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DESPITE WIDESPREAD PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR EU ENTRY, A REFERENDUM DRIVE IS NEEDED, SAY OFFICIALS

Cabinet readies EU campaign

AMIDST growing criticism that the state was not doing enough to promote participation in the May 16-17 referendum on Slovakia's EU entry, the cabinet has picked two ad agencies to prepare a campaign that should mobilise voters to turn out in the popular vote.
Advertising agencies Creo/Young Rubicon and Monarch will be responsible for creating a six-week campaign to motivate voters to go to polling stations, using leaflets and booklets, TV, press, and radio ads to promote EU entry.
The decision came shortly after the Greek ambassador to Slovakia, Efstathios Daras, said that in Slovakia there was "a risk that people would prefer to go fishing than to the referendum".


DEPUTY PM for intergration Pál Csáky unveils how the government will get Slovaks to vote "yes".
photo: TASR

AMIDST growing criticism that the state was not doing enough to promote participation in the May 16-17 referendum on Slovakia's EU entry, the cabinet has picked two ad agencies to prepare a campaign that should mobilise voters to turn out in the popular vote.

Advertising agencies Creo/Young Rubicon and Monarch will be responsible for creating a six-week campaign to motivate voters to go to polling stations, using leaflets and booklets, TV, press, and radio ads to promote EU entry.

The decision came shortly after the Greek ambassador to Slovakia, Efstathios Daras, said that in Slovakia there was "a risk that people would prefer to go fishing than to the referendum".

Daras echoed warnings from Western officials, who earlier pointed out that if not enough voters participated in the referendum, the vote would be invalid and effectively spoil the country's EU entry.

This threat is heightened by a history of invalid referendums in this central European state. An insufficient number of voters took part in all the previous four popular votes. According to Slovak law, for a referendum to be valid, more than 50 per cent of eligible voters must take part in the vote.

With this in mind, the opposition party Smer called on Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda to propose the recall of deputy PM for integration Pál Csáky because they thought the official was not doing his job.

"We ask PM Mikuláš Dzurinda to propose the recall of deputy PM Csáky because his office is failing in tasks for which it is responsible, with respect to Slovakia's strategic goal to enter the EU," Smer chairman Robert Fico said on March 14.

Csáky, however, defended his approach, stating that he was following a cabinet schedule that foresaw a six-week promotional campaign in the run-up to the referendum.

Csáky said: "I hope very much that the referendum will be successful, in the sense that enough people will participate in the vote and that the majority of them will vote in favour of EU entry."

To make sure that happens, ad agency Creo/Young Rubicon has been given Sk20 million (478,000 euro) to prepare a media strategy for the cabinet's EU campaign and to produce a referendum slogan and anthem, as well as TV and radio ads, leaflets, and booklets promoting Slovakia's EU entry.

Monarch, meanwhile, received Sk9.5 million (227,000 euro) from the state to secure the publishing and broadcasting of the ads and distribute large-scale billboards around the country.

After the referendum the state wants to spend another Sk20 million (478,000 euro) to prepare information projects educating people about the workings of the EU.

Along with the state campaign, the European Commission (EC) delegation in Bratislava is planning its own EU promotional campaign, to be prepared in cooperation with local NGOs, including the Slovak Football Association.

Onno Simmons, advisor with the EC delegation in Bratislava told The Slovak Spectator: "In each of the [10] EU candidate countries there is a small EC campaign on the EU. In Slovakia we will work with the Slovak Football Association, and we will also conduct a 20-day tour around Slovak towns.

"This [EC campaign] should begin in April and we hope that we can work with the Slovak cabinet to make sure the referendum is successful."

Although public opinion surveys have shown popular support for entering the EU at above 70 per cent for several months now, a number of officials have said politicians should not be relying on the figures.

"It would be a bit risky to rely on those figures and to sit back and relax," head of the EC delegation to Slovakia, Eric van der Linden, said recently.

According to the most recent survey carried out by the MVK agency, 73.1 per cent of respondents said they would participate in the referendum, of which nearly 75 per cent would support entry.

President Rudolf Schuster also appealed to Slovak politicians to be active in their promotion of EU entry, warning them not to rely on the cabinet campaign exclusively.

"The time has come when it is necessary to go out [to the people] rather than talk about the campaign from inside offices," Schuster said.

Deputy speaker of parliament and head of the ruling New Citizen's Alliance party, Pavol Rusko, said that if the referendum does not attract enough voters, the cabinet should resign.

"Entry into the EU and the referendum campaign are part of the cabinet's agenda, so failure [in the referendum] should result in the resignation of the cabinet, at least, and perhaps even in early elections," he said.

For his part, Csáky said he was convinced that Slovaks understood the importance of the May referendum.

"In the referendum we will be deciding our fate. We will be deciding about our future and the future of our children, and I think people feel that is [important]," he said.

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