- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2004

Slovakia after NATO

Ivan Korcok, Slovakia’s deputy foreign minister, received some welcome but unsurprising news when he sat down to lunch with a group of reporters in Washington.

One journalist told him that a major electronics factory, located in British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s parliamentary district, had just announced plans to relocate to Slovakia. That move could mean a $50 million investment in the Central European nation.

“Slovakia is being discovered,” Mr. Korcok said, adding that the primary reason is its flat tax rate of 19 percent for corporations and individuals.

Britain has a top corporate rate of 30 percent and a top personal income-tax rate of 40 percent.

Mr. Korcok’s Washington visit last week was to “keep the flame alive” in U.S.-Slovak relations, which he said have moved beyond Slovakia’s quest for NATO membership. After years of lobbying and reform, Slovakia was invited to join the Western alliance in 2002.

Mr. Korcok met with officials at the State Department and the National Security Council and talked about Slovak foreign policy at several think tanks.

“The Slovak-American relationship is at its peak,” he said. “The scope and focus of our agenda is moving, changing. Previously it was only NATO. Discussion started and ended with NATO.”

Mr. Korcok said Slovakia, which had a difficult transition to democracy after Czechoslovakia was split in 1993 into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, can share its experience with other European nations undergoing democratic difficulties and help the United States create stability, especially in areas like the Balkans. He gave Serbia and Montenegro as an example.

“There are many areas where we can cooperate,” he said. “We share many experiences with Serbs and Montenegrins.”

Mr. Korcok also expressed concerns about attempts by the European Union to approve a constitution. Slovakia, which has been invited to join the bloc, hopes that the European Union will be a “bonus” rather than a drag on Slovakia’s economy, he said.

“There is no entity like a European economy that is separate from the national economies” of the individual member states, Mr. Korcok said.

Mr. Korcok, 39, takes a refreshing view toward politics, going even as far as to advocate tough measures to control inflation or reduce state interference in the national market.

“We have to have more courage to do things that are unpopular but have to be done. I want the EU to be a bonus to what we do on the national level,” he said.

Hong Kong No. 1

Hong Kong’s representative in Washington is cheering the latest edition of the Index for Economic Freedom for recognizing Hong Kong’s continuing commitment to a capitalist market.

Nearly seven years after Britain returned its colony to communist China, Hong Kong remains the world’s freest market, according to the study published jointly by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal.

“This important milestone illustrates the vitality of our entrepreneurial spirit and strict observance of free-market principles supported by the rule of law,” said Jacqueline Willis, Hong Kong’s commissioner to the United States.

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Tomorrow

• Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha, who addresses the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

• Janne Haaland-Matlary, one of Europe’s most prominent Catholic philosophers and a professor at the University of Oslo. She debates the threat to Europe from “militant secularism” with journalist Christopher Hitchens at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

Wednesday

• Dieter Althaus, president of the upper chamber of the German parliament and president of the German state of Thuringia. He addresses the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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