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Diplomacy & Beyond and H.E. Žigmund Bertók, the Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to India

Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to India Mr Zigmund Bertok

In an interview with Diplomacy & Beyond, Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to India Mr  Zigmund Bertok shares his vision on furthering the relationship between India and Slovakia in the areas of trade, investment, sustainable development and foreign policy. Here are the edited excerpts….

  1. Slovakia is currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. What are the main areas of focus?

It is something of very great importance for Bratislava, especially considering the challenging times that EU is currently facing. The Slovak Republic now presides the European Union after 12 years of membership. It is the culmination of our integration journey. We will now chair many meetings and top-level negotiations.

We have set up our priorities as one of the Trio members. As you know, the current Trio program has been adopted by the consecutive presidencies of the Netherlands, Slovakia and Malta in January 2016 for eighteen month period. Because of that there needs to be continuity in priorities between us and the cooperating countries.

There are four main priorities of the current six month Slovak EU Presidency 2016 including economically strong Europe, modern single market, sustainable migration & asylum policies and globally engaged Europe.

  1. The presidency comes at a time when entire Europe is battling problems such as Brexit, migration and terrorism. How do you see Slovakia tackling these issues?

Despite the European economy is back on track, the situation is completely different considering the newly emerged issues of so called ‘Brexit’ as well as growing number of terrorist attacks, and current unprecedented wave of migration. We have been trying to find a solution to these problems, and the negotiations are ongoing. Talking about outcomes of the recent referendum in the UK in particular, we fully respect (albeit feel sorry for) the decision of the British people to leave the European project. However, neither the European Union nor Britain was ready for this. Now there is a need to re-negotiate the outcome and put new rules in place. And this is currently the main priority for us. In September, we will be welcoming the heads of EU member states at the first high level post-Brexit summit in Bratislava. The European Union also needs to plan how to cope with the burning issues of illegal migration and global terrorism. And, we are working on it.

  1. How do you think India will gain out of Slovakia’s tenure as President of the Council of the EU?

Slovakia has been a long-time supporter of India’s inclusion as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It is a very important country on a global scale considering its brisk economic growth and increasing political importance. We believe that the United Nations reform is essential and its need is widely accepted in order to balance relations in the world.

  1. How do you rate the work of present government led by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

India is moving forward very fast. One example is its foreign policy under the present leadership. It is commendable. A lot of initiatives taken by the Modi government are excellent. Make in India, Digital India, Clean Ganga, Smart Cities are some of the programs which are highly admirable. Many of these ideas can readily be adopted by the rest of the world. Slovakia, in particular, can offer expertise in the Clean Ganga mission because of its previous experience in cleaning of the Danube River back home. Also we have excellent 21st century petro-geothermal drilling technologies coming to India in mid-October to present unique renewable energy solutions. It is going to be a great opportunity for India to share technologies with Slovakia, especially in the area which is of high priority to the Indian government, such as green energy solutions and energy sufficiency.

  1. Do you have plans to become a part of ‘Make in India’ program?

‘Make in India’ is an ideal opportunity to promote the economic cooperation to the higher level. It is a brilliant initiative by the Modi government inviting foreign countries to bring in expertise and technology, in lieu of incentives and production in India. We have strong interests in cooperating with India in the fields of defense, railways, automotive and other machinery businesses. We aim to connect different small-scale enterprises including the start-ups. Furthermore, Slovakia owns number of leading ‘green’ technologies, particularly in water and waste-treatment. But having said that, we would also like to see the Indian flagship programs to develop into a two way street. In 2015 Slovakia signed an €1.5B investment agreement for the new Jaguar Land Rover manufacturing plant. There are indeed numerous other skilled Indian companies that can follow this path and place their investments in Central Europe. We perceive the incoming JLR factory owned by Tata as the ‘Opening of Gates’ to Slovakia for Indian investors. As a result of various positive signals stemming from the current Indo-Slovak cooperation is the upcoming TATRA SUMMIT Investment Forum, an accompanying event to the Slovak EU Presidency organized by the government on 26-28 October 2016 in Bratislava, which includes a prominent High-Level Meeting dedicated to the investment opportunities for India.