While football rivalry between England and Slovakia will be fierce this evening, many Slovak football fans watching the game tonight will be crossing their fingers for a resounding REMAIN in the UK on Thursday. The UK and Slovakia share a common interest in deepening the EU’s single market and in stability across Europe, which would be harmed should the UK decide to leave the EU.
British business has invested visibly in Slovakia following the 2004 enlargement. Many Slovaks regularly shop at Tesco’s just like their British counterparts. Last year Jaguar sealed a deal to build its new plant near the city of Nitra in western Slovakia, just as the firm expanded its operations in Wolverhampton. Many UK citizens live and work in Bratislava. If Britain leaves the EU, UK citizens and firms in Slovakia are likely to quickly encounter practical difficulties and additional costs by losing access to common rules of the single European market.
All this pales into insignificance, however, when considering the potential economic shock caused by a Brexit. As with many other aspects of life after Brexit, it is difficult to call how quickly the volatility currently starting to affect the British economy might spread to others, and the short- and long-term impact this might have.
Britain leaving the EU would also cause a headache for the Slovakian government. For the first time, Slovakia is due to hold the Council Presidency this year, from the 1st of July until the end of December- meaning that the Slovakian government will formally be the host for all meetings of EU member state governments during that time. A Brexit is the one event that could seriously derail all the meticulous plans which have already been put in place by Slovakia for its presidency. While many of the issues the Slovakian Presidency would have to deal with will have been inherited from the previous, Dutch, Presidency, a UK decision to leave the EU would throw up a whole host of new questions and problems.
The uncertainty caused by a Brexit would also harm progress towards energy security in the EU. This may appear an abstract issue for many Brits, but it could not be more pressing for countries like Slovakia, which literally had its gas supplies cut off in 2009 by Russia- virtually the only nation whose government has welcomed the prospect of Brexit.
If the UK decides to leave the EU, the unpicking of the EU’s links with Britain is going to be difficult, with no blueprint or precedent to go on. This situation would put many plans for Slovakia’s Council Presidency on the back burner. The scenario for the UK would be bleak, too – the remaining EU member states would fear an unravelling of the union were positive and friendly terms of exit to be negotiated. As a result, we would expect them to play “hard ball”. It is all too easily forgotten that Britain has enjoyed a positive image in Central Europe. The UK championed EU enlargement and helped launch its so-called ‘neighbourhood policy’ to improve relations with nearby countries. During the last decade, Britain made a fundamental contribution to overcoming the divisions created by the Cold War, and ensuring peace and stability across the entire European continent. Enlargement and cooperation with EU neighbours have created investment opportunities as well as increasing security for the UK. Moreover, the UK’s influence in Slovakia and her neighbours has significantly increased because of the common use of both the English language and a pragmatic approach to policymaking in Central Europe which is similar to that common in Britain.
Regardless of its outcome, the UK referendum will affect Slovakia much more than the result of today’s football match against England. Day-to-day EU politics will not necessarily be easy if Bremain succeeds. However, it will be far more predictable and stable than in the case of a Brexit. Both Britain and Slovakia have a chance to win on 23 June, if they choose to stick together within the EU.
Anneliese Dodds, Labour MEP for the South East of England