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PM says eurozone entry vital to Slovakia
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Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said on Tuesday that his country's entry into the eurozone is of vital importance both economically and politically.

In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, Fico said joining the euro club will help Slovakia better integrate with Europe.

Slovakia will become the 16th member of the eurozone when it adopts the euro on Jan. 1, 2009.

For a small country like Slovakia, adoption of the euro will better shield it from the global economic crisis, Fico said, adding that it will also attract more outside investment.

As of Jan. 1, Slovak cash machines will start dispensing euros and local bank accounts in korunas will switch to euros. The exchange rate is pegged at one euro to 30.126 korunas.

"We have prepared well for the adoption of the euro," Fico said.

"We have strictly adhered to the entry criteria. The budget deficit should be below three percent of GDP. We plan to achieve two percent in 2009," he said.

"According to the euro entry rules, government debt as a proportion of GDP should not surpass 60 percent. Our level is merely 29 percent," he added.

The prime minister said his government had also achieved other goals like rapid economic growth and low inflation.

Slovakia's economy, which depends on its car and electronics industries, ranks among the European Union (EU)'s fastest growing economies with 7 percent growth in the third quarter and an estimated 4 percent growth rate for 2009.

Fico said prices would not rise in 2009 after adoption of the euro.

"We Slovak people are pleased to see the marked development in our country. We are in the European Union ... we are still facing the task of catching up with the developed countries in Western Europe," he said.

On the global financial crisis, Fico said it might deepen in 2009, but his government has worked out countermeasures, including building huge infrastructure projects like expressways, airports and nuclear power plants.

"Although the economic expansion rate might decline, we will overcome the crisis," Fico said.

(Xinhua News Agency December 31, 2008)

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