Vienna, 8 September 2004 - At the invitation of Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner, her Slovenian counterpart, Ivo Vajgl, paid a working visit to Vienna today. Ivo Vajgl, who held the office of Slovenian Ambassador to Austria from 1998 to 2002, was appointed Foreign Minister of the Republic of Slovenia on 6 July 2004. Today, the ministers’ talks focused on bilateral relations between Austria and Slovenia, topical issues of European policy, the continuation of the process of EU enlargement and Slovenia’s OSCE Chairmanship in 2005.
Following the meeting with her new Slovenian counterpart, who knows Austria very well owing to his four years as Slovenian ambassador to Vienna, Ferrero-Waldner expressed her pleasure at the excellent relations between Austria and Slovenia, explicitly stressing that they "have never been as good as they are today" and pointing out that "the cooperation between our two countries can be described as exemplary".
At the political level, the number of bilateral contacts has increased impressively over the last few years, with 21 meetings at the ministerial level held in 2003 alone. Ferrero-Waldner also referred to the excellent economic relations between the two countries, emphasising that "Slovenia is the largest per capita purchaser of Austrian goods worldwide and as a trading partner for Austria plays a more important role than Russia, China and Japan. The volume of Austrian exports to Slovenia is as high as that to Sweden, Portugal and Ireland together". At the same time, Austria is the largest investor in Slovenia.
The Foreign Minister added that "Austria and Slovenia also cooperate very closely in the field of humanitarian foreign policy, such as in the Human Security Network, for instance". As a special example of the two countries activities in this area, Ferrero-Waldner mentioned a joint project for children traumatised by war in Iraq and the financial assistance Austria is giving to various initiatives launched by Slovenia. Since 1999, for instance, Austria has supported the International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance which was set up by Slovenia. Austria’s contribution to this very well functioning fund was increased to over EUR 340,000 last year. "The most recent example in this connection is our cooperation at the military level", Ferrero-Waldner stressed, "because since 1 July Slovenian soldiers and members of the Austrian army have been serving together in Bosnia and Herzegovina in a joint contingent under SFOR."
Other items on the two foreign ministers’ discussion agenda were current EU issues, such as the Constitutional Treaty of the EU and the continuation of the enlargement process. Referring to the European Constitution, Ferreo-Waldner said that it represented "a historic success for European integration. The constitution was the first joint project undertaken by the enlarged Union of 25 and will become their first big success." For Austria, the successful cooperation with its like-minded partners - the group of like-minded states consists of small and medium-sized EU Member States, including many of the new members such as Slovenia - had been an especially positive and encouraging experience. By joining forces, these countries succeeded in making an essential contribution to the shaping of the constitution and in implementing joint interests in an appropriate manner.
Ferrero-Waldner also referred to the challenge posed by Bulgaria’s and Romania’s accession to the EU. "From our point of view, the timetable recently confirmed by the European Council in June seems realistic", said the Foreign Minister. This assumption was not least supported by Bulgaria’s recent conclusion of all 31 negotiating chapters. As a next step, assistance will be given to Romania to enable the country to close the remaining six chapters in the accession negotiations by the end of the year, as scheduled. Nonetheless, both countries are called upon to meet their obligations and to take them seriously. In this connection the ministers also discussed Croatia’s ambitions to join the EU. Ferrero-Waldner held the view that the Conclusions on Croatia adopted by the last European Council meeting should be implemented as swiftly as possible. Actual accession negotiations could then be taken up at the beginning of next year.