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Interview for Al Raya and Gulf Times

Ljubljana, 9.1.2010  |  interview

Slovenia seeks to boost Qatar ties

Journalist: Samir Awad

President Danilo Turk of Slovenia is paying his first official visit to Qatar. In an interview with Gulf Times, the president spells out the importance of his visit.

President Danilo Turk of Slovenia: energy issues to figure in Doha talks.

Your Excellency, what is the aim of your first official visit to Qatar?

The purpose of my visit is twofold: First, we need to boost our bilateral relations. Slovenia is interested in political and economic co-operation with Qatar. Secondly, we would like to learn more about Qatar’s views regarding various international issues. Qatar has established itself as an important player not only in the region but also with regard to a number of international issues and it will be interesting to know about the country’s views.

What are chances for strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries?

The chances are considerable. In the political realm I believe that we can learn from Qatar about a number of issues in the Middle East and the Gulf. Qatar is interested in the developments in Europe. Slovenia is a member of the European Union and as such participates in the EU’s policymaking, with regard to the issues in the Balkans, Eastern partners, the Mediterranean dimension and global issues. So there are a number of matters that can be discussed bilaterally at the political level.

Slovenia is also becoming a transit country for gas. The Southern Stream gas pipeline will go through Slovenia’s territory and we would like to consult with Qatar regarding various issues of energy future in the world. So these are the issues that are of immediate concern. We would also like to discuss the future economic co-operation with Qatar in particular in such areas as finance, tourism, health services and, obviously, energy.

How do you see the role of Qatar and its leadership in the world today?

Qatar has established itself as an important player in the boosting of global peace and security, both regionally and globally. I would also like to mention that the media is an important factor in that regard - Al Jazeera is based in Qatar, as well as other important newspapers such as yours. We believe that all this helps establishing the role for Qatar as an international player, as a bearer of important diplomatic initiatives, as a bridge between innovation and tradition and as partner to a number of countries around the world.

What are the energy-related topics and co-operation aspects you are going to discuss in Doha?

Some of the topics have a direct effect. Qatar is a major supplier of gas and we would like to know what plans Qatar has in the Mediterranean. Slovenia is an importer of gas and therefore interested in that aspect. But even more importantly, it would be significant for us to learn about the Qatari view on the future energy strategies. Slovenia will become a transit country for gas and it has just become the host country of the EU’s Agency for Co-operation of Energy Regulators (ACER), which will be a key energy agency of the European Union. So our interests in these matters will grow and, obviously, the energy issues will be an important part of my discussions with HH the Emir and others in Qatar.

After the Lisbon Treaty, do you think the European Union now has one voice, and will this unify the 27 countries on a common policy towards the Middle East conflict?

This is not yet the case, but I believe that the Lisbon Treaty will help developing European foreign policy into a coherent one. Obviously, one of the tests will be the policy of the European Union with regard to the Middle East and I hope that EU will be able to play an active political role in the future search for peace in that region. The first meetings that were held following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty have already demonstrated that there is a serious effort going on within the European Union to achieve such an effect.

What is Slovenia’s position towards the Middle East conflict?

Slovenia is firmly in favour of a two-state solution based on negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. The international community, including the EU, must help. We believe also that the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank should be frozen so as to allow an effective resumption of negotiations. We hope that the search for solution will be resumed soon and that the European Union will play an active political role in the process. Slovenia is also assisting children who became victims of war in Gaza and has established a specific programme of assistance to children who were permanently disabled in that war. We are offering assistance in terms of physical rehabilitation and would like to see to it that these young people normalise their lives as much as possible.

More than 60 business representatives from Slovenia will accompany Your Excellency to Doha. This is a clear sign that you intend to build strong economic relations with Qatar. What are the areas of co-operation?

The main areas of interest are energy, finance, tourism and health services. We shall obviously discuss these issues in detail and as President of Slovenia I will rely on the judgment and ideas of the business people travelling with me. We also recognise the importance of Qatar as a place of higher learning and perhaps we can do something in that regard also, in relation to the business education.

As you can see there is a range of areas of co-operation. Slovenia has a highly developed system of specialised health services, which can be interesting for Qatar and can be combined with the facilities in the area of tourism, which are among the best in Europe. Slovenia can be an interesting area for investment in a variety of industries, financial services and retail. Obviously, the business communities of both countries are both knowledgeable and imaginative enough to find additional areas of co-operation.
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