Key Challenges

Uphill struggle
on reforms
In line with its ambitious government manifesto, the center-right government that came to office after the 2020 elections has initiated substantial reforms. However, many of them still need to be hammered out or finally implemented. This applies to media and anti-corruption legislation as well as to tax and pension reform or R&I policy. Given the animosities within the governing coalition, the confrontational stance of Smer-SD, the main opposition party, and the municipal and regional elections approaching in autumn 2020, this will be an uphill struggle. There is a real danger that the government will neglect ongoing reforms and focus on keeping the coalition from falling apart to ensure survival until the next parliamentary elections.
Behind schedule
on conditions for
EU funds
The continuation of reforms is also important for making the best of the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility. For Slovakia, the latter provides grants up to €6.3 billion which will help tackle the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and help the country catch-up in areas where it has lagged behind, such as transitioning toward a green economy, R&I or digitalization. However, the recovery and resilience plan Slovakia has agreed upon with the EU contains 196 mutually agreed upon deliverables. At the end of 2021, Slovakia was behind schedule in implementing those reforms agreed upon as preconditions for the release of the first tranche from the Recovery and Resilience Facility. To get the money, Slovakia thus needs to continue the initiated reforms. Moreover, the beneficial impact of the new funds can only unfold if the government considerably improves its institutional capacity for absorbing EU funds. During the programming period from 2014 to 2020, Slovakia drew less than a third of all available funds, which is one of the lowest shares in the EU.
at stake
Another important issue is Slovakia’s international orientation. For a long time, the country has positioned itself clearly in the Western Alliance and has been eager to be seen as a reliable and trustworthy partner within NATO and European Union. However, Slovakia’s international reputation and its standing have suffered from Slovakia aligning with the position of other Visegrád countries in the EU refugee crisis and the increasingly pro-Russian stance of some political parties. At the end of 2021, Smer-SD as well as the far-right ĽSNS invoked and stirred pro-Russian and anti-American sentiments by mobilizing strongly against the bilateral defense agreement with the United States eventually signed in February 2022. This mobilization, which has helped to increase the popularity of Smer-SD, threatens to further weaken Slovakia’s international reputation. If the governing parties do not take a clear position and counter such campaigning, the credibility of the country as well as their own credibility will be at stake.

Party Polarization

Weakly institutionalized party system
Slovakia has a weakly institutionalized party system. After almost 30 years of free party competition, the party system remains in flux, with frequent fusions and fissions, new parties emerging and once-strong parties dissipating. At the same time, the nationalist-populist and liberal-democratic camps have increasingly polarized (Kneuer 2018; Malová/ Dolný 2021). Whereas the former has been dominated by one party (Vladimír Mečiar’s HZDS from 1991–1998 and Robert Fico’s Smer-SD since 2006), the latter has suffered from fragmentation, which means that the country’s party system is now “standing on only one leg.” The polarization between the two camps has been fueled by controversies over migration since 2015 as well as the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in February 2018, which has revealed the far-reaching penetration of state structures by corruption in the country. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Smer-SD as well as the far-right ĽSNS have invoked and stirred pro-Russian and anti-American sentiments by mobilizing strongly against a bilateral defense agreement with the United States.
Fragmentation complicates policymaking; continued confrontation
The combination of fragmentation and polarization has complicated government formation and policymaking. When Smer-SD lost its absolute majority in the 2016 parliamentary elections, it was forced to form a coalition with two polarized coalition partners, namely the nationalist, right-wing Slovak National Party (SNS) and the centrist party of the Hungarian minority Most-Híd. Conflicts between the two coalition partners – most notably on issues of human and minority rights, and judicial reform – have often had a negative impact on the policymaking process. The parliamentary elections in February 2020 brought a coalition of four parties (OĽaNO, Sme-Rodina, SaS, Za ľudi) into office (Gyárfášová 2020; Mesežnikov 2020; Haughton et al. forthcoming) which had all campaigned against the corrupt Smer-SD regime, but have taken diverse positions on many policy issues. Despite its strong losses in the 2020 elections, Smer-SD has continued with its confrontational stance. The controversial and polarizing Robert Fico, who was forced to resign as prime minister after the murder of Kuciak and Kušnírová, held is position as leader of Smer-SD and has successfully pushed his critics out of the party. (Score: 5)
Gyárfášová, O. (2020): Slovenské voľby 2020: potvrdenie ‘stabilnej nestability,’ Heinrich Böll Stiftung Prague, March 6, Prague (

Haughton, T., M. Rybář, K. Deegan-Krause (forthcoming): Corruption, Campaigning and Novelty: The 2020 Parliamentary Elections and the Evolving Patterns of Party Politics in Slovakia, in: East European Politics, Societies and Cultures (

Kneuer, M. (2018): The tandem of populism and Euroscepticism: a comparative perspective in the light of the European crises, in: Contemporary Social Science 14(1): 26-42 (DOI: 10.1080/21582041.2018.1426874).

Malová, D., B. Dolný (2021): Slowakei: Zwischen nationalem Populismus und liberaler Demokratie, in: G. Verheugen, K. Vodicka, M. Brusis (eds.), Demokratie im postkommunistischen EU-Raum: Erfolge, Defizite, Risiken. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 145-159.

Mesežnikov, G. (2020): A political map of Slovakia two years after the tragedy of the murder of Ján and Martina. Heinrich Böll Stiftung, March 11, Berlin (
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