Economy and energy
The transition from a socialist welfarist and planned economy to a liberal market system has allowed Slovakia to present itself as one of the economic locomotives of Central and Eastern Europe. A boom encouraged by a favorable national and international situation as well as by a whole process of reforms (labor market, income taxation, public health and education) and the attraction of foreign direct investments (26 billion dollars in 2012) which have allowed a sustained growth between 6% and 10% until the economic crisis of 2008-09, which has had major negative repercussions in Slovakia (-6.2% of GDP in 2009), especially in relation to the still high unemployment rate (about 14%).
Despite the continuing economic stagnation of the eurozone, Bratislava in 2011 began to grow again, so much so that in 2013 it recorded a recovery of just under 1% and with a positive trend also for 2014 (2.4%). The strengths of the Slovak economy are the secondary and tertiary sectors, which together account for 96% of the national GDP.
The industry is based on metalworking, mining products, machinery and vehicle manufacturing, textile, chemical and electronic companies. The service sector is mainly based on finance, retail and tourism. An important role is played by foreign trade: the trade balance records a positive balance of 3.9 billion euros, thanks to a good performance in exports (85.4 billion euros, + 3.6%) and imports (81.4 billion euros, + 2.5%). Main trading partners are Germany, the Czech Republic and Russia.
According to indexdotcom, the latter is also the country’s main energy supplier (about half of its energy mix depends on Russian hydrocarbons). In order to decrease its dependence on Moscow, Bratislava is developing a strategy aimed at improving energy efficiency and diversifying the sources of supply by focusing on nuclear and hydroelectricity. To this end, Slovakia has signed an agreement with Hungary for the construction of a gas pipeline that will connect the two countries. The country would receive the gas from a Polish regasification plant which would also supply the other members of the Visegrád Group.
Defense and security
The Slovakian army is limited in size – just under 16,000 soldiers – and made up of ground troops and air forces. Since 2006 military service is no longer compulsory but voluntary, from the age of 17. The country spends around 1.1% of GDP on defense.
Slovakia has been involved in several UN peacekeeping missions such as Unosom in Somalia and Unprofor in the Balkans. The country currently participates in the NATO mission in Afghanistan (Isaf), jointly with the Czech Republic and is part of the EU mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina and that of the United Nations in Cyprus (Unficyp). The country had also sent a contingent of 100 soldiers to Iraq, which was then withdrawn in 2007.
Finally, Slovakia is a partner of the US in the war on terrorism and is party to international conventions on the subject, although it has no problems in this field that concern it directly.
Marian Kotleba: a new face in the Eurosceptic landscape
Elected governor of the Banská Bystrica region on 26 November 2013, Marian Kotleba is just the latest personality to make headlines in Europe in that large container labeled ‘Euroscepticism’. Kotleba is the leader of Slovenská Národná Strana – Our Slovakia (SNS), a far-right anti-EU and anti-Roma party, best known for the radical attitudes of its affiliates who wear outfits similar to those of the Slovak Nazis. SNS fights for the exclusion of Roma and the Hungarian minority from Slovak society and for the exit of Bratislava from the eurozone. Despite the failure of SNS in the European consultations of May 2014, as predicted by the pre-electoral polls.
Population, society and rights
The Slovak population is made up of 5.4 million citizens and has a rather low growth rate (0.1%). Slovaks represent the majority of the population (85%) but there are also other minorities such as Germans, Czechs, Poles and Ukrainians. Among these, the largest is the Hungarian one (10%), which lives mainly on the border with Hungary. There is also an important Roma minority (2%), subject to discrimination both in education and in the labor market. About 60% of the population is Christian-Catholic, 8% is Protestant and the remaining 4% is Orthodox.
Since the 1990s, the education system has been profoundly reformed. The quality of the system is high: the education of the workforce is comparable to that of the countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and higher than the average in Central and Eastern Europe. Although expenditure on education has been partially reduced, it remains in line with the 4% of GDP paid in the early years of the century. Spending on health (5.5% of GDP) is below the European average. The Slovak media are generally free despite the excessive weight of the political powers. The condition of women has improved since the communist era. While women theoretically enjoy the same rights as men, they continue to be underrepresented in management and politics.