2015 was a year in which we celebrated the past. In 2015, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Cleveland Agreement, one of the foundational documents of Czecho-Slovak independence which helped nurture the idea of Slovak statehood.
We also reflect on Slovakia’s progress over the past two decades. Slovakia’s independence and eventual membership in the European Union and NATO brought stability and prosperity, and the benefits are clear: Slovakia’s GDP is growing at a rate of over 3% – one of the fastest rates in the EU – and its people enjoy the benefits of membership in the Transatlantic community, including more opportunities to travel, study, and work in western countries.
Last year approximately 38,000 Slovaks traveled to the U.S., and 2,700 of them were Slovak students who were going to learn about America through the Summer Work and Travel Program. An additional 700 Slovaks participated in academic and professional exchange programs, and we continue to work together with the Slovak government on plans to lengthen the validity of work visas.
With much to be proud of in the past, we are also excited about our potential for the future. Slovakia’s export economy is poised to gain significantly from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would create a single market of almost a billion people stretching from California to Košice. Slovakia is home to many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that could benefit from TTIP’s removal of unnecessary barriers to trade and investment and easier connections to U.S. consumers.
2016 will also see Slovakia assume a formal leadership role in Europe, as it takes over the Presidency of the EU Council for the first time. Slovakia will also join NATO Allies in Warsaw, where the Alliance will restate its commitment to the stability and security of its members.
We are excited to start the New Year with a resolution to build on the already strong foundation of our relationship to bring our countries even closer together.