Minister Han visits Carinthia as part of his visits to key economic border regions
Minister of the Economy, Tourism and Sport Matjaž Han today visited Carinthia as part of his tour of the border regions that form Slovenia's economic hinterland. As part of the Slovenian Minority Business Coordination, the Minister aims to strengthen economic cooperation with the regions along Slovenia's border, as these regions account for 30% of trade with neighbouring countries.
Slovenian minority business organisations also include more than 1,500 companies with Slovenian roots.
In the morning, the Minister was given a warm welcome at the renovated office of the Cooperative in Dobrla Vas (Eberndorf), which is known as being home to the most modern hardware store in Carinthia. The Cooperative is based on traditional South Carinthian-Slovenian roots and pays particular attention to bilingualism. "Shopping in the Cooperative is a unique experience, because the products can be tested in practice before they are bought, which is commendable," said Minister Han after a tour of the shop with its modern concept. Minister Han then met the owner of the Rutar Business Group, a Carinthian Slovenian, who is building a chain of stores in Austria, Slovenia and Italy, employing more than 750 people – more than a half of them in Slovenia. Carinthian Slovenians describe him as a socially committed entrepreneur who supports the Slovenian Business Association and its members, as well as various social activities of Slovenians living in the neighbouring countries.
Proof of Slovenians' strong ties beyond the country's borders is the Together – We Help charity campaign, initiated by the Slovenian Business Association, which unites Slovenian business people in Carinthia. During the campaign, Association members collected up to EUR 60,000 in donations, which they ceremonially delivered to Minister Han today. The Minister thanked everyone from the bottom of his heart and said that "such gestures "further promote solidarity and connect people on both sides of the Slovenian border".
Minister Han also met with the Governor of Carinthia, Peter Kaiser. They discussed the opportunities for closer economic and tourism cooperation between Slovenia and Carinthia. Austria, which has one of the most stable economies in Europe, is one of Slovenia's most important business partners. In 2022, trade in goods between Slovenia and Austria amounted to EUR 8.38 billion, with trade between Slovenia and Carinthia accounting for 10% of this figure, which grew by more than two-fifths last year. "The fact is that we are very important for each other, as almost 1,150 Austrian companies provide more than 20,000 jobs in Slovenia," Minister Han told the media after the meeting, adding that some 25,000 Slovenians commute to Austria for work every day. Governor Kaiser and Minister Han agreed that the figures were excellent, but they undertook to maintain and improve them. They will also pay special attention to the Interreg projects in the region, which have an extremely positive impact on trade.
Minister Han and Governor Kaiser also discussed the possibility of the European Championship in 2026 and then the Winter Olympic Games after 2034 with a focus on more energy-efficient, green and sustainable Olympics. "The idea is that Slovenia, Austria and maybe Italy could join forces and offer their already existing high-quality and internationally proven sports infrastructure to joint-host the Winter Olympic Games. In this way, we would truly provide the foundation for an Olympic Games for a new era." Minister Han admits that this would set a precedent in the organisation and hosting of the Olympic Games, and together with the Carinthian Governor they are now waiting for the National Olympic Committees to assess whether the idea is feasible.
Despite the very encouraging figures, which indicate a traditionally good level of mutual economic cooperation, Minister Han is clear that no one should rest on their laurels. "Figures are history and we must ensure that they remain such in the future." In this context, he drew the Governor's attention to the problem of the Slovenian minority in Austria. "Their rights are clear, but the Slovenian minority still faces some challenges." At the same time, the Minister reiterated that border controls at the Slovenian-Austrian border have been an obstacle to economic cooperation and the people's lives since 2015. "The obstacles that we put up physically in our minds are not necessary. I am convinced that they will soon be removed and that we will all live in the Europe we want – after all, we have the Schengen zone instead of border controls." Since infrastructure is a prerequisite for every economic activity, Minister Han and Governor Kaiser are looking forward to the forthcoming completion of the second tube of the Karawanks Tunnel.
At a working lunch with the members of the Slovenian Sports Federation, the umbrella sports organisation for all Slovenian and bilingual sports associations in Carinthia, he discussed other possible joint projects in the field of sport and tourism – such as a sport tourism product that would provide a mountain bike trail from the Alps to Piran. At the end of the day, Minister Han and his delegation visited the infrastructure of the Slovenian Sports Federation at the Black Arena Stadium (Wörthersee Stadion).
As part of intensified cooperation with Austria, the Minister will visit Vienna in early October, while a meeting with the Slovenian Minority Business Coordination will take place at the premises of the Ministry of the Economy, Tourism and Sport next week.