>Slovakia is everywhere


“Slovakia”, says Kevin Deegan Krause, in a new book on Czech and (mainly) Slovak party politics “is everywhere” – meaning its rather unstable mix of partisan political division is increasingly typical of the wider CEE region. Slovakia was also everywhere at the excellent first day of a Leverhulme workshop on the country’s experience and prospects two years on into EU membership, using Slovakia’s experience as a small state seeking to formulate an integration strategy as vehicle for some wider theoretical reflections (the latest of several – see Tim Haughton’s working paper(s) summarizing early round of discussions http://www.eri.bham.ac.uk/research/workingpapers.htm
. The notion of an ‘integration strategy’ itself is an interesting concept. For Slovak political scientists the term seems merely to equate to national preferences (national interests as defined by government) although to Western ears the term suggests a more elaborated policy or even a model of integration.

Beyond this there is the interesting question of how in a small CEE state like Slovakia preferences are formed in the absence of strongly organized economic groups anticipated as driving the process by ‘liberal intergovernmentalist’ theorists like Andrew Moravcsik – a form of ‘elite intergovermentalism’ or perhaps (my term) ‘intergovernmentalism lite’ with elites and small well articulated lobbies (like the Slovak car assembly industry – fulfilling the function of interest groups in the Moravcsik model “The weakness of interests”, however, a sweeping way of putting it, which echoes the clichéd old tabula rasa argument of a flattened atomised postcommunist civil society. There was, it was noted, clientelistic ties, but methodologically unscrewing this black box was difficult in the extreme. A related question is how Slovakia’s relatively fluid patterns of party competition and fragmented and changing line of parties, which includes both elite vehicles and more socially rooted, well organised formations affects national preference formation. The Slovak ‘party system’ as currently configured apparently produces a pattern of ‘resortism’ with individual parties pressing for separate agendas for ‘their ministries’ (or the ministerial bureaucracies perhaps?). Other arguments to explain Slovakia’s emerge European strategy included ideology – vague and somewhat actor-centred in practice – trade induced (asymmetrical inter-) dependency (a version of neo-functionalism) and the inherent openness of small economies and hence their supported for greater (economic?) integration (adaptation of Katzenstein’s Small States in World Markets argument – this point seemingly contradicted by the current Slovak government’s determination to guard tax and welfare powers at national level.

Neo-liberal labour market, taxation, welfare and tax reform is, however, it seems is combing with a more Blairite emphasis on reforming and investing in education as means of building up the human capital and skills to have sustain economic growth and tackle unemployment when the “Detroit of Central Europe” bubble finally bursts and the big assembly plants shut up ship and go further East. No mention of e-government on the Estonian model however. Similar neo-Blairite ideas are of course not unknown on the Czech right – pioneered by the Freedom Union (Petr Matějů on higher education reform and Vladimír Mlynář seeming to be (in style and youth) a “Blair of the Czech right”; now in a slightly different form (help for integration to work for mothers, flexible, family friendly working hours) such ideas are being floated (mid-election campaign!) by Pavel Kohout an aide to ODS Shadow Finance Minister Vlastimil Tlustý, although to some extent they could been seen as a logical outgrowth of ‘guaranteed income’ proposal added on the flat tax plan intended to provide incentives to work to those on benefits at level close to the low wage they might expect to earn

Another incident argument I found interesting is that EU accession had concentrated power in the executive markedly in small states (with the exception of Slovenia, whose more deliberative model of policy making and channels for citizen participation (local referenda etc) appear a legacy of from the relatively liberal late communism period and the more decentralised Yugoslav model of communism. Such centralization it is argued enabled the radicalism and success of Slovakia’s recent neo-liberal reforms – although the sense of needing catch up after the wasted years of Mečiarism clearly provides an impetus – not dissimilar to the Czech sense of falling being after the ‘ice age’ of normalization and readiness for a red-in-tooth and claw market reform of the early 1990s.

This bodes ill for the Czech right in this June’s election as no sense of crisis or losing ground seems to pervade the Czech Republic despite the usual diet of scandal, intrigue and general disillusionment with politics (presaging another record low turnout). Despite their efforts to avoid the fate of fellow flat tax advocates Civic Platform in Poland last year. It could be Social Democratic PMs across CEE by this summer – with the exception of Poland, of course, although even here as someone observed Law and Justice is a kind of Old Labour plus Catholic social conservatism. Slovakia’s neo-liberal (or neo-Blairite) ‘Challenge from the Periphery’ may not be taken up

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