Slovakia welcomes first ever visit of a serving British Prime Minister

Tony Blair, photo: CTK

Late Thursday evening Tony Blair came for the first-ever visit of a serving British prime minister to Slovakia. Prior to the visit there was a great deal of speculation about the purpose of his trip.

Tony Blair,  photo: CTK
To answer curious reporters, Mr Blair said:

"One of the reasons why I am here is to stress the progress you made, because I think the reform programme that you are carrying here is a reform programme that is carrying an echo with the things we are trying to do in our country."

As he sat alongside the Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda many wondered whether Blair's visit could be a way of giving support to Dzurinda in the run-up to early elections to be held in mid June. Pete Miller posed this question to the British ambassador to Slovakia Judith McGregor:

"These visits are not planned on such short notice as that and of course the election was going to be held to its full term at September, so no, it has nothing to do with the election as such."

Reacting to allegations that he was campaigning for Dzurinda, Blair answered

"There is one rule that I have, which is that it is for the people in a country to determine their government. It's not for me to say what should happen in an election that is for the people here. This is somebody I admire and respect."

Prime Ministers Mikulas Dzurinda and Tony Blair,  photo: CTK
... praising Prime Minister Dzurinda. Praise for Blair also came from the Slovak side. As the Slovak prime minister stated:

"I would like to highly praise the leadership of Mr. Blair, not only in the UK but in Europe as such. Mr. Blair firmly stands on the side of truth in the fight against international terrorism."

We should add that, like the UK, Slovakia was one of the allies that supported US-led forces in the occupation of Iraq. And the presence of troops in Iraq was one of the topics the British prime minister discussed with Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic.

"I would be for a meeting of coalitions, that are present in Iraq and drawing up a concrete proposal of how and when to leave Iraq."

The President also pointed out to Blair that although the UK is the sixth biggest investor in Slovakia, there is still room for more mutual investment. As Blair said, the relationship between Slovakia and the UK has taken on a more practical form.

Prime Minister Tony Blair with Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic,  photo: CTK
"We have many Slovaks who work in the UK today, and are most welcomed and we have also a couple of thousands of Slovak students in the UK today. The relationship between our two countries has really become very much stronger in the past few years. I think that that's a good omen for those countries that are new members of Europe working closely with countries that have been in the European Union for longer. But I think that the enlarged European Union, with the membership of countries like Slovakia, has really brought energy and vitality into the European Union that I for one have found extremely worthwhile."

Appearing alongside the Slovak Prime Minister on crutches, Blair wound up his visit by meeting students from the Comenius University in Bratislava, where he answered questions on international issues.

During his stay in Slovakia Tony Blair only met representatives of the government. It was not until a day later, at a stop-off in the Czech capital Prague, that he also met Robert Fico, leader of Slovakia's strongest opposition party. This was during a meeting of socialist and social democrat party leaders from across Europe.