Ljubljana related

03 Aug 2020, 10:54 AM

STA, 3 August 2020 - Drago Jančar, arguably Slovenia's leading contemporary writer, will formally receive on Monday the Austrian State Prize for European Literature 2020. The life-time achievement award is awarded to writers with a strong international presence.

"Taking an individual to penetratingly render understandable the delusions of our history: this is one of the big strengths of his literature," the jury wrote about the 71-year-old.

Jančar is well known in the German-speaking world and a number of his works have been translated into the German, among them the 2017 novel And Love Itself (In Ljubezen tudi)

His works often deal with individual's struggles with society and some delve into post-WWII events in Slovenia, a source of many present-day political fault lines.

Jančar, a novelist, playwright and essayist, is the most widely translated Slovenian writer and has received an unparalleled number of awards in Slovenia and abroad.

He has written eleven novels; one of the most celebrated ones, I Saw Her That Night (To Noč Sem Jo Videl; 2010) has been translated into at least ten languages.

He is the only Slovenian writer to have won the prestigious Slovenian Kresnik Prize for the best novel of the year four times, most recently with And Love Itself in 2018.

The Austrian State Prize for European Literature is handed out annually for the oeuvre of a European author that has won international acclaim and has been translated into German.

Some of the previous winners include French writer Michel Houellebecq (2019), English novelist Zadie Smith (2018) and Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano (2012).

29 Jul 2020, 19:41 PM

STA, 29 July 2020 - A 28-year-old Austrian paraglider was found dead in the Julian Alps in the early morning hours on Wednesday. The man took off from the Kobala paragliding takeoff in western Slovenia alongside a friend at 1pm yesterday but when he was still missing in the evening, a report was made to the police.

The Nova Gorica Police said the man was reported missing at 9pm, which triggered an immediate launch of a search and rescue campaign. He was found dead at about 3am this morning in steep and inaccessible terrain on the mountain of Vršič above the Predolina pasture.

The police said the paraglider seemed to have either fallen or crashed into the steep mountain side, sliding vertically at least 100 metres. He was found at the altitude of 1,326 metres.

His body was transported to Tolmin with a helicopter this morning.

Aviation crash investigators of the Infrastructure Ministry and the district prosecutor's office have been engaged for the investigation.

24 Jul 2020, 12:46 PM

STA, 23 July 2020 - Slovenia and Austria have agreed to try out joint surveillance of the shared border using technology such as cameras and drones, as Interior Minister Aleš Hojs held talks with his Austrian counterpart Karl Nehammer at a conference on migrations along the Balkan route.

The trial will "examine the possibility of effective cooperation in joint border surveillance and the transfer of these practices to the Slovenian-Croatian border, which is more prone to migration pressure," reads a press release from the Interior Ministry.

The meeting came at a conference on migrations featuring the home ministers of 18 countries at which it was decided to set up a platform to fight illegal migration on the Balkan route.

The platform, headquartered in Vienna, will facilitate coordination in four segments: border surveillance, return of migrants who are not eligible for asylum, the fight against smugglers of migrants, and the creation of faster and more efficient asylum procedures.

Hojs was quoted as having expressed concern about the situation regarding migrations, which he said was similar than in 2015. In view of abuses of asylum procedure, he urged the ministers to "examine their asylum systems and take advantage of methods to prevent abuse".

"In the past Slovenia adopted several measures that we are now stepping up. Changes to penal law are ready, and we are changing the foreigners act and the international protection act to make procedures more efficient," he said.

Hojs also stressed that protection of external borders was crucial in managing migrations through Western Balkans.

"The commitment that we are going to make in the joint statement - that countries will to a greater extent support the member states on the EU's external border - is therefore all the more important. Slovenia is definitely willing to do this to an even greater extent than so far," the minister was quoted as saying.

Hojs held several bilateral meetings on the margins of the conference, including with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and the head of the European Asylum Support Office, Nina Gregori.

14 Jul 2020, 16:35 PM

STA, 14 July 2020 - Foreign ministers from Austria, Czechia, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia, known as the Central5, held talks in Budapest on Tuesday focusing on the opening of borders with third countries in the light of the coronavirus epidemic.

The EU's recovery instrument, multi-annual budgetary framework and the role of state subsidies in investments and regional economic cooperation was also on the agenda, the Slovenian Foreign Ministry said.

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said it made sense for Central European countries to coordinate their policies and help each other, noting that this was a region with strong historical, economic and human ties.

He stressed that strong cooperation was necessary to overcome the current health crisis, Austrian press agency APA reported.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Central European countries had successfully worked together to introduce protective measures against the virus, and they have decided to maintain their cooperation amid upsurges in several neighbouring countries, Hungarian press agency MTI reported.

The group of five countries decided to establish the Central5 format in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. The first meeting was held in Vienna on 16 June.

Slovenian Foreign Minister Anže Logar invited his counterparts to a meeting in Slovenia. The tentative date is 15 September, the Foreign Ministry said.

22 Jun 2020, 17:59 PM

STA, 22 June 2020 - Foreign Minister Anže Logar and his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg told the press after they met in Ljubljana on Monday that they would do everything in their power so that the shared border was not closed again due to Covid-19. The countries have boosted information exchange and coordination in this field, they added.

Logar stressed that Slovenia, which had its borders opened to a majority of the Western Balkan countries until recently, was keeping close tabs on the development of the pandemic in the countries and taking quick measures if the epidemiological situation worsened.

Schallenberg said regarding Slovenia's decision to remove a majority of the Western Balkan countries from the so-called green list that "one needs to be aware that if one Schengen area country opens its borders, it assumes the responsibility of all others".

He explained that Austria decided which country was safe not only based on an increase in the number of infected persons, but also on a set of other criteria, including to which countries have opened up to these countries.

Logar and Schallenberg agreed they will keep each other informed about future measures and coordinate the country's actions, if necessary. The latter said he could not promise that movement across the shared border would not be restricted again.

The countries are doing everything they can to prevent this, because they do not only share the border, as many citizens and families in both countries are closely connected to the border area, the Austrian minister added.

Logar also said that he had agreed with Schallenberg that reviving the trade flow, including by keeping borders open, and kick-starting the economy and life in general was very important for recovery after the pandemic.

Austria in particular is important for economic cooperation as it is at the top in terms of foreign investments, volume of trade and arrivals of tourists, he added.

Remaining an open issue is control on the Austrian side of the border aimed at stemming illegal migration, which Schallenberg said had been extended until November, as a new increase was expected given the situation on the Turkish-Greek border.

The Austrian minister said that the control was help of sorts for Slovenia, as everybody who crosses illegally into Slovenia knew it would be hard to enter Austria. "This is not a sign of distrust in Slovenia, but a clear signal to smugglers."

Logar said that while Slovenia did not oppose temporary controls on internal EU borders if these were warranted, there should be very transparent and realistic reasons for such measures.

They also discussed cooperation on the EU's multi-year financial framework and the recovery package. "Slovenia and Austria are perhaps sometimes on opposite banks here, which is normal when one is a net contributor and the other is a net recipient," Logar said.

Nevertheless, he is convinced that agreements should be reached as soon as possible, even before the summer holidays. "Sometimes you need to take a step back so that we together can take two steps forward," Logar added.

Schallenberg shared the view that an agreement at the EU level needed to be reached as soon as possible.

The ministers touched on the Slovenian minority in Austria, labelling the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Carinthian plebiscite as an important bilateral event. Logar said it was a historic opportunity to make a step forward in this field.

Schallenberg said he was optimistic about the possibility to develop a "positive story, which will be oriented towards the future while not forgetting about the past" as part of the anniversary.

The Austrian minister also reiterated the wish that the German-speaking community in Slovenia be recognised as a minority.

Later in the day, Schallenberg met representatives of the community, who informed him that certain progress had been made in the dialogue with the previous Slovenian government.

The community thus expects from the current government to continue the dialogue and adopt measures which would ensure long-term protection of the community's work, the community's union of cultural association said in a press release.

The anniversary of the Carinthian plebiscite was meanwhile the main topic as Schallenberg was received by President Borut Pahor, who noted that he and his Austrian counterpart Alexander Van der Bellen had agreed to mark it together

Preparations are under way and they pursue the goal that ceremonies are held with dignity and in a European spirit. The presidents will speak about this at a meeting on 7 July in Vienna, the president's office said.

It added that Pahor was happy with the intention of the new Austrian government to improve the situation of the Slovenian minority, and that the anniversary could be a major milestone in the advancement of bilateral relations.

04 Jun 2020, 18:01 PM

STA, 4 June 2020 - Slovenia has recorded no new coronavirus cases among 828 tests carried out yesterday, fresh data from the government show. Only five cases of infection remain active in the country.

Five Covid-19 patients remain in hospital, none of them requiring intensive treatment.

The total number of Sars-Cov-2 cases so far confirmed in the country remains at 1,477. The death toll remains at 109.

The country has so far conducted 81,333 tests for Sars-Cov-2.

STA, 4 June 2020 - The government has put Austria on a list of countries whose citizens are free to enter Slovenia without restrictions from midnight, a move that comes after Austria opened its borders for all neighbours bar Italy, government coronavirus spokesman Jelko Kacin announced on Thursday.

This leaves Italy as the only neighbouring country whose citizens are still subject to travel restrictions in Slovenia. Kacin said the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) is keeping a close eye on the situation and analysing when restrictions might be lifted.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio is scheduled to pay a visit to Slovenia on Saturday and Kacin indicated it should be clear by then when the restrictions might be lifted for Italian citizens as well.

Croatia was the first to be put on the list of countries whose citizens may enter Slovenia without any restrictions, on 19 May, followed by Hungary at the end of May, both based on bilateral agreements between foreign ministries.

Such bilateral agreements are in lieu of an EU-wide agreement on the reopening of borders after the coronavirus epidemic.

According to current rules, other EU and Schengen zone citizens may enter Slovenia without restrictions only if they fall into one of 17 categories of exemptions, such as tourism, ownership of property, some kinds of business or to visit relatives, in all other cases they must submit to a 14-day quarantine.

Similar measures are in place for third-country nationals, but for them the list of exemptions is much narrower.

Kacin said Slovenia was currently in the process of analysing which countries in the region, in particular in South-East Europe, as well as more distant countries may be placed on the list. The decision will be based on analyses of the epidemiological situation in each individual country.

03 Jun 2020, 15:37 PM

STA, 3 June 2020 - Slovenians will be able to cross the border without restrictions to all neighbouring countries from Thursday as Austria abolishes health checks on its border with Slovenia as the last neighbour to do so.

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg announced on Wednesday that the country was abolishing border and health checks on all its borders, except with Italy, on Thursday.

Quoted by the Austrian press agency APA, Schallenberg said the regime on the borders with Germany, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czechia and Hungary from tomorrow would be the same as before the coronavirus pandemic.

This means that on entering the country from those countries passengers will no longer have to quarantine or be required to present proof of not being infected with the novel virus.

Slovenia's Foreign Ministry welcomed the decision. "It's good and happy news and the success of Slovenia's diplomatic efforts", ministry spokesman Aleksander Geržina said.

Austria had reimposed border checks on the border with Slovenia, an internal EU border, during the migration crisis in 2015, a move that Slovenia has been protesting against as being unwarranted.

"Slovenia's epidemiologic picture is one of the best and this fact deserved recognition," said Geržina, who said diplomats had been working for about a month for Austria to sea the real picture.

Austria lifting health checks is important so that Slovenian citizens can start travelling freely while respecting all rules related to the Covid-19 pandemic and so that people can finally start planning their holidays as they are used to, said Geržina.

Austria was the last of Slovenia's neighbours to end health restrictions that were imposed following the coronavirus outbreak as Italy lifted border restrictions for EU citizens today.

Croatia and Hungary have lifted restrictions for Slovenian citizens earlier. These are also the only countries whose citizens can enter Slovenia completely without restrictions.

This is because Slovenia has already entered into bilateral agreements with the two countries that make such restriction-free travel possible.

Geržina expects Slovenia will soon add Austria to the list of countries from where entry is possible without restrictions. The government places countries on the list based on the recommendation from the National Institute of Public Health.

Citizens of other EU countries are allowed to enter without a mandatory 14-day quarantine if they have permanent or temporary residence in Slovenia, own property or vessel here, have booked accommodation, or fall under any of the 17 exceptions to the rule.

31 Jan 2020, 13:07 PM

STA, 30 January 2020 - Slovenia's national motorway company DARS and Turkish builder Cengiz signed on Thursday the master agreement on the construction of the second tube of the Karavanke motorway tunnel, a step that comes more than two years after the original tender was published. Works could start in March, weather permitting.

 "We're glad that after five rounds of appeals to the National Review Commission, we have finally signed the contract," DARS chairman Tomaž Vidic said.

Under the contract, Cengiz has 20 business days to submit a EUR 12 million bank guarantee, whereupon it will be able to start work.

Preliminary activities on the border tunnel - Austria has already made significant progress on its portion of the second tube - are to be initiated next week as DARS and Austrian motorway operator Asfinag meet to discuss the timeline.

Vidic said this was a five-year endeavour and problems may appear on either side of the border, which is why he would not venture to speculate whether Cengiz could catch up with the builder working on the Austrian section, which started works in September 2018.

"We think the problems are manageable. We have a skilled builder with a wealth of experience, which is key," he said.

Cengiz board member Asim Cengiz said Slovenian companies would be involved in the construction works. Talks with potential partners are already under way.

The contract is worth EUR 98.6 million VAT excluded and covers construction of 3,546 metres of tunnel on the Slovenian side of the border. The Austrian section is almost a kilometre longer.

Once the second tube is completed, the original tunnel, which entered service in 1991, will be closed for approximately two years for significant renovation and upgrade works.

Karavanke tunnel is one of the main transport routes between Slovenia and Austria. It is a key artery for cargo and one of the main entry points for millions of north European tourists en route to the Adriatic Sea.

17 Jan 2020, 14:20 PM

STA, 16 January 2020 - Slovenia remains an attractive destination for Austrian investors, shows this year's survey of the representation of the Austrian economy in Slovenia, Advantage Austria Ljubljana, but its director Peter Hasslacher notes that the main problems have persisted for years, and that it is high time for "concrete measures and reforms".

The survey, carried out in cooperation with the Ljubljana Faculty of Economics at the end of last year, shows that 75% of Austrian entrepreneurs in Slovenia believe that the country will also be attractive for new investments this year.

"The result is good, but it is average in comparison with their assessment from a year ago. In 2018, this was the opinion of 91% of the respondents, a record-high number," Hasslacher told the press in Ljubljana on Thursday.

He added that Slovenia was attractive for Austrian investments due to its geographical position, in particular the maritime port of Koper, skilled workforce, access to south-east European markets and safety.

But according to Hasslacher, the annual survey shows that the sentiment of Austrian companies in Slovenia has deteriorated somewhat and that they are growing pessimistic.

On the one hand, Austrian companies in Slovenia are very satisfied with the quality, level of education and motivation of workforce, with access to public contracts and the tax system in the broadest sense.

"Tax burden on companies, public administration, inflexible labour legislation, default on payment and low availability of workforce meanwhile remain the critical points of the investment environment," he added.

For this reason, Hasslacher believes the Slovenian government should take measures as soon as possible and facilitate permit issuing procedures, reduce administrative barriers and enable more openness and transparency.

It should also reduce the tax burden, especially when it comes to rewarding performance, provide greater flexibility of the labour market and invest more effort in preventing corruption, he added.

The shortage of skilled workforce is an increasing problem which was detected by 63% of the respondents, up 16 percentage points compared to 2018. Around 64% of the respondents said they were looking for workers with secondary education.

Advantage Austria Ljubljana sees a solution in dual vocational education, in a combination of theoretical education and practical training or traineeship in companies.

With around EUR 3.6 billion in investments, Austria is the largest foreign investor in Slovenia, with around 1,000 Austrian subsidiaries in Slovenia employing some 20,000 people.

20 Dec 2019, 11:02 AM

STA, 19 December 2019 - Angelika Mlinar, a member of the Slovenian minority in Austria and a former MEP for Austria, has been appointed minister of development, strategic projects and European cohesion policy.

Mlinar was born on 29 June 1970 in the village of Altendorf in the south of the Austrian province of Carinthia.

She has a PhD in law from Salzburg University, having previously obtained her master's degree at American University in Washington.

She has worked for several NGOs, and also served at the European Commission Representation in Ljubljana from early 2000 to mid-2005.

She has been an active member of the Slovenian minority, but not a traditionalist one, she says.

Between May 2009 and June 2010, she was secretary general of the National Council of Carinthian Slovenians (NSKS), one of the two umbrella organisations of the Slovenian community in Austria.

Some of her statements in that capacity earned her a lawsuit from the right extremist organisation Heimatdienst, while a few years ago she said she had not been very popular among politicians because of her criticism of the attitude of the Slovenian state to the minority in Carinthia.

Mlinar became known in Slovenia in the autumn of 2013, when she was elected to the Austrian parliament as the first female member of the Slovenian minority. She represented the liberal party Neos, which she co-founded, until June 2014, when she went on to became MEP.

As MEP she advocated a more cohesive and stronger Europe, and promoted human rights and women's rights. She also worked extensively with refugees.

In November 2014, she was elected a vice-president of ALDE.

But last spring she decided to quit as NEOS vice president, saying she was "too independent and too liberal for NEOS". She said she did have enough support within her party to stand in the 2019 European elections and even announced she would resign from active politics by the end of the parliamentary term.

But then she topped the ticket of the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) in Slovenia in the May EU elections. Although she performed well on preference votes, this did not suffice for her to become one of the eight Slovenian MEPs given the party's poor showing overall.

In the campaign, she spoke in favour of common European values and solutions, and called for more determination in the representation of Slovenia's interests within EU institutions. She was also critical of Austria's policy towards Slovenia.

As candidate for MEP she did not yet have Slovenian citizenship although she had residence in Slovenia, where she lived for 13 years.

And it was the citizenship that turned out to be the biggest obstacle to her appointment as minister without portfolio for development and cohesion policy.

She had requested Slovenian citizenship before asking for permission for dual citizenship from Austria. After Austria gave her the green light, Slovenia granted her Slovenian citizenship on grounds of national interest.

The right-wing opposition and conservatives in general have taken issue with the way she was granted citizenship and questioned her loyalty to Slovenia.

The situation escalated at her committee hearing, where she failed to secure support for the appointment amidst nationalist criticism that some critics say undermined relations with the entire Slovenian ethnic community in Austria.

As minister she plans to focus on improving the efficiency of EU funding. She highlighted R&D, information and communication technologies, competitiveness and regional development as the key areas Slovenia needed to invest the just over EUR 3 billion in cohesion policy funds it is entitled to in the current multiannual financial framework.

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