Fellow Federal Councillors,
Ladies and gentlemen
Excelencia, je nám potešením privítať Vás a Vašu delegáciu vo Švajčiarsku.
Today is a historic occasion. It is the first time that a head of state of the Slovak Republic has visited Switzerland. Nearly thirty years have passed between Slovakia’s independence in 1993 (nineteen ninety-three) and today’s State Visit. Our relationship is very good and characterised by mutual esteem.
Madam President, your State Visit is taking place under special circumstances.
Not only has Europe suffered as a result of the pandemic in the last two years, it is now also confronted with security policy challenges, the likes of which we have not seen on our continent for several decades.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine on 24th February (the twenty-fourth of February) marked a turning point in Europe’s recent history. Previous differences between democratic nations within Europe are now evaporating. The emphasis is now on what unites us – values such as human rights, the rule of law and democracy.
The pandemic and the months since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine have demonstrated that, despite some understandable difficulties, cooperation in Europe functions well and our countries are making a positive contribution to overcoming the various crises. I would like to pay tribute to the people and authorities of Slovakia for their solidarity with those who have fled Ukraine.
Switzerland, too, has shown its support for these refugees and provided prompt assistance.
Despite the current challenges we should bear in mind that our way of life is under threat from other dangers too, such as climate change and dwindling biodiversity. Closer cooperation on these issues is also urgently needed. Slovakia and Switzerland have beautiful mountain landscapes – you have the Tatras, we have the Alps. As countries with mountainous regions, we are particularly affected by climate change.
There are other similarities between Switzerland and the Slovak Republic: both are states in the centre of Europe with a similar surface area and population size. And both have achieved a great deal. What unites our countries most, though, are our shared values and commitment to stability and peace throughout the world.
On top of that, our countries' ice hockey teams are among the most competitive in the world, and I hope that we can prove this again at the World Championships.
I can also assure you that skiing World Cup title holder and Olympic champion Petra Vlhova is popular and respected by ski fans throughout Switzerland.
In addition to all this, Switzerland and the Slovak Republic are both active in international organisations, even and especially at a time when multilateralism is encountering resistance. Both our countries are constructive members of the OSCE. And while Slovakia has already served as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Switzerland is running for a seat for the first time for the 2023-24 (twenty twenty-three to twenty-four) period.
With regard to the European Union, we have chosen different strategies. Slovakia joined the EU, while Switzerland continues to pursue the bilateral path, an approach confirmed by the Swiss electorate on several occasions. Switzerland wants to maintain and develop this approach in the future.
Significant historical events have shaped the destinies of our countries. We recall the 1989 (nineteen eighty-nine) Velvet Revolution, or – as it is called in Slovakia – the Gentle Revolution, when the Czech and Slovak Republics emerged from the former Czechoslovakia.
Or the Prague Spring of 1968 (nineteen sixty-eight), when Switzerland and the rest of the world followed the events with sympathy and moral support. The Prague Spring triggered a wave of solidarity in Switzerland, with around 13,000 (thirteen thousand) Czechoslovakian refugees finding a new home in our country. The bonds that were forged back then continue to flourish to this day.
Today, around 18,000 (eighteen thousand) people with Slovak roots live in Switzerland. Over the past 50 (fifty) years, Slovak immigrants have made significant economic, cultural and social contributions to our country. We think of Martina Hingis – Martina Hingisová, as she is known in her native town of Košice, and her many Grand Slam titles, for example.
Switzerland also has a presence in Slovakia, with numerous Swiss companies having established branch offices or service centres there in recent years.
Our countries have forged close ties through the people who fled to Switzerland in 1968 (nineteen sixty-eight) and later returned to their homeland.
This State Visit is an excellent opportunity to further strengthen our bilateral ties and to develop our mutual interests. Madam President, all seven members of the Federal Council warmly welcome you and your delegation to Switzerland!