Ms Mateja Vodeb Ghosh, Chargé d’Affaires a.i, Embassy of Slovenia to India

by Kanchi Batra - 4 July, 2021, 12:00 2938 Views 0 Comment

Ms Mateja Vodeb Ghosh, Chargé d’affaires, Embassy of Slovenia in India, gave an online interview to Kanchi BATRA, Business Editor from The Diplomatist. Ms Mateja shared the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU 2021, cooperation with India against the COVID pandemic, her plans to popularise Slovenia in India, the future of Slovenia-India relations and much more.

Diplomatist: Slovenia will be presiding over the Council of the European Union from July 2021. What do these six months mean for the Slovenian government? What are some of the main priorities of the presidency?

Mateja Vodeb Ghosh: The six months of Slovenia’s Presidency to the Council of European Union represents an opportunity for our country to bring to the forefront of EU debates not only the issues of great importance to the European Union as a whole but also the issues where Slovenia can share its knowledge and expertise. For example, in the field of EU foreign policy outreach Western Balkans, in other fields artificial intelligence and water management. Our Presidency priorities are built on four pillars: Resilience, Recovery and Strategic Autonomy of the European Union; Conference on the Future of Europe; A Union of the European way of life, rule of law and equal criteria for all; and, A Credible and Secure European Union, capable of ensuring security and stability in its neighbourhood.

Diplomatist: What are your plans to enhance cooperation with India during the Presidency? What kind of cooperation do Slovenia and India have against the COVID pandemic?

Mateja Vodeb Ghosh: European Union and India have strengthened strategic cooperation and enriched dialogue in the past years. The growing importance of relations also resulted in the Portuguese initiative of organising the Porto EU – India Leaders meeting. Slovenia plans to continue the political dialogue on bilateral and EU level with India in the framework of the annual conference “Bled Strategic Forum”, taking place on 1st and 2nd September.

When it comes to Embassy’s activities in New Delhi, the Embassy is planning three main events. In what format, virtual or in person, very much depends on the pandemic dynamics in India. First event will be “Europe Readr”, a culture-related event in which the compilation of the literary works of authors from all the EU member states under the umbrella title “The Future of Living” will be available free online. Indian readers will be able to access all the works from 1st July till the end of our Presidency.  The Embassy together with some other European partners would also like to combine this online event with a project of promoting the importance of reading and literacy among underprivileged children in India. Another event the Embassy is planning together with EU delegation in New Delhi is a round table on Artificial Intelligence. The event should take place in the second half of our Presidency. Lastly, we also plan to promote sustainable development recovery and in that regard, plan to organize a working breakfast on the topic of green recovery from the pandemic.

As far as cooperation against the COVID pandemic between our two countries is concerned, it has been very much in practical terms. Slovenia was very grateful to India for its assistance in providing paracetamol API and Hydroxychloroquine during 2020. On the other hand, Slovenia assisted India in its second wave of pandemic by donating remdesivir in May 2021. I am positive this kind of practical cooperation will continue. Cooperation on how to address pandemics is on-going also at the multilateral level. Slovenia sees India as an indispensable partner in procuring the vaccines for the developing countries in the COVAX framework.

Diplomatist: Slovenia has commemorated 30 years of National Day and its Independence in June 2021. Could you put Slovenia’s growth trajectory during the past 30 years into perspective?

Mateja Vodeb Ghosh: Slovenia counts becoming a member of European Union and NATO in 2004, Schengen area in and Euro Zone in 2007, and a member of OECD in 2010 among its major milestones since its independence in 1991.

In addition, in the past three decades, Slovenia has achieved substantial progress. Its material well-being and standard of living have risen substantially (National GDP increased by 91%; GDP per capita has increased from 5.131 EUR in 1991 to 22.014 EUR in 2021). Life span also saw a positive trend and people today live 8 years longer. Slovenia’s population increased by 100.000, and now exceeds 2 million. The share of the population with a higher degree has increased from 8,5% to 24,5%. Slovenia’s proudest achievement is that this progress has been quite equally shared. Gini index that measures the distribution of income across population shows that Slovenia remains one of the most egalitarian societies in Europe. Of course, Slovenia faced challenges in the past: bad economic situation and searching for new markets at the time of independence (1991-1993), economic and financial crisis (2009-2013), and the ongoing pandemic crisis, which caused economic difficulties in 2020. The recent economic indicators for 2021 are quite positive and we are optimistic the economic growth will reach pre-pandemic times soon.

Diplomatist: Slovenia is the first country in the world to have been, in its entirety, declared a Green Destination of the World. What are your plans to popularise Slovenia in India?

Mateja Vodeb Ghosh: Not only was Slovenia declared the first Green Destination of the World (2016), its capital Ljubljana was also declared the first European Green Capital City (2016). A sustainable way of living is at the core of our development. So it comes as no surprise that eco and sustainable tourism along with organic gourmet food are the flagships of our tourism promotion. Slovenia also offers many opportunities for active holidays, like hiking, cycling, river rafting, skiing, and of course, golf.

The Embassy promotes this sustainable and green vision of Slovenia at different events across India, and during the pandemic through our social media. Ambition is also to attract some Bollywood production to come and film in our beautiful country. Slovenia has already made the first steps in that regard with some Tollywood movie shootings in Bled and Piran and some other places. This would surely attract more Indian tourists to our nature rich and diverse country.

Diplomatist: Slovenia has access to the EU, Schengen area and Eurozone, could you elaborate on how this would help Indian companies? What role does Port of Koper play?

Mateja Vodeb Ghosh: Slovenia being a member of European Union, Schengen area and Euro zone means free flow of capital and movement of people. Its membership in all three groupings in practical terms means that Slovenia’s market size of 2 million people increases to around 500 million market, that people can freely move around the Schengen area and that they use the same currency in all the countries of Euro zone. This makes travelling and doing business much easier. In addition, Slovenia’s central location in Europe along with its high standard of living, educated workforce, and excellent infrastructure makes it ideal for Indian companies to establish their European base in our country.

The Port Koper with modern infrastructure plays a central role in expanding our economic activities. Slovenia’s Government and Embassy’s endeavours are to present Port of Koper to Indian companies as a strategic port of entry to the markets of Central and Eastern European countries. The sea route from India via the Suez Canal to Port of Koper is on average 7 days faster than via western European ports. This makes transportation not only shorter and more economical but also environmentally friendlier. The advantage that Indian companies can avail through exporting via Port of Koper is also other logistics and transportation support that Slovenian companies offer in collaboration with Port of Koper. The current pandemic has prevented the Slovenian logistics and transportation delegation’s follow-up visit, but it will visit India again as soon as conditions allow.

Diplomatist: How in your opinion, India’s growth and Slovenia’s technology and manufacturing capacity complement each other?

Mateja Vodeb Ghosh: Slovenian companies are known for their niche and high technology, high-quality products. What the Embassy has observed in the past years is that some Slovenian companies have found the right partners in India, established joint ventures, and some even opened production units in India. For example, there is one in Coimbatore in the automotive industry, and another one in Katni in Madhya Pradesh in advanced monolithics. Two more joint ventures have been in the making since before the pandemic: one in smart grid solutions, and another one in abrasive products and brushes. We are optimistic about cooperation in the future, especially since the world is moving towards building resilient supply chains.

Diplomatist: What in your opinion are the sectors that hold the most promise for Slovenia-India economic cooperation?

Mateja Vodeb Ghosh: Embassy sees as the most promising sectors logistics and transport, water management and other environment friendly technologies. Digitalization and especially, artificial intelligence, where Slovenia excels on a global level, presents another field where we should strengthen economic cooperation. There is also interest among Slovenia’s companies to expand the cooperation in the pharmaceutical sector and medical devices sector. Of course, we should not forget tourism and gastronomy. Once the pandemic is over, Slovenia can offer to Indian tourist a pristine nature; beautiful old capital Ljubljana and other historic towns around the country; mountains with lakes, most famous among them Bled lake and Bohinj lake; sea-shores of Adriatic Sea with old towns like Piran, Izola and Koper; famous Postojna and Škocjanske caves; castles; valley of emerald Soča river; health spas and wellness centres; wineries with organic and home produced food. Yes, Slovenia is on the map of Europe’s gastronomy, and is proud to have the first World Best Female Chef in Ana Roš and its restaurant Hiša Franko with two Michelin’s stars. However, Hiša Franko is not the only one that made it to the Michelin Book of best restaurants in the world. Check them out online at the Michelin Guide. 

Diplomatist: Where is Slovenia positioned regarding artificial intelligence on a global scale? How Slovenia and India can cooperate in the fields of clean technology, robotics and artificial intelligence?

Mateja Vodeb Ghosh: Slovenia with its Institute Jozef Stefan ranks high at the global level in the field of artificial intelligence. It is among leading countries in artificial intelligence work in OECD (Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development); as India, Slovenia is among founding members of Global Partnership for Artificial Intelligence (GAPI); most recently, Slovenia and Institute Jozef Stefan were entrusted with the headquarters of UNESCO International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI). India has positively responded to the IRCAI invitation to participate in its activities. Indian and Slovenian scientists are also collaborating in GAPI activities, including in using artificial intelligence as a tool for a more efficient fight against the current pandemic and faster recovery.

Cooperation in clean technology and especially in robotics are also promising fields. Robolab, established by the Faculty of Electronics at the University in Ljubljana, offers opportunities to Indian students to connect them with the latest robotic technologies. Among clean technologies, Slovenia offers strong expertise in water and waste management.

Diplomatist: How do you see Slovenia-India relations in multilateral fora?

Mateja Vodeb Ghosh: Slovenia and India share values of democracy, freedom, rule of law and respect for human rights. Both are also advocates for effective multilateralism. As such, our memberships in United Nations, World Health Organisation, World Trade Organisation and other multilateral forums offer possibilities of deepening our cooperation on bilateral and EU level. Opportunities are also in supporting each other candidacies in the multilateral bodies. The multilateral relations have been good but with the urgency of fight against the current pandemic and against climate change, we should strive for even closer cooperation.

Diplomatist: Are you satisfied with the cultural contacts between Slovenia and India? How do you intend to forge closer cultural cooperation?

Mateja Vodeb Ghosh: There are some well-established cultural connections between Slovenia and India. For example, Slovenian author Evald Flisar does visit India, his work has been published in India, and his theatre plays were performed in Kolkata. Slovenian musicians were often guests in India in the past years. The embassy also organised a painting exhibition a few years ago, and is actively participating in annual European Film Festivals. However, Slovenia and India’s rich cultural heritage offers many more opportunities, and both countries should strive to take better advantage of the signed bilateral cultural cooperation agreement. I remain optimistic as awareness that through culture, we can build trust and understanding between the people, is gaining importance in today’s interconnected world.

Kanchi Batra
Kanchi Batra is the Managing Editor of The Diplomatist.

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