The first visit of the Prime Minister of Japan to Slovakia

Martin Barčík

On April 25, 2019, the first-ever visit of a Japanese Prime Minister (Shinzō Abe) to Slovakia took place. The meeting was held in the format of Visegrad Group countries (V4) + Japan, the day before the European Union summit with Japan in Brussels.

The Prime Ministers of Slovakia (Peter Pellegrini) and Japan (Shinzō Abe) met in the Bratislava castle as a part of talks on bilateral Slovak-Japanese relations, with the meeting lasting 45 minutes. Later, the Prime Ministers of the V4 countries joined the room and had an hour-long discussion with the Prime Minister of Japan in the Visegrad format of V4 + Japan.

The bilateral meeting of Prime Ministers of Slovakia and Japan was dedicated to the strengthening of mutual Slovak-Japanese cooperation in the economic and investment sector, but also in the field of science and technology. Japan is one of the main investors in Slovakia, where there are over 60 Japanese companies present, employing 13,000 people. In February of this year, an economic partnership agreement between the EU and Japan entered into force, which, in the opinion of the Slovak Prime Minister, is an opportunity for Slovak exporters in the Japanese market.

Japan has a long history with Slovakia, initiated in 1918 by the visit of General Milan Rastislav Štefánik, who was a co-founder of Czechoslovakia together with Masaryk and Beneš. Next year will mark exactly 100 years since the establishment of mutual diplomatic relations between the two nations.

Prime Minister Pellegrini confirmed that on the 1st of July 2019 a social security agreement between Slovakia and Japan will come into force, based on which it will be easier to employ Japanese in Slovakia and Slovaks in Japan. Peter Pellegrini said that Japanese companies are moving their factories as well as research and innovation companies to Slovakia, remarking that: “Slovakia wants to be a modern, dynamic state that supports research, development and innovation.”

From Prime Minister Pellegrini’s point of view, it is also important that the strategic partnership agreement between the EU and Japan has already removed many trade barriers, that were obstructing co-operation in the past. Peter Pellegrini also congratulated Prime Minister Abe on the organization of the 2020 Summer Olympics, which will take place in Japan.

Japan is a presidential country in the G20 and Slovakia is in turn is the presidential state of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Japan will organize Expo 2025.

Prime Minister Shinzō Abe spoke about the fact that Slovakia is the centre of the automobile industry. 64 companies from Japan have branches in Slovakia, but the Prime Minister also mentioned that the Slovak company Eset, dealing with the creation of antivirus software, is currently investing in Japan. During the V4 + Japan meeting all five Prime Ministers have also discussed the situation in North Korea.

After the V4 + Japan meeting, representatives of the Visegrad Group countries and the Prime Minister of Japan summed up the meeting at a special press conference. According to the Slovak Prime Minister (Peter Pellegrini), the V4 countries belong to one of the fastest growing in the region, considered a stable part of the EU and a respected partner. Environmental issues were also discussed.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe spoke about locating Japanese investments in the V4 countries. Japan already plans to invests the field of robotics and artificial intelligence in Czech Republic. With regards to Poland, as many as 257 Japanese companies are already present on the local market, representing logistics and food industry, while in Hungary, Japan has already created 230,000 jobs. Japan supports investments in good infrastructure and different data control systems.

Andrej Babiš, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, said that the V4 is a very well-functioning bloc that has common goals on important issues in the EU and, in his opinion, the V4 should be an example for other EU countries. The Czech Republic will take over the presidency of the V4 group from Slovakia and they already plan to organize a meeting with Prime Minister Abe in Prague. Japan is the second largest investor for the Czech Republic.

The Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, assessed the dynamics of cooperation between the V4 and Japan. In his opinion, ow we should focus more not only on the bilateral cooperation, but also the equalization of differences in trade. Prime Minister Morawiecki also expressed hope that the EU agreement with Japan will make the Japanese market available to investors from Poland.  It is safe to say that the V4 Summit was successful as it have successfully shown the strong ties of Japan with Central Europe Countries.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of Hungary, Mihály Varga, said that we need to continue the strengthening of cooperation with Japan, as this in turn strengthens the whole of EU. Hungary has established its diplomatic relations with Japan as early as 1869 and celebrates the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year. 160 Japanese companies operate in Hungary and it is the most important Asian investor for Hungary. According to Deputy Prime Minister, the Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Japan has important economic benefits, widening and deepening trade, investment al swell strengthening economic growth and employment rates. Mihály Varga considers the upcoming elections to the European Parliament very important. In his opinion, it will set the path that Hungarian society will follow in the future. “Hungary has always strongly supported the idea of Europe consisting of strong nation-states.” The key issue in these elections will also be migration, which he stressed out by saying: “We would like (Hungary) to export help and not import problems.”