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Last Updated: Monday, 2 May, 2005, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
Slovakia's economy enjoys EU boom
By Tamsin Smith
BBC News, Bratislava

Peugeot factory
Slovakia is set to become the base of major car manufacturing
Slovakia has been attracting investment from big business, day trippers, and stag night revellers since joining the EU last year.

The cobbled streets and fountain-lined squares of Bratislava's old town have always charmed the tourists.

But now Slovakia's capital is gleaming with foreign investment. It has become the eastern European darling of the multinationals - and foreign investment is expected to total about 1.5bn (2.2bn euros) this year, twice the amount attracted in 2004.

According to the World Bank, Slovakia had the fastest transforming business environment in the world last year, and already comparisons are being drawn with Ireland's economic transformation in the 1990s.

Low labour costs, low taxes and political stability make this one of the most attractive economies in Europe.

Flexibility

Last year, the government replaced its income, corporate and sales tax with a 19% flat tax rate which is now eyed enviously by some Western countries like Austria and Germany.

"Investors are not very sophisticated, they are attracted by positive examples," says Eugen Jurzyca, from the Centre for Economic Development.

Nadia, a banker
I think the real change will be when we join the Euro. Until then we won't be considered as equal to other EU countries in the West
Nadia,
banker

"They see that Slovakia is well placed geographically. But I think it's the government's reform of the labour code as well that makes this an attractive place to be. It's much more flexible than western Europe, hiring and firing is easier, and it's easier to work longer hours."

The biggest investments in Slovakia have been in car plants. Fifty km outside Bratislava, a vast car manufacturing plant for Peugeot-Citroen has sprung up in less than a year.

Huge flat-roofed white buildings now cover an area that used to be grassy countryside. The diggers are still hard at work, but soon Peugeot-Citroen, Kia Motors, Ford Motor and Hyundai will be manufacturing cars alongside Volkswagen.

In less than two years, Slovakia is expected to produce more cars per head than any other country in the world - and it's not just car manufacturers who are coming to the country.

"Professionally, I came here about a year ago - I'd never even heard of Slovakia before," says American property developer Eric Assimakopoulos.

Future investment

His office is decorated with photographs of the rich and famous who have stayed in the upmarket hotel he bought in the city centre.

"George Bush stayed here, and his father too," he laughs. "The White House took over the whole lot.

Hair salon manager Annette
Austrians are popping over to Slovakia for a wash and blow dry
"We did an analysis of Slovakia and the fundamentals of this market were much better than others. Firstly, it's quite small and its location near Austria is perfect. I'm thinking ahead of the EU game - maybe Romania and Hungary, even the Ukraine would be good for investments next."

But there is little of this kind of investment outside the capital. The east of Slovakia is still frustrated by poor infrastructure and unemployment reaching 20%. Even in Bratislava, there is limited enthusiasm for the nation's new economic stardom.

"Not much has changed for me," says Petra, 20. "I guess it's easier to travel and get credit cards, but that's about it. Oh yes... we have some nice EU flags on our buildings now!"

"I think the real change will be when we join the Euro," says Nadia, 25, a banker.

"Until then we won't be considered as equal to other EU countries in the West."

Contributions

Western European visitors to Bratislava seem more impressed. There are Austrians getting hair cuts in salons here, making a quick day's shopping trip over the border.

UK stag night revellers in Bratislava
Better than Prague: UK stag night revellers have found Bratislava
"We have lots of clients on our books now," says Annette, the manager of a new salon. "It's a bit cheaper here for them."

And it seems that Bratislava is now on the map for the British stag night.

"This is much better than Prague," says Tony Jeffreys, from Suffolk. "We hadn't really thought of it before, but it's now easy to get here, and it's part of the EU, isn't it?"

Slovakia, along with the other new EU members, contributes just 4% towards the EU's economy. Experts predict that this will grow as more investors start looking eastwards.


SEE ALSO:
Migrant stories
24 Apr 05 |  Panorama
Who are the "A8 countries"?
24 Apr 05 |  Panorama
Country profile: Slovakia
01 May 05 |  Country profiles


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