Our citizens and the world need a strong EU in the expanding multipolar world, the globalized competition and influences, now more than ever.

He was born in Havana, Cuba. Graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy of Comenius University in Bratislava / 1886-1991 /, specialized in the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna / 1994-1995 / and then completed short-term courses in international relations in Bratislava, Madrid, Hega, Dublin and London. He speaks English, Spanish, German and French.

The Ambassador of the Slovak Republic in our country – H. E. Mr. Manuel Korček has a great diplomatic and administrative experience. He has held various senior positions within the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as, in Slovakian embassies abroad. He has worked in the Slovak missions in Dublin (1996-1999) and in The Hague (2002-2006). He was Deputy Permanent Representative of his country to the United Nations, New York /2009-2014 /.

Prior to joining us, from 2014 to 2017 he was Director of the Security Policy Directorate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic. He gave his credentials as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary in Bulgaria on November 13, 2017.

- Your Excellency, Slovakia is the rotating representative at the Visegrád group in Europe for one year. What are the priorities of the Slovak Presidency?

- The main motto of the Slovak Presidency is Dynamic Visegrád for Europe and the World. The focus is our contribution to the European solutions. In the European area, we are expecting major events such as the planned BREXIT, the European Parliament elections, the search for a consensus on the EU's multi-annual budget, migration, etc. We have divided our program into three priority areas: Strong Europe, Secure Environment and Intelligent Solutions. The first priority includes negotiations on the EU's long-term budget, the BREXIT and the euro area reform. The secure environment area covers migration and energy policy. Intelligent Solutions refers to the digital, as well as, the circular economy.

- How do you see the prospects for cooperation between the Visegrád Four and Bulgaria?

- Naturally, in parallel with the realization of its priorities, the Slovak Presidency will continue to seek joint solutions with close partners outside the Visegrád Four, including Bulgaria, with which we associate identical experience and points of view in many areas. The cooperation of the Visegrád Four under Slovak leadership with Bulgaria has already begun, for example, an expert meeting of the Visegrád representatives and Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia and Romania on the Cohesion Policy after 2020 took place in the Slovakian capital Bratislava on July 4th. On the 16 August there was a meeting of the Ministers of Agriculture of the countries of Visegrád and Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia and Romania. The meetings and negotiations will continue throughout our presidency of the Visegrád Four.

- What is the vision of Slovakia for the future of the European Union? What reforms need to be done in order to update its goals, preserve its unity and enhance its role on a global scale?

- Our citizens and the world need a strong EU in the growing multipolar world, globalized competition and influences more than ever before. In addition, events such as the disturbance of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the increasingly worrying situation in the Middle East and other parts of the world, trade disputes between large countries are in development in the vicinity of the EU. They show the importance of EU's unity in its external relations. We support the view that the EU should use its diplomatic, political, economic, humanitarian and security-related instruments more effectively for a peaceful resolution of conflicts on the international scene. The strong EU, however, must think strategically and united. A strong Europe is a key factor for dynamic development and prosperity, not only for the Visegrád countries. One of our main priorities is to prevent the creation of dividing lines within the EU, respectively to abolish them, and to support the joint European perspective of the next applicant countries.

The EU is surrounded by challenges. The way we will deal with them, including the settlement of relations with Britain after leaving the EU, will largely determine its further development. We need to emphasize that the EU has partially implemented its reform program - for example, we have succeeded in implementing almost all parts of the so called Bratislava road map, except the part for migration. As a success, we can mention the issue of EU roaming, PESCO cooperation, European Border Police law, the decisive strengthening of energy security in the EU - all that Union citizens can feel in their everyday lives. On the other hand, however, some of the reforms in the EU are yet to come, as we have not been able to deal with the legacy of the last ten years of crisis, whether it is the problems in the euro area, the banking union or the unfinished EU domestic market.

- How do you assess the recently completed Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the EU? Were the objectives in line with the priorities of the Visegrád Four, given its close interests with those of the Balkan countries?

- From the point of view of Slovakia, the history of the first Presidency of your Council of the EU was successful. Your Presidency is being held in a quite unsettled time when Europe continues to solve the problems of migration, the BREXIT negotiations do not yet make clear decisions, we are witnessing growing extremism and still existing tensions in the relations between some Western Balkan states.

Bulgaria has taken some of these challenges positively. For one of the brightest moments of the Bulgarian Presidency, we can mention the theme of the Western Balkans, which has been the focus of attention in the EU, as you have contributed to the revival of dialogue and cooperation between the Balkan countries and their support by the EU. This is the concurrence in our priorities. Slovakia and the Visegrád Four long-term support the processes of transformation, modernization of the Western Balkan countries and their integration into the EU, provided they meet the relevant conditions.

The Bulgarian Presidency also paid due attention to the good relations between the EU and Turkey. In this case, Bulgaria is actively using its geographic position and its relations with Turkey, indicating a roadmap for a synergic solution to the problems in the EU when a Member State uses its resources to solve common European issues.

- Bulgaria strives to enter the Eurozone. Slovakia already has significant experience with the euro. Are there risks in this process and what would Bulgaria lose if it does not join the Eurogroup?

- The Slovak Republic has become a full member of the euro area since January 2009 and this step has never been questioned in our country. In the process of preparation, the main focus was to prevent speculative growth in commercial prices. We are ready to share our experience. Bulgaria's membership in the euro area will open up more opportunities for foreign trade and attract investment. The common European currency has a high potential for entrepreneurs that will save on transaction costs and have a positive impact on tourism. It is particularly important for companies and citizens of smaller countries because they will not be exposed to the risk of currency fluctuations, as is the case for most cross-border online payments that save currency exchange fees. Moreover, the euro has currency stability and a higher level of creditworthiness. It is these advantages that we see as potentially profitable for Bulgaria as well.

- There is traditionally good friendship and cooperation between Bulgaria and Slovakia. What should be done to preserve the spirit of this friendship in the changing international conditions?

- You are right, in the Slovak-Bulgarian relations there are no open questions and our countries are characterized by mutual sympathy and partnership. We are EU and NATO member states; in most of the EU's key policies, we have similar opinions and we deal with a number of issues in a coordinated way. The topics of cooperation are above all energy security, the exchange of experience in the fields of education, science and innovation, e-government, infrastructure projects, and food security. We support the development of contacts and cooperation between relevant institutions and entrepreneurs in these areas. Within NATO, we share commitment and determination to help our defense. I can gladly say that we have excellent military cooperation.

The development of cooperation would also be supported by Bulgaria's membership in the euro area, Schengen and the OECD. Slovakia supports the integration efforts of Bulgaria in this direction. I believe that mutual security cooperation will also be stimulated by the OSCE Chairmanship in January 2019, when our country has the ambition to contribute to reducing tensions in the Black Sea region and resolving the existing conflicts surrounding the integrity of the several countries in the region. In 2019, Slovakia will be the OECD Ministerial Chair, which provides us with additional room for discussion on structural reforms in our countries.

- At your meeting with the President of BCCI Managing Board Tsvetan Simeonov you recently said that the visible economic growth of Slovakia and Bulgaria opens opportunities for intensified cooperation. In which areas is the potential greatest?

- Economic growth in both countries is higher than the EU average, which is a good prerequisite for bringing the socio-economic level of the richer EU countries closer. After years of looking mainly at Western European countries, it is now possible for our economic relations to become more intense and thus to stimulate our economic growth even further. The direction of such development is confirmed by the statistics, which show that the mutual exchange of goods and services between Slovakia and Bulgaria in 2017 reached the record level of 639 million, which makes an annual growth of 22%.

The Embassy of the Slovak Republic in Bulgaria, with the great cooperation of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and its President Tsvetan Simeonov, continues to create the conditions for new co-operation and commercial opportunities between economic subjects on both sides. First of all, we are talking about presentations of specific Slovak companies in Bulgaria and Bulgarian in Slovakia, providing information on international tenders in which companies from both countries could jointly participate, opportunities for capital investments, etc. From the point of view of the prospect of economic growth, science and innovation are particularly important.

- How does your country see the opportunities for energy cooperation with ours and, in particular, possible supplies of natural gas from a hub in Bulgaria from which the fuel can reach Romania and Hungary?

- Energy security, the diversification of energy sources and routes and the integration of the energy market in the EU are important topics for cooperation between Slovakia and Bulgaria. Such an example is our close cooperation on the issue of natural gas supply - our countries have worked together to prepare the “Easting” gas pipeline, which we will seek to coordinate with the Balkan gas hub project. Possible supplies of natural gas to Slovakia via a hub in Bulgaria will reduce the dependency of Central and Southeast European countries from a single source. The gas hub is also important for pricing the raw material, as the market needs a real price that cannot be achieved with short-term contracts.

- Many Slovaks traditionally come for their holidays to the Bulgarian Black Sea coast and elsewhere in the country. Bulgarians also visit Slovakia which impresses with its natural, historical and other sights. What can be done to enhance tourism exchanges, not only to promote people's rest, but also to mutually explore and strengthen the friendly relations between the two peoples?

- When we talk about the prospects of economic growth, we cannot miss the tourism that has great potential in our bilateral cooperation. And here statistics confirm an increasing number of tourists on both sides. Although this is not so obvious, the fact is that the number of inhabitants Slovakia ranks 7th in terms of visitors in Bulgaria. Slovak tourists accept Bulgaria as a safe, geographically and linguistically close destination.

We are very happy with the fact that Bulgarian citizens have started to visit Slovakia and discover the beauties of our country. The most attractive for them are our medieval fortresses and castles, historic towns and villages, good accessibility and tourist infrastructure in the mountains, all combined with safety and affordability. Very positive on tourism was the opening of direct flights between our capital Bratislava and Sofia and Burgas. Increased tourist interest also contributes to strengthening interpersonal relations. And it will become even more intense when Bulgaria becomes a member of the Schengen and the eurozone.

- Did you as an ambassador came to Bulgaria willingly? How do you feel here?

- Before I came to Sofia, I knew from my 25 years of practice some Bulgarian colleagues - friends, so I was expecting Bulgaria with joy. To represent Slovakia in it is a great honor to me. At the same time, it is a challenge to develop new projects for our bilateral cooperation. We are bound by our history, culture and our desire to create better living conditions for our citizens. I am convinced that there is something to be enriched with each other. For example, during June there was a visit of President Rumen Radev to Slovakia, our President Andrei Kiska was impressed by the large number of women in the IT sector in Bulgaria, as well as, by the Bulgarian marketing in the field of tourism.

How do I feel in Bulgaria? Nice. This also applies to my wife and my two daughters. I do not want to create a naive picture, but we really got used to it quickly, which was due to the helpful local people, the sense of security, the cultural diversity, the opportunities to spend active time in the beautiful parks and the nature.

The material is provided by Standart newspaper - standartnews.com.

Photo: Embassy of the Slovak Republic