New and improved. Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda makes a case for his cabinet's economic policy and political reforms at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda used the gathering, attended by 40 heads of governments, to establish contacts with world political and economic leaders and introduce his government to the world. Over the three days in Switzerland, Dzurinda held talks with figures such as Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, OECD Secretary General Donald Johnston, the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, financier George Sörös and officials from the U.S. State Department.
Dzurinda also delivered a lecture to Forum delegates on January 30 entitled "Slovakia: Stepping out of Isolation." In his speech, Dzurinda emphasized that the new Slovak government had clearly shown its commitment to democracy and transparent rule. He also highlighted the main goals of the government's foreign policy - membership in NATO and the European Union.
"The success of Slovakia's integration ambitions depends largely on solid economic and financial results. The GDP in Slovakia has been growing by about 5% annually over the past four years, while inflation has ranged from 6 to 7%," Dzurinda said. The new government plans GDP growth at 3%, inflation from 9 to 10%, and unemployment below 16% for 1999. Dzurinda said that Slovakia ranks alongside Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic as one of the most successful countries of central and eastern Europe, and underscored the government's pledge to support foreign investors.
Reaction to the speech was positive, with Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss congratulating Slovakia on its "new beginning" during her talks with Dzurinda on January 31. "I hope the Slovak government will not only concentrate on progress in its own country, but will also contribute to good relations in the region," she said.
Financier Sörös welcomed Dzurinda's pledge of transparent government, saying that clear economic rules were among the most vital structural changes required by foreign investors.
Transparency would contribute to the development of Slovakia's industry, he said, "because international investors can then feel safe about their capital investments."
Sörös praised the mobilization of civil society in Slovakia which had led to political change during general elections last September.The social theme also came up during talks with U.S. State Department Under Secretary for Global Affairs Frank E. Loy, as Dzurinda was quizzed on minority rights in Slovakia, the representation of minorities in the government, as well as bilateral cooperation with Hungary.
The main theme of many of Dzurinda's meetings, however, was concern over the new government's ability to weather a looming economic crisis. U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers expressed concern about the ability of Slovak society to overcome upcoming economic difficulties and accept the necessary austerity measures. The Slovak Prime Minister, for his part, vowed to carry on with the government's economic stabilization program.
Since the split of the Czechoslovak Federal Republic in 1993, neither the President nor the Prime Minister of Slovakia had attended the World Economic Forum in Davos. Then-Economy Minister Ján Ducký and then-Deputy Foreign Minister Jozef Šesták attended the summit in 1995 and 1996, while no Slovak representative was invited to the summit in 1997 and 1998.
SITA and Reuters
also contributed to this article