Austrian and Slovene foreign ministers to meet next month

Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger and his Slovene counterpart Samuel Zbogar will meet on 16 March in Vienna, it was announced yesterday (Weds).Slovene news agency STA said yesterday that Zbogar would raise the situation of the Slovene minority in Carinthia at the meeting, including failure to put up bilingual place name signs in towns with Slovene minorities.The Slovene minority in the province has called for place name signs in all towns with a substantial Slovene population – calls that face strong opposition in many areas of Carinthia.STA added that Zbogar hoped Social Democratic (SPÖ) Chancellor Werner Faymann would contribute to “a constructive solution” of the sign problem by the end of 2010.Faymann’s office said it appeared a scheduling conflict would make it impossible for him to meet with Zbogar during his visit to Vienna.STA also noted that Zbogar was critical of the lack of unity among Carinthian Slovenes.The Austrian foreign ministry said the two foreign ministers would also discuss the EU perspectives of western Balkan countries, especially Croatia.Faymann had said last month that he wanted a joint solution of Carinthia’s bilingual place name sign problem since “a decree or a unilateral initiative” by the federal government would not solve the problem.The chancellor’s comments came after Spindelegger had called on him to come up with a solution to the problem soon.”It would stand Austria in good stead if on National Day 2010 (26 October) it could announce to the world that it had solved this problem,” he said, adding that Austria could become more important and credible in Europe only if it complied with its international obligations.”It will not do to shift the responsibility on to Carinthia alone. On the other hand, it is time for Carinthian politicians finally to become more courageous and dare to take a step into the 21st century,” the minister added.The issue of bilingual place-name signs in Carinthia has been ongoing for decades. Late Carinthian BZÖ Governor Jörg Haider had outraged the Slovene minority by refusing to erect such signs for years – despite a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court that said they needed to be put up in towns where Slovenes comprised ten or more per cent of residents.