Bratislava, 16 July 2004 - "The Regional Partnership, which was launched at my initiative with Austria’s neighbouring - at the time - EU accession candidates the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia and our "cultural neighbour" Poland, is now entering a new, decisive phase: that of defining and implementing our shared interests within the EU", Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner pointed out during her joint visit to Slovakia with Federal President Dr. Heinz Fischer.
Together with President Fischer, the Foreign Minister met with President Ivan Gasparovic, Prime Minister Mikulás Dzurinda and the Speaker of the Slovakian Parliament Pavol Hrusovský. In addition, the Foreign Minister’s agenda also included talks with her Slovakian counterpart Eduard Kukan, which focused on the future enlargement of the EU, bilateral relations, and international issues such as cooperation within the Danube area and particularly the Regional Partnership.
According to the Foreign Minister, the intensive cooperation between the member states of the Regional Partnership is taking on tangible form. This could be seen at the intergovernmental conference, when the members of the group of like-minded states harmonised their positions and drew up a conceptual paper on Kosovo in the first joint activity launched by this network under the CFSP. Slovakia had played an important role in this process, emphasised Federal Minister Ferrero-Waldner.
Moreover, Ferrero-Waldner welcomed the rapid economic expansion Slovakia has achieved in the last few years and the obvious dynamism with which bilateral trade has developed since 2000. This was due to the steep rise in Austrian exports, making Austria one of Slovakia’s most important trading partners. "I particularly welcome the fact that with a share of more than 14 % Austria has become the third most important foreign investor in Slovakia, behind Germany and the Netherlands. The substantial investments made in the banking and finance sector are particularly noteworthy in this connection, as is the high number of more than 1,700 Austrian companies - mainly small and medium-sized enterprises - , which have launched operational activities in Slovakia", the Federal Minister pointed out.
The Austrian Foreign Minister also referred to the importance of a coordinated expansion of the traffic and transport networks, stressing that the improvement of the road and railway connections between Austria and Slovakia was an essential pre-requisite for the further economic development of the entire region, and especially the border region. "I am therefore particularly pleased that the two traffic and transport projects of joint interest - the railway connection between Vienna and Bratislava and the development of the Danube - have been granted priority also at EU level," said Ferrero-Waldner.
Finally, Ferrero-Waldner pointed to the close cultural relations between Austria and Slovakia: "The large number of events launched by the Bratislava Cultural Forum, the two Austria Libraries in Bratislava and Kosice and the numerous joint projects clearly illustrate the two countries mutual interest in each other’s culture. I am convinced that our already very fruitful cultural relations will be further intensified by Slovakia’s EU membership. The necessary pre-requisites to this end are offered by the Platform "Culture - Central Europe", in which all the Regional Partnership countries including Slovakia participate, and which represents an ideal forum for engaging in an active cultural dialogue", the Foreign Minister concluded.