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.
Ministra @AnzeLog in Schallenberg sta poudarila odlične odnose med državama, izpostavila Leto sosedskega dialoga in zadovoljstvo z dobrim gospodarskim sodelovanjem. Minister Logar je izpostavil tudi pričakovanja slovenske narodne skupnosti v ??➡️https://t.co/MkS2cGhSGz pic.twitter.com/sPphivf2RX— SLOVENIAN MFA (@MZZRS) June 22, 2020
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.