Candidate for minister for Slovenians abroad gets green light in parliament

Ljubljana – The parliamentary Commission for Slovenians Abroad has endorsed the candidacy of Matej Arčon from the Freedom Movement for minister without portfolio for Slovenians abroad. Nine MPs voted for and two against his bid to head the office for Slovenian ethnic minorities in Slovenia’s neighbours and the diaspora around the globe.

If elected, he will take over at the Office for Slovenians Abroad from Helena Jaklitsch. He believes the office is in good shape for the many challenges ahead.

Arčon, 49, highlighted his coming from the border area, with Italy, which he sees as important to understand the challenges Slovenians abroad face.

A priority for him as minister will be getting personally acquainted with the situation and initiatives on the ground to prepare an action plan that will be put in place in collaboration with other ministries. “The office’s key task is to identify the needs on the ground and implement them through the government and ministries.”

Arčon pointed to cross-border cooperation, cooperation of ethnic communities, the Slovenian language and digitalisation, as well as providing Slovenian minority associations abroad with adequate information and funding as some of the key areas to work on.

He singled out the European Association of Territorial Cooperation as an example of good practice, saying it made the Slovenian minority in Italy more confident.

The association promotes cooperation in the border area around Nova Gorica, and he urged founding similar associations with Austria, Hungary and Croatia.

He called for changes to the law on relations of Slovenia wit Slovenians abroad in collaboration with Slovenians abroad while he is also open to views of experts.

Some opposition MPs enquired about his view on Slovenians abroad getting an MP in the Slovenian parliament and on simplifying the procedure for Slovenia citizenship.

Jože Tanko from the Democrats (SDS) also proposed including the Slovenian Bishops’ Conference in Slovenia’s official ties with Slovenians outside Slovenia.

Arčon replied he was willing to engage in dialogue on repatriation legislation and Slovenian citizenship, including with the opposition. “A lot can be achieved through dialogue.”

Ways of attracting the youth to join Slovenian associations abroad will also have to be addressed alongside encouraging youth leaving Slovenia to return.

Freedom MP Sara Žibrat urged learning Slovenian in various formats, including online and through student exchange schemes modelled on the EU’s Erasmus, but Arčon said that while digitalisation is the future, he would give priority to in-person learning.

Arčon finds learning Slovenia key. “We’ve survived as a nation due to culture and language,” he said, urging working together on concrete projects in various fields.

The ministerial candidate sees Slovenians abroad as an important and inseparable part of the Slovenian nation, the part which “makes us open and cosmopolitan”.

While not big in numbers, the Slovenian nation is “big and global” in terms of its cultural power, Arčon told the MPs.

He was endorsed as the first ministerial candidate as hearings began in parliament on Saturday before the National Assembly is expected to vote on PM Robert Golob’s entire ministerial team on Wednesday, 1 June.

Following today’s vote, he told the press he had a positive impression of the constructive discussion on the commission, various views and different initiatives.

“Slovenians abroad must not be subject to divisions,” he said, adding he was a man of cooperation and hopes to constructively work with the coalition and opposition.

Arčon served two terms as mayor of Nova Gorice in 2010-2018. He will remain the Freedom Movement’s secretary general until the party merges with the LMŠ and SAB parties, expectedly until the end of June.