Slovenia-Hungary agreement on minorities development gains momentum

Ljubljana, 15 February - The Slovenia-Hungary agreement on cooperation in the development of ethnically mixed areas on both sides of the countries' border has been given a fresh impetus after two years of stagnation. The relevant commission urged the government to speed up the agreement's implementation and consider the possibility of a similar agreement with Italy.

At a session of the parliamentary Commission for National Communities on Thursday, Vesna Humar, state secretary at the government's Office for Slovenians Abroad, presented the activities that have been carried out so far under Slovenia's agreement with the Hungarian government on cooperation in the economic and social development of the ethnically mixed areas on both sides of the Slovenian-Hungarian border.

The agreement was adopted two years ago, under the Janez Janša government, but without any technical arrangements on its implementation, Humar said.

Moreover, it was not ratified by law in Slovenia's National Assembly, which caused considerable technical issues, she noted, adding that intensive efforts to implement the agreement had started after the current government assumed office.

"During this period, we successfully appointed members of the programme committee, which means that the programme committee of the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation Muraba was able to start its work, and we also provided it with the necessary funding," she said.

This has allowed the association's leadership to prepare a good draft development strategy and programme, which was discussed at a meeting of the joint Hungarian-Slovenian fund on Wednesday. "This means that we can really slowly enter the operational phase of the implementation of this agreement," she added.

State Secretary at the Ministry of Cohesion and Regional Development Andreja Katič said that a meeting of the programme committee on Wednesday was a success, as they adopted the draft programme of the joint Hungarian-Slovenian fund, whose aim is to implement the intergovernmental agreement through various projects, an effort that includes allocating funds for the two minorities.

The goal is to ensure equal and fair economic and infrastructural development of the ethnically mixed areas, home to the Slovenian and Hungarian minorities, she said, adding that the programme would be amended with further comments within two or three weeks. They also agreed to start implementing the agreement this year, she said.

The Office for Slovenians Abroad welcomes the progress made recently, and looks forward in particular to the cross-border development programme. "This is not just about the development of minorities, but about the whole cross-border area, which will benefit all the people living in this area," said Rok Petje, acting head of the office.

Heads of Slovenian and Hungarian minority organisations are now considerably more optimistic about the implementation of their projects.

Karel Holec, head of the Slovenian Self-Governing Community in Hungary, told RTV Slovenija on Wednesday that the funding would help realise projects his organisation has been working on.

Dušan Orban, head of the Pomurje Hungarian Self-Governing Community, also expressed his satisfaction with the developments. Happy that a consensus was finally reached on the implementation of the agreement, he also called for more funding in the framework of the joint Hungarian-Slovenian fund.

Alberto Scheriani, head of the Italian Self-Governing Community on the Slovenian coast, congratulated the Hungarian minority on the agreement. He would like to see the Italian minority achieve "something similar" in the future.

During debate time, members of the parliamentary commission also welcomed the developments, with Freedom Movement MP Dejan Süč stressing the importance of such agreements in light of the fact that the ethnically mixed areas in question are struggling economically and facing negative demographic trends.

Meanwhile, opposition MPs accused the government of insufficient efforts in this area in the last two years, and expressed their scepticism that the projects would be indeed implemented.

Under the agreement that former PM Janez Janša and Hungarian PM Viktor Orban signed in February 2022, the Slovenian and Hungarian minorities are expected to get EUR 5 million a year each, a sum that they are now likely to finally receive this year.

© STA, 2024