Slovakia’s far-right People’s Party will start collecting signatures for a referendum on breaking away from the European Union, the first such initiative to emerge in the 28-nation bloc after Britain voted last week to leave.
The petition drive, which the party said will start within hours, needs to be signed by at least 350,000 voters in the country of 5.4 million before a referendum can be called. Slovakia, which joined the EU in 2004, is also a member of the 19-nation euro zone.
The party is chaired by former high-school teacher Marian Kotleba, who’s been indicted for inciting racial hatred. It won 8 percent of votes from almost 210,000 citizens in March elections. In the past, Kotleba has praised Jozef Tiso, president of the Slovak fascist satellite state during World War II, a regime that sent tens of thousands of Jews to Nazi concentration camps. The People’s Party was snubbed by all parties in coalition talks that followed the elections.
“We have to understand that if we don’t leave the EU, we won’t really renew our economy, as foreigners won’t allow that,” Milan Uhrik, a deputy chairman for the party, said on its website. “A strong and independent Slovakia is simply not in their interest.”
A June 14-20 poll by Focus pollster showed that 62.1 percent of Slovaks would vote to remain in the bloc, while 22.6 percent of 1,003 adults said they would back an exit. A total of 15.3 percent wasn’t decided. No margin of error was given.
Slovakia’s only referendum to finish with a valid outcome was the 2003 vote to join the EU. The petition follows calls by other nationalist leaders to leave the bloc. Last week Marine Le Pen’s French National Front party and Geert Wilders, the head of the Dutch Freedom Party, both called for votes. Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy’s Northern League tweeted: “Now it’s our turn.”