The President of the Swiss Confederation, Didier Burkhalter, attended this year's summit of Visegrad states in Bratislava today, at the invitation of the Slovak Prime Minister, Robert Fico. Founded in February 1991, the Visegrad Group consists of four Central European states – Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary – and is an important informal grouping within the EU. At their meetings, member states discuss a range of topics, including enhanced cooperation on economic and cultural matters, technical cooperation, issues relating to national minorities, the regulation of border traffic and the fight against terrorism. Through the International Visegrad Fund, the group supports projects implemented in the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership countries (e.g. Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan), among others. Switzerland is involved in the International Visegrad Fund, financing a number of projects in Eastern Europe. Currently, it is supporting a project to promote the creation of minority networks in various Eastern European countries, as well as an exhibition of political cartoons in Ukraine and Georgia. In Bratislava today, President Burkhalter announced that Switzerland would be supporting a further three projects in Ukraine and Moldova, chosen by the Visegrad Fund.
At the Visegrad summit, President Burkhalter and the prime ministers of Slovakia (Robert Fico), the Czech Republic (Bohuslav Sobotka), Hungary (Viktor Orban) and Poland (Ewa Kopacz) discussed the situation in Ukraine, economic cooperation and cooperation on research, education and innovation, as well as energy security and Swiss-EU relations. The Visegrad states and Switzerland adopted a declaration providing for an intensification of dialogue and a strengthening of cooperation. According to the declaration, foreign-policy issues, issues concerning Europe and issues relating to education, research, innovation, economic cooperation and investment are to be discussed at regular meetings. The states also welcome the development of joint initiatives in areas such as vocational education and training, environmental protection, energy and economic development.
Ahead of his meeting with the Slovak, Czech, Polish and Hungarian prime ministers, President Burkhalter held bilateral talks with the Slovak President, Andrej Kiska, Prime Minister Robert Fico and Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak. These focused respectively on the situation in Ukraine and the issue of security in Europe, as well as Switzerland's policy on the EU. President Burkhalter informed his partners about the steps taken by the Federal Council to implement the new Swiss Federal Constitution article on immigration. Other key topics discussed were vocational education and training and ways to reduce youth unemployment.
President Burkhalter thanked his Slovak partners for the invitation to the Visegrad summit, which, he said, reflected the tradition of good bilateral relations between Switzerland and Slovakia. The volume of trade between the two countries totalled around EU 1.25 billion in 2013. Swiss investment in Slovakia has tripled since the year 2000. The two states support one another in consular services, with Slovakia representing Switzerland in Baghdad and Switzerland representing Slovakia in Nepal and Tanzania. As part of its enlargement contribution to reduce economic and social inequalities in the enlarged EU, Switzerland supports 23 projects in Slovakia, totalling CHF 66 million. These relate to security, stability and reforms, environment and infrastructure, human and social development, and technical assistance.
In addition, on Tuesday morning Mr Burkhalter, together with Mr Kiska and Mr Lajcak, opened the Switzerland-Slovakia Innovation Forum focusing on solutions to problems posed by demographic trends. Mr Burkhalter described the forum as an excellent opportunity not only to share experiences but also to reflect on the importance of innovation to society: the role that innovation can play in shaping the society of tomorrow and providing opportunities to improve the living conditions of all.
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