We should lead the race to a sustainable future
Looking back on 25 years of Slovenian independence, she feels the country has reached its goals and is doing comparatively well, with a high standard of living. Based on the German experience with migration, Dr Prinz sees migration as an opportunity for Slovenia, a young country with a diminishing population.
The relationship between Slovenia and Germany began after the proclamation of independence. Germany's Foreign Minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, was the first to recognise the independence of Slovenia. What are your feelings about the development of Slovenia during that time?
25 years after independence, I think you can be proud! It was crucial that Slovenian politicians convinced the former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher to trust that Slovenia would go ahead, join the European Union and NATO, and I think the early decision by the German Parliament in a special session just before Christmas 1991, opened the way to the formal decisions in January 1992 by other European Community members. This is why German President Joachim Gauck will join the commemoration celebrations on 24 June in Ljubljana. Austria and other neighboring countries were also among the first to recognise Slovenia's independence, understanding very well the specific situation of Slovenia. It was trust in the ability and the values of the Slovenian people and Slovenian politicians that was crucial.
Comprising more than 20 percent of the Slovenia's foreign trade, Germany has been the country's largest trade partner for years. Including services, foreign trade exceeds EUR 11bn. How do you see this trend in the future?
Slovenia and Germany are partners in the global market. Distance does not play a role any longer with economy 4.0. I am convinced that the major challenge is to be innovative, green and fast. Smaller flexible companies have the advantage of speed for change. The link between smaller and larger companies is a recipe for success in the global market.
I see a bright future if we continue investing in applied research, new technologies, e-mobility and new ways of production that eliminate waste and environmental destruction and help advance the standard of living of many millions who still live in poverty. We should lead the race, not into a global desert, but to a sustainable future.
Among the major German investments in Slovenia are Fraport's acquisition of Aerodrom Ljubljana, Mahle's takeover of Letrika and the acquisition of Adria Airways by 4K Investments. What were the main reasons for these companies to invest in Slovenia?
Trust is the most important factor. In the cases of Mahle and Ljubljana airport, the German companies had already been cooperating for many years with their Slovenian friends and knew each other well and were ready to pay a high price with expectations of growth in the future. In both cases, their strategic partnership will help develop and improve Slovenia's connections to global markets. There are also greenfield investments in Idrija, Cerknica and by Knauf and Messerer in Škofja Loka, if the local community is supportive. Another example is the transfer of Henkel's research section in cosmetics for all of Europe to Maribor. Production growth takes place after investment, slowly but steadily. Production is not a buy-and-sell-action with immediate returns. In the future, fewer people will be needed for production, which means decisions are based on the quality of cooperation, quality of training, staff ethics and the time you need to get things done. If negotiations take too long, with too much interference by non-calculable forces implied, then investors will look for easier places to cooperate.
The Slovene - German relationship develops also the exchange of knowledge, especially in the areas of research and the student experience. Can you share some good practices so far and the future vision?
In Germany, we want half of our students to go abroad for at least six month to broaden their experience. In Europe, research is done with a minimum of three partner countries involved. Slovenia would cut itself from international research and markets if it stays away from participation. This means allowing also English teaching, mutual recognition of curricula and cooperation in applied sciences. Last year, your Minister for Education, Maja Makovec Brenčič, signed an agreement to support travel by researchers in order to link in with European research and to result in EU research money for Slovenia. We did our best to support the application of Koper University for a significant EU project in wood research with the Fraunhofer-Institute Germany, which might bring more value added to the wood industry in Slovenia. The University of Ljubljana has signed a cooperation agreement with the Technical University of Berlin, a good sign for students and for start-ups. Furthermore, the technical-oriented University of Cottbus-Senftenberg signed an agreement in 2016 and identified areas for cooperation which also involves industry.
More than a million migrants and refugees have crossed into Europe since 2015. How do you perceive the global talent migration and what challenges does it bring, especially for young countries such as Slovenia?
The global talent migration is not a new phenomenon. In Germany we see a lot of talented researchers leaving for the United States, but we also see them coming back at a later stage. We have a lot of migrants in Germany and other European countries who have integrated well. Migration is different from seeking refuge for a short period. Shelter for them is mostly given in neighbouring countries to war zones. If these camps can no longer cope with the numbers, we have to help. However, if refugees turn into migrants who want to stay, they have to undergo special training in Germany. The German government has just decided to create a new integration law which facilitates this.
For a young country, which has a diminishing population, migration could be seen as an opportunity. I see, in that respect, that Slovenes are prepared to receive families in need and that parishes and municipalities are contributing. With a European solution, only a manageable number of migrants arrive in a safe and orderly way.
Art is a universal language and another field in which Germany and Slovenia have cooperated in a number of projects. Which projects do you find especially meaningful?
I admire the founders, Etko Tutta and Klemen Brun, of the idea "Art Embassies-Art Circle" combining with the wine cellars in Goriška Brda region already 20 years ago. We started an Art Embassy with the Ščurek wine cellar three years ago. The mayor of Nova Gorica, Matej Arčon, proposed the contact with Etko Tutta. We invited three German artists, for the third year, to come here for a week to stay with the Ščurek-family. This year on 3 June, we joined hands with other embassies by organising an exhibition in Vila Vipolže which will be shown until 3 October. Together with the Goriška Brda Tourist Board, Vila Vipolže, the Art Embassy-Art Circle, local wine producers, restaurants and the sponsors, we organised the exhibition opening with wine, food and music for about 500 people In addition to the German and Polish embassies, the embassies of Slovakia, Japan, China, Great Britain, Spain and Russia also contributed. Japanese and Chinese artists have come to Slovenia for the first time, some combining the visit with the Bienale in Venice. I am sure the project will contribute to the spirituality and uniqueness of this wonderful region. Hopefully, it will also bring new business to the region and for the artists in the years to come. For sure, the fame of the region will rise.
This summer you will finish your mandate as German Ambassador to Slovenia. How will you remember your mission here and will you visit Slovenia in the future?
I felt at home here, shared the same sense of humor and interests as many people that I met. I felt a part of your society. I admire deeply the cultural life and the feeling for a balanced life in combination with the will to do something special, be it special food or wine or special airplanes or designs. You can be sure that I will come back. My home is where my friends are and there are a few friends to whom I will stay connected, regardless of where I live. I will become the German Ambassador to Australia this summer. The challenge for the future in Germany and here will be how to integrate the necessary changes into a stable life and preserve a beautiful and balanced country without missing the chance and need for progress and the right answer to the next crises. This is the challenge of our life.