SLOVAKIA's entry to the European Union will bring much stronger links between the country and the United Kingdom, said director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Digby Jones at a recent Bratislava conference.
However, Jones warned that next year's EU enlargement had to be preceded by substantial reforms, both in the 15-member union and in the 10 accession states.
While criticising some current EU member states for resisting immediate implementation of free labour movement after accession, Jones applauded his government's position to allow full mobility as soon as the union expands.
"I'm very proud that I have a government that has said we will obey the rules, and if the rules are that a single market means mobility of labour and mobility of people, just the same as mobility of capital and the mobility of business, then we will do it on day one," said Jones.
"British business and the British government are together on this. At the end of the day we haven't got enough skilled people. We actually need more. So, here [Slovakia is], a nation that is skilled and ready to work.
"[Central European workers] would not only be welcome in [British] business because they bring needed skills, but also because the overall education of a country rises when others, with other views, with other ideas, and other cultures come. This makes Britain what it is, which is a successful, multiracial society," he said.
Jones also saw opportunities for British industry to benefit from Slovak expertise by forging links with Slovak companies on their home turf.
"If we get investment right in Slovakia, they're going to want to [work with Slovaks] here.
"But one of the big pushes will be for the Slovak government to make Slovakia an open environment that welcomes British business, and then the skilled people here will want to stay," said Jones.
British Ambassador to Slovakia, Ric Todd, noted that British companies were already showing interest in the privatisation of Slovakia's electricity and water industries.
He believes that British investors are interested in Slovakia, but does not expect "any dramatic or sudden acceleration in British investment in Slovakia" in the near future. However, Todd said that following Slovakia's entry to the EU, there would likely be a steady increase in British business activity in the country.
- Conrad Toft
24. Mar 2003 at 0:00