Berlin first bilateral visit for new foreign minister (background)

Ljubljana – Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon will visit Berlin on Friday to meet her counterpart Annalena Baerbock. Fajon’s first bilateral visit will focus on the crisis in Ukraine, as well as bilateral cooperation, the EU and the Western Balkans, the Foreign Ministry said ahead of the trip.

The foreign minister’s trip to Germany comes ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Robert Golob to Berlin expected in July. For him as well this will be the first bilateral visit since taking office at the start of the month.

Fajon said in a recent interview with the STA that Berlin had been chosen for the first trip as Slovenian foreign policy turns “toward core countries of Europe” and to boost cooperation with “the axis Berlin-Paris-Rome”.

She also underlined that her goal was to strengthen Slovenia’s reputation abroad as a credible country dedicated to European values, the rule of law and democracy.

Her visit in Berlin will be dominated by the war in Ukraine and its consequences, above all the growing prices of energy and food.

At the start of the war, Germany was criticised by Kyiv for hesitating in its decision to send heavy weapons. On the other hand, Germany’s response to the Russian invasion was considered resolute and praised by many, including Slovenia.

The war came after Germany had been strengthening its economic cooperation with Russia for years, becoming strongly dependent on its energy sources, with the North Stream 2 pipeline being especially contentious.

Now, Germany has decided to step up its defence spending and Prime Minister Olaf Scholz announced at the sidelines of the recent G7 summit that the country would build the biggest modern conventional military in Europe. Before that he also called for a Marshall plan to help rebuild Ukraine after the war.

Moreover, Germany has co-shaped a united response from the EU, NATO and G7, imposing the strictest sanctions against Russia to date and strengthening the deterrence and defence of NATO’s eastern flank.

Among other things, Germany has sent several hundred additional soldiers to Lithuania as part of a NATO battle group, and the supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine has been launched as well. Slovenia was initially to be a part of this but the plan was not implemented.

Fajon meanwhile promised firm support of Slovenia for uniform stance of the EU and NATO on the war in Ukraine. She promised additional aid, including military aid, but above all humanitarian and development aid.

Slovenia has underlined its capacity to help with demining, which may be done in cooperation between Germany and the Slovenian ITF foundation.

Fajon also told the STA it was understandable to be worried about the consequences of the war for Slovenia, adding that issues have arisen relating to the effectiveness of the sanctions and their effects on Europe’s economy.

She wants to see an in-depth debate on ways to strengthen diplomatic means to address the crisis and get both sides behind the negotiating table.

Slovenia is worried by security risks caused by the war in Ukraine in the Western Balkans and has been trying to speed up the debate on EU enlargement in the region, also by proposing immediate candidate status for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

While no concrete headway was made at the EU summit last week, Fajon and Golob believe that initiating an honest and exhaustive debate was a success in itself.

Germany has been a major advocate of the EU’s enlargement onto the Western Balkans, even launching the Berlin Process in 2014. This year, Scholz and Baerbock have visited the Western Balkans, promising a revival of the Berlin Process.

Bilateral topics and economic diplomacy will also be on the agenda of Fajon’s meetings in Berlin, and possibly also the renewal of a cooperation action plan until 2024. Fajon is moreover scheduled to meet German industry representatives.

Germany remains Slovenia’s top trade partner, especially in automotive industries and new technologies. However, the outlook is not too good as German industry is worried by energy price hikes, logistical problems and material shortages, as well as grave uncertainties in global markets.

Moreover, high inflation and fear of a recession have driven consumer confidence to record low levels, while Russia has been reducing the amount of gas supplied to the country and Germany is bracing for the possibility of a total suspension of gas supplies.

The Slovenian Foreign Ministry said ahead of the visit that Fajon and Baerbock will also talk about the 2023 Frankfurt Book Fair, where Slovenia will be a guest of honour, and about support for the 2019 Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament.

Political relations between Germany and Slovenia are considered excellent, with frequent visits and contacts. Baerbock hosted Fajon’s predecessor Anže Logar in February.

In October 2021, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Ljubljana, receiving the Order of Merit for Distinguished Service, Slovenia’s highest honour, for her personal contribution to deepening the relationship between the two countries and for her credible and trust-inspiring European leadership.