Vienna, 21 December 2007 - "Today is a festive day for freedom with a pan-European dimension. For the first time in many decades, the borders of Austria to all its neighbours are open again", said Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik at the celebration of the abolition of border controls between Austria and Slovenia outside the Karawanken tunnel in Carinthia. The Foreign Minister attended the celebration, which also included representatives of Carinthia's Slovenian associations and of the Gottschee minority from Slovenia, together with her Slovenian colleague Dimitrij Rupel, Carinthia's Provincial Government Member Josef Martinz, and MEP Hubert Pirker. "The new Europe cannot be equated with Brussels only. Today, the different levels of a common Europe are becoming clearly visible - the municipalities, the regions, and the Member States."
For Carinthia, the step toward Schengen enlargement has a particular dimension. "Especially as participants and formers of the European Union, Carinthia and Slovenia have succeeded in reaching a new quality of neighbourly relations. The dismantlement of the border barriers is another important step in approaching one another and establishing mutual confidence. An increasingly integrated Europe is full of opportunities, especially for Carinthia. Carinthia as a place of encounter of three cultures and traditions has every reason to look into the future with renewed self-confidence."
"This is a day of common joy at the concrete results of this new Europe: the barriers are being brought down, but security remains. Our borders will not dissolve, and they will not disappear either. But they will be of a different nature", stressed Plassnik. "The Carinthians can use the direct comparison with their Italian border. As of today, our border to Slovenia will be of the same quality as the borders to Italy and Germany have been for so long. We have managed this important step in the reunification of Europe in less than 20 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain."
"As with every far-reaching step, some people have their concerns and anxieties", said the Minister. "I can understand these anxieties. What is required is an unemotional examination of the facts and of the extensive preparatory work. The Schengen enlargement was prepared in detail behind the scenes for years - by the EU, by our neighbours, and by Austria. Interior Minister Günther Platter has undertaken tireless efforts in this direction, through targeted assistance, strengthening of security cooperation with the neighbours, and controls by Austrian officials themselves. We have undertaken painstaking efforts so that all conditions for this important step are precisely met. Europe does not act frivolously when it comes to security and freedom for its citizens."
"All our neighbours worked hard and conscientiously prepared themselves for this "European final examination in security", stressed the Foreign Minister. Slovenia, for instance, invested some 300 million Euros in the preparations, and has carried out intensive police training. "The success is already visible now. Between 2005 and 2006, for instance, the number of illegal border crossings at the Croatian-Slovenian border has fallen by 34%. We can trust not only in the willingness but also in the capacity of our neighbours to ensure comprehensive protection of our common external EU borders. The common Schengen area will therefore bring not only additional freedom but also more security for all of us. This is a victory for freedom and reason against bondage and fear."
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