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President Drnovšek receives the Austrian president, Dr Heinz Fischer

Brdo by Kranj, 09/15/2004  |  press release

Click to enlargeThe president of the Republic, Dr Janez Drnovšek, today met the Austrian president Dr Heinz Fischer, who was on his first official visit to Slovenia.

The two presidents began by assessing relations between Austria and Slovenia as extremely good and friendly and agreed that, with Slovenia’s membership of the European Union, cooperation between the two countries is also becoming increasingly important within this framework. The Austrian president congratulated Slovenia on its membership of the EU and praised Slovenia’s rapid development in recent years. The two presidents went on to exchange views on the further enlargement of the European Union and the ratification of the European constitution. President Fischer stressed that Austria supports further enlargement but that the European constitution must be ratified as soon as possible so as to make the work of the EU easier. President Fischer was interested to know how Slovenia assesses Croatia’s preparations for EU membership. President Drnovšek explained that Slovenia has always supported Croatia in this process. The presidents also discussed the issue of the Slovene minority in Austria. The Austrian president noted that on the Austrian side there is a great deal of goodwill and understanding with regard to the resolution of all the issues relating to the position of the Slovene minority. President Fischer also expressed his interest in Slovenia’s preparations for the chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. President Drnovšek and the foreign minister, Mr Ivo Vajgl, gave him a detailed account of Slovenia’s preparations for the chairmanship. With regard to the Western Balkans, the two presidents agreed that the countries of this region need to have a European perspective. Dr Drnovšek and Dr Fischer also exchanged views on a number of other international issues.

Click to enlargeFollowing his meeting with the Austrian president, President Drnovšek made the following statement:
"Today I have received a visit from the president of the Republic of Austria, Dr Heinz Fischer. I am very happy that he has visited us so soon after his election. Relations between Slovenia and Austria are extremely good; I might even call them excellent. Over the last decade we have gradually eliminated numerous minor problems, so that today we can say that political relations are exceptionally good, economic relations are extremely good, that we will also cooperate in the EU, where in all likelihood we will very often have similar objectives, and an exchange of experiences at the very beginning is extremely useful. There remain a few open questions which still interest us. For Slovenia’s part these include the issue of the Slovene minority in Austria. Today we have exchanged a few words on these questions, particularly with regard to bilingual signs, which is still an unresolved issue. Even with regard to this issue there are no differences, at least at our level. We both expect and hope that a sensible and rapid solution to this question will be reached. We also discussed Slovenia’s forthcoming chairmanship of the OSCE and certain open questions in this context. We discussed a number of general European issues such as Turkey’s candidacy for membership of the EU and the general issue of the future enlargement of the Union and, in this context, expectations regarding Croatia joining the EU. Our discussions were very open and very friendly and I am convinced that our relations will remain on this footing in the years ahead."

Click to enlargeIn reply to a question from an Austrian television journalist as to how he views the general situation of the Slovene minority in Carinthia, President Drnovšek made the following statement:
"Last week I met representatives of the Slovene minority in Austria – in Carinthia and Styria – and discussed the current situation with them. We agreed that much has improved in the relations between the two countries, including the attitude towards the minority, but they still draw attention to a number of problems. One of the most notable problems at this moment is the issue of bilingual signs, which really should not be allowed to be such a major and insoluble problem in today’s world. On the other hand they do find that Slovenia’s membership of the EU has in a way improved their position too, and perhaps also their self-confidence, since they are treated more equally and with slightly greater attention. It seems to me that this is something extremely important in relations with every minority. This is also true when we talk about our attitude towards our minorities in Slovenia: we have to be very attentive and give them the status that corresponds to them. In this way they do not feel inferior or frustrated but instead have a sense of equality and feel that they are also treated equally in their own environment. As far as this is concerned, it seems that to me that although they have sometimes had negative experiences in the past, the situation is improving somewhat in the light of current events."

Click to enlargeIn conclusion, President Drnovšek added the following:
"In addition to the fact that an increasing number of Slovenes from Carinthia, members of the Slovene minority, are enrolling in the school system or learning Slovene, it is significant that with Slovenia’s entry to the EU we are noting an increase in the number of Austrian citizens, ethnic Austrians, wishing to learn Slovene. This seems to me to be an important element and the right direction for mutual understanding and communication."