Austrian reservations about Slovenian euro coins

Slovenia is hoping to adopt the euro - the European common currency - in January of 2007. But when the Bank of Slovenia recently unveiled designs for their new euro coins, it caused a stir in parts of neighbouring Austria. Why should Austria worry about what Slovenia puts on its coins?

Slovenia's proposed euro-coin designs are generally unsurprising. The beloved national poet France Preseren will appear on the two-euro piece and Slovenia's highest mountain, Triglav, will grace the 50-cent coin. But two selections are a bit unusual. The first is the 10-cent coin, which will show designs for a Slovenian parliament building that does not exist. It was drawn up by the famed architect Joze Plecnik, but never actually constructed. The second, and controversial choice, is the landmark known as the "Prince's Stone", where dukes of the former Slavic state of Carantania were installed.

The ceremony, which was conducted in Slovenian, is said to have inspired Thomas Jefferson and exists as one of the earliest examples of the social contract. Although the Prince's Stone does exist, it does not exist within the boundaries of Slovenia - but rather in Austrian Carinthia. It's currently on display at a regional museum outside the city of Klagenfurt. The issue is further sensitive because the Austrian region of Carinthia is home to a sizeable Slovenian minority (estimates range around 14,000) and there have recently been disputes there about such things as bilingual town signs. The regional government of Carinthia, led by far-right governor Joerg Haider, unanimously passed a resolution calling on the federal government to intervene and stop Slovenia from using the symbol.

Haider said it was: "unacceptable that cultural borders were being created in Europe at a time when the actual ones are disappearing." Marjan Pipp, General Secretary of the National Council of Carinthian Slovenians, spoke to us about the local reaction to the uproar: "We're taking it pretty relaxed. In our opinion, the fuss is artificial and totally absurd. As if we didn't have any other problems in Carinthia than having to worry about a picture on a Euro cent in a neighbouring country."

The far-right Association for the Future of Austria promised to do everything it could to stop the stone from appearing on Slovenia's coins. The nationalist Heimatdienst also said it would take Slovenia to the European Court of Human Rights. Slovenian politicians brushed off the response. Slovenia's Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel called the reaction "ridiculous". Marjan Pipp was also unruffled by any notions of legal repercussions:

"I think that legally the question is pretty clear cut. The Austrian constitution protects the image of the federal eagle, the federal flag, and the state flags and emblems. So I think that legally there isn't much to do. But I think the fact that this conversation has sunk to this niveau is a consequence of narrow mindedness. To draw a parallel: When one looks at the Austrian euro coins and finds different sorts of plants on them, one would also have to make sure that these grow exclusively in Austria. So I think the whole discussion only points to narrow mindedness."

In the meantime, Slovenia has no plans of giving up the design. The Bank of Slovenia is estimating that 230 million coins, worth 80 million euros, will be minted before January 2007.