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Slovakia anti-immigrant party seeks referendum on EU membership withdrawal

Anti-immigrant party Our Slovakia wants out of the EU and intends to gather signatures to trigger a referendum on the issue. The party took 8 percent of the parliamentary election vote in March.

On the heels of the UK's vote to withdraw from the European Union, the far-right Our Slovakia People's Party (LSNS) has announced that it will begin collecting signatures next week to set up a referendum for the country to do the same.

"It is high time Slovakia, too, left this sinking European Titanic" said party leader Marian Kotleba on Saturday. The party holds 14 seats in Slovakia's 150-seat parliament.

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico (photo), whose center-left coalition controls the country's parliament, called for opposition members to act responsibly on the issue.

"Destruction and hatred don't lead anywhere," said Fico, who is also the leader of the party Direction - Social Democracy (Smer SD).

He went on to call for changes within the EU, however, saying, "A huge proportion of the people in Europe reject the EU's migration policy, and they are dissatisfied with the Union's economic policy."

Entering parliament on an anti-immigrant platform

Our Slovakia People's Party leader Marian Kotleba

Our Slovakia People's Party leader Marian Kotleba

Our Slovakia joined the opposition after winning more than 8 percent of the vote in Slovakia's parliamentary elections in early March.

The success of the party, which campaigned on a staunchly anti-immigrant platform, shocked many in the country.

But Kotleba says that he has a responsibility to the people of Slovakia: "Therefore we will start making good on our election promise on Monday – we will start collecting signatures to call for a referendum on Slovakia's departure from the EU."

Slovakia, which has a population of 5.4 million, requires that petitions have at least 350,000 signatures to trigger a referendum. The results of a referendum are legally binding if more than 50 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

In the 2003 referendum to join the EU, an overwhelming 92.5 percent of the 52 percent who voted checked the "join" box. It was the only successful referendum in the country to date.

Euroskeptics see their chance

Our Slovakia is one of a number of far-right and anti-immigrant parties around Europe calling for EU-membership withdrawal referendums. Shortly after the UK vote and the resignation announcement of British Prime David Cameron, demands for referendums were made in the Netherlands, France, Denmark and Sweden. The Italian 5-Star Movement (M5S) has said that it will put forth a proposal to vote on the euro.

Anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) said that he would make a referendum the centerpiece of his campaign to become the country's prime minister in next year's parliamentary elections.

Both France's far-right Front National (FN), and the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party (DF), an ally of that country's right-leaning government, have said they will do the same.

Although a Focus opinion poll published last week found that 62.1 percent of Slovaks would vote to remain in the EU and only 22.6 would vote to leave, the move nevertheless comes at an inopportune time for Prime Minister Fico.

Slovakia, which joined the EU in 2004 and the eurozone in 2009, is set to take over the rotating EU presidency from the Netherlands on July 1.

js/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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