As Brexit Nears, Support for Leaving the EU Falls in This Member

  • Backing for departing from the bloc falls to 29 percent
  • Nationalists’ petition lacks signatures to force referendum

While the U.K. is poised to trigger its departure from the European Union and populist politicians campaign to break up the bloc in elections across the continent, euroskeptic sentiment fell in one small country where nationalists are pushing for an exit.

Slovakia, a euro-zone member that joined the EU in 2004, saw backing to leave fall to 29 percent last month, down from 35 percent in November, according to a Focus poll published on Tuesday. The decline halts a rise in those wishing to pull the country of 5.4 million out of the bloc and poses a challenge for the far-right People’s Party, which has launched a petition to force a referendum on the issue.

“I don’t see the referendum happening,” Grigori Meseznikov, Director of the Bratislava-based Institute for Public Affairs, said. “Slovakia isn’t an anti-European country.”

The shift may reflect uncertainty over the global development that has prompted people to trust established institutions such as the EU more, according to INEKO, the institute that commissioned the poll. It comes as the EU readies for a series of national elections, including a March 15 Dutch vote in which Geert Wilders’ Freedom party is the frontrunner and France’s presidential ballot where Marine Le Pen is seen winning the first round. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is also expected to officially launch Brexit negotiations next month.

Gathering Signatures

While prime Minister Robert Fico has lambasted some EU decisions, including a plan for mandatory refugee quotas, he supports integration, which has helped living standards in the former communist country catch up with the West. He has also said the U.K. must suffer more than the 27 countries that will remain.

Still, anti-EU sentiment persists and is higher than the 23 percent seen in a similar Focus poll taken a week before the U.K.’s Brexit vote. Signatures on the petition for the referendum “are being gathered,” Milan Uhrik, a lawmaker for the far-right People’s Party, said by phone, without disclosing the total. The party, which started the petition in the week following the U.K.’s Brexit ballot, must gather 350,000 signatures.

The most recent Focus poll was conducted in the first half of January on a sample of 1,008 respondents and had a 4.5 percent margin of error. It also showed that support for replacing Slovakia’s parliamentary democracy with a dictatorship fell to 16 percent from 24 percent in November.

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