Trilateral Working Meeting Between Foreign Ministers of Slovenia, Croatia and Austria

PeopleDiplomats ♦ Published: April 26, 2023; 22:59 ♦ (Vindobona)

Austria's Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg met his counterpart from Croatia Gordan Radman and his counterpart from Slovenia Tanja Fajon in Rijeka, Croatia, for a trilateral working meeting. The talks focused on the economic interdependence of the three countries and good neighborly relations, but Schallenberg blocked Slovenian wishes to open borders.

Austria's Foreign Minister Schallenberg used the trilateral meeting to raise the migration issue. / Picture: © BKA / Wenzel / Flickr Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia can look back on long historical and geographical ties, which are visible today above all through close economic interrelations, but also through shared values and correspondingly united political action. As a sign of this, meetings of the three states at the level of state presidents date back to the time before Croatia accedes to the EU. The meeting in the format of the foreign ministers, on the other hand, celebrated its premiere in Rijeka and can be seen as an additional signal of the high value placed on the neighborly exchange.

Given Russia's destabilizing potential, Foreign Minister Schallenberg pointed out during the meeting that a united stance is important not only between neighbors but also within the European Union. Thus, according to the Austrian Foreign Minister, unity within the EU is the strongest asset to stand united against the Russian autocratic narrative.

Against this backdrop, Foreign Minister Schallenberg also stressed the geostrategic necessity of maintaining stability in the Western Balkan states and firmly anchoring them within the European family of states. Due to their long ties with the Western Balkan states, Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia have a special role to play in this regard. They are jointly advocating measures to create a realistic and credible EU accession perspective for the states of the Western Balkans and thus to bind them to Europe and the European value system in the long term. In this context, Foreign Minister Schallenberg also presented his new Friends of the Western Balkans initiative and welcomed Croatia and Slovenia to the group.

20 years after the Thessaloniki European Council, this informal group of friends is working to promote the rapid EU integration of the Western Balkan states. For example, candidate countries are to be involved in EU Council meetings at the political and technical level even before their accession. In addition, regular joint trips of the core group to the region are to take place to achieve a stronger alignment of their foreign policy with that of the EU. By the 20th anniversary of the European Council at the end of June, the group is to include more members in addition to the existing ones. Furthermore, a visit to the LNG terminal on the Croatian peninsula of Krk was on the agenda, after which possibilities for diversifying gas imports and intensifying cooperation in the energy sector were discussed.

Austria blocks border openings

The three foreign ministers also discussed cooperation between Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia in the fight against illegal migration and smuggling. Schallenberg expressed that there is an "aspect of dysfunctionality" in the Schengen area.

According to the report, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg has blocked Slovenian requests for an end to border controls between the two countries. "Of course, we would also like to have a Schengen area that is again what it should be, namely a border-free area. But we have the reality that Germany, for example, just applied for the extension of its border controls with Austria and that we have to have controls with other neighboring countries as well," he said yesterday in Rijeka, ORF reported.

"Slovenia regrets Austria's decision to extend border controls," Slovenian Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon meanwhile reiterated, reiterating Slovenia's position that there were no arguments for the renewed extension, ORF reported. "We will think about all possible means at our disposal," she announced.