptic rhetoric; in Brussels, he would be selling his compliance. Buy cheap, sell dear.

Radovan Geist is the Publisher of EURACTIV Slovakia.

Teona Lavrelashvili is a Policy Analyst in the European Politics and Institutions Programme and Coordinator of the EPC’s Task Force on the future of enlargement

The support the European Policy Centre receives for its ongoing operations, or specifically for its publications, does not constitute an endorsement of their contents, which reflect the views of the authors only. Supporters and partners cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

This Flash Analysis is part of the EPC’s ongoing Task Force on the future of enlargement.

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