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Croatia–Slovenia border disputes

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Title: Croatia–Slovenia border disputes  
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Subject: Croatia–Slovenia relations, Foreign relations of Croatia, Dragonja, Croatia–Serbia border dispute, Croatia–Mongolia relations
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Croatia–Slovenia border disputes

Gray map of Europe, with Croatia in green and Slovenia in orange
Location of Croatia (green) and Slovenia (orange)

Border disputes and other unresolved issues between Slovenia and Croatia have existed since the two countries' independence following the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991. The most notable border issue revolves around the boundary in the Gulf of Piran. Both nations have agreed to international arbitration.[1]

According to the Croatian Bureau of Statistics, the two countries share about 668 kilometres (415 mi) of border.[2] According to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia, the border spans 670 km (416 mi).[3] The border runs in the direction from the southwest to the northeast.

The situation became more complex when the dispute nearly derailed Croatia's application to join NATO.[4] It escalated further with Slovenia's blockade of Croatia's EU accession from December 2008 until September–October 2009, when Slovenia (a European Union member state) blocked the negotiation progress of Croatia (at the time an EU candidate state).[5]

In Stockholm on 4 November 2009 an arbitration agreement between Croatia and Slovenia was finally signed by the EU President and both countries' prime ministers, and a subsequent referendum in Slovenia authorized the use of binding arbitration.[1][6]

Origins of Gulf of Piran issues

Following World War II, the area from north of Trieste to the Mirna River in the south was part of the Free Territory of Trieste. In 1954, the Territory was dissolved; the area was provisionally divided between Italy and Yugoslavia, and the division made final by the Treaty of Osimo in 1975.

In the first draft delimitation proposal following both countries' 1991 declarations of independence, Slovenia proposed[7] establishing the border in the Gulf of Piran's center. However, Slovenia changed the draft the following year (declaring its sovereignty over the entire Gulf on 5 June 1992).[7] Since then Slovenia has continued to insist on this position.

Small police boat on large body of water
Slovenian police/coast guard boat P111 in the Gulf of Piran

The name "Bay of Savudrija" (Croatian: Savudrijska vala) was originally used as a name for part of the bay. In 2000 it came into use as a name for the whole bay by local Croatian fishermen and was quickly adopted (first by Croatian journalists, then local authorities, and finally at the state level), leading to its appearance in official maps. Such actions were contrary to established practices with long-standing geographical names, and are seen by Slovene authorities as an attempt to imply historical connections with the bay.[8] Another name, "Bay of Dragonja" (Croatian: Dragonjski zaljev), was introduced in Croatia but failed to gain widespread use.[9]

Sea dispute

Croatia claims that the boundary should be an equal distance from each shore. The claim is based on the first sentence of Article 15 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea:

Slovenian claims are based on the same article. However, it favors the second sentence, which stipulates that historical claims or other unusual circumstances supersede the equidistance rule.

The Law of the Sea also states that international waters begin 12 nautical miles (22 km; 14 mi) from the country's shore – while the nearest international waters are 15.5 nautical miles (28.7 km; 17.8 mi) away from Slovenia's shore.[11]

The Convention states that a coastal state has an exclusive right to manage all natural resources in a band up to 200 nautical miles (370 km; 230 mi) from its shore (an 'exclusive economic zone').[12]

When Slovenia notified the UN Secretariat in 1995 of its succession to Yugoslavia's ratification of the Convention (continuing the agreement), it included a note saying that this system of exclusive economic zones has become part of international law and asserted its rights as a geographically disadvantaged state.[11] The convention makes it clear that any decision to declare an exclusive economic zone should be made in co-operation with all interested parties; Croatian sources claim that Slovenia's self-description as a geographically disadvantaged state amounts to an admission that it is a country without access to international waters.[13]

Slovenia also claims the right to access international waters; Slovenia bases this claim on the country's free access to international waters while part of Yugoslavia. Due to the statements of Croatian negotiators, Slovenian politicians have also presented the concern that without a territorial connection to international waters, Croatia could limit "harmless passage" to its ports (contrary to international agreements and practice); this would complicate Slovenia's sovereignty at sea and could cause economic damage.[14] Because of these concerns, Slovenia has invoked the principle of equity for unfortunate geographic conditions.[15]

According to Slovenia, Savudrija was associated with Piran (which had an Italian majority at that time) for centuries, and claims that Slovenian police controlled the entire gulf between 1954 and 1991.[15] If this claim prevails, Slovenia could request certain bay parts on the median line's Croatian side. Croatia disputes historical Slovenian control.[7]

Area of the proclaimed Croatian Ecological and Fisheries Protection Zone (ZERP) in the Adriatic Sea, including territorial waters

The Croatian side further asserts that the corridor in the Croatian waters would be useless for traffic, since traffic regulations in the Gulf of Trieste allow only incoming traffic on the Croatian side of the border, while outgoing traffic must go through Italian waters.[16] The Slovenian response is that Slovenia's access to international waters is not an exclusively practical or commercial issue; it is rather the logical consequence of that Slovenia is said to be an internationally recognized maritime country with granted access to international seas. The latter assertion has been repeatedly disputed by the Croatian side.

Croatia wants to solve this dispute only by certain articles of international law, excluding the principle "ex aequo et bono"; the Slovenian side insists on this principle's usage.[17] The disputed points between the countries include whether or not the legal principle "ex aequo et bono" is a part of international law, since this principle has never been used at the International Court of Justice.

According to the Wikileaks cables published in 2011, the maritime border dispute was influenced by Slovenia considering itself a maritime nation and Croatia feeling inferior to its neighbours.[18]

Land dispute along the Dragonja river

Border dispute in the Gulf of Piran.
  Dragonja's original flow, according to Croatia
  The artificial canal of St. Odoric
  Slovenian claimed border

Along with the maritime dispute, the two countries also have a land border dispute in the Gulf area along the Dragonja river. As in other disputed border areas, the dispute stems from differing demarcation principles: while the border between two republics was often drawn based on (sometimes loose) political agreements or along natural landforms, cadastral records from villages along the border continued to refer to the land which ended up controlled by the other republic. In the delta of Dragonja, Slovenia claims that the border is south of the river (thus including all the land that is registered in the cadastral municipality of Sečovlje), while Croatia claims that the border is on the river itself (St. Odoric's canal). The Croatian side rejects Slovenian arguments for cadastral borders on just this part of the mutual border (where such are in favor of Slovenia), saying that if the cadastral principle was consistently implemented, Slovenia would lose much more territory elsewhere than it could receive in the Gulf of Piran.

Another source of conflict in this area has been the border crossing at Plovanija,[19] due to a checkpoint unilaterally established by Croatia on territory that has been claimed by both sides. Despite stating that the border crossing checkpoint is only a temporary solution, Croatia has included this checkpoint as indisputable in its international documents. Consequently, the territories with a Slovenian population south of that border checkpoint are considered to be under Croatian occupation by many Slovenian politicians and legal experts.[20]

Old part of the Sečovlje salt pans; picture taken from the Bay of Piran's Croatian coast

Both countries claim to have exercised since 1954 the most administrative jurisdiction over the contested area on the left bank of the river. The strip's inhabitants were granted Slovenian citizenship in 1991 and the Slovenian judiciary considers the area an integral part of Slovenia.[21][22]

Among the Slovenian citizens residing in the area on the left bank of the Dragonja river is Joško Joras, whose refusal to recognize any Croatian jurisdiction after the two countries' independence has led since the early 1990s to numerous conflicts between Slovenia and Croatia. Joras claims he is on Slovenian territory occupied by Croatia; this has garnered much local public, but not much international, attention.[5][23]

According to some Croatian experts, the border between the countries should be a few miles north from the current Dragonja river course, on what they regard as the original river course. The current river flow is actually a man-made canal, known as the Canal of St. Odoric. They point out a 1944 meeting organized by the Partisan Scientific Institute, led by the Slovenian historian Fran Zwitter, at which Slovenian and Croatian officials agreed on the Dragonja river as the border between the Socialist Republics of Croatia and Slovenia.[24] However, neither the Slovenian nor the Croatian parliament ever ratified the agreement, nor was it ever internationally recognized. Moreover, according to some Slovenian legal experts such as Pavel Zupančič, the last internationally recognized border between the two countries was on the river Mirna (south of the Dragonja).[19] However, the proposed Dragonja border has also been referenced many times and even partially implemented. The Croatian argument is, accordingly, based exclusively on the Dragonja border proposal which Slovenia has never officially recognized. According to the Croatian view, the current main flow of the Dragonja (the Canal of St. Odoric) was man made; according to Dr. Ekl, while international law allows changes of river-defined borders when rivers are changed by nature, it does not allow man-made river changes to alter borders.[25] However, this is not the Croatian government's official position.

The analogous Slovenian argument claims that Piran has historically included the cadastral municipalities of Savudrija and Kaštel, which constitute the northern part of Savudrija Cape.[26] The division of prewar Piran is therefore considered legally void, since any changes of borders should be (according to the former Yugoslav constitution) accepted by either the (no longer extant) federal parliament or the former Yugoslav republics' parliaments.[27] Also support for the Slovenian claim to the Savudrija Cape comes from the area's ethnic structure, including Kaštel and Savudrija. In 1880 Kaštel, for instance, 99.31% of the population spoke Slovene. In 1910, the percent of Slovene-speaking inhabitants fell to 29.08%, the rest of population being predominately Italian-speaking (65.22%), with only 5.70% Croatian-speaking. Similarly, in Savudrija, in 1910, the percent of Slovene-speaking population was 14.01%, while the majority was Italian speaking (78.77%).[28] Thus, in 1910 Slovene were the largest non-Italian minority population in Kaštel and Savudrija. On that basis, some claim that the border between the countries should be changed and established at the southern border of the cadastral municipalities of Kaštel and Savudrija, at the Savudrija Cape's middle; since Croatia claims these municipalities, the border should not be further south than this. This position has been supported by a few notable Slovenian politicians, such as Marjan Podobnik and his political/party colleagues.[20]

Another Slovenian view advocating border changes was proposed by the first President of the Slovenian Parliament, the legal expert France Bučar.[27] The Istrian peninsula was historically included in the Austro-Hungarian Empire's Austrian part, as was the territory of modern Slovenia; the majority of modern Croatian territory was included in the Hungarian part. Bučar asserted that the present Istrian peninsular division is thus legally unfounded and irrelevant, since this division has never been based on what he considers proper legal acts and especially not on the will of Istria's native population. Therefore, Bučar proposed that the border in Istria should be determined by referendums carried out in any territory both countries wish to claim.[27] This proposal is, according to Bučar, based upon the legal principle of self-determination, the same principle on which both countries' 1991 Declarations of Independence were based. Such a border determination process was employed in the Carinthian Plebiscite to determine the Slovenian-Austrian border.

Land dispute on Sveta Gera

Both mountain names on top

Sveta Gera, the Žumberak/Gorjanci mountain range's highest peak, was disputed in the 1990s, but as of 2011 the issue is dormant.

The summit is claimed by both Croatia and Slovenia[29][30] and is recorded in the Croatian land registry. An old Yugoslav People's Army barracks building stands there that is used as an outpost by the Slovenian Army.[31][32] Control over the military complex is another part of the dispute. Diplomacy has kept this dispute from escalating.

In March 1999, Milan Kučan (president of Slovenia at the time) characterized the barracks building's use by either the Slovenian or the Croatian Army as controversial and "at least uncivilized".[33] In 2004, he argued on Croatian TV that it would be better to open a mountain lodge there.[34]

Border demarcation along the Mura river

Međimurje, the northernmost county of Croatia, borders Prekmurje, the easternmost region of Slovenia. The Mura river has divided Prekmurje from Međimurje for many centuries. The two regions became part of the Habsburg Monarchy in 1526: the former was part of the Kingdom of Hungary, while the latter was disputed between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Kingdom of Croatia. The two regions became part Slovenia and Croatia, respectively, in 1945.

An unsolved question has been the March 1947 massacre of civilians by UDBA in the village of Štrigova, claimed by Slovenes to be ethnic cleansing by Croats to make the village Croatian.[35]

The border between SR Slovenia and SR Croatia became the international border after the two countries became independent, pursuant to the decisions of the Badinter Committee.[36]

In the border area, the river Mura meanders, occasionally floods, and has over time naturally modified its course.

The border, however, has customarily remained as previously determined; thus, the border today does not strictly follow the present-day river's course. Slovenia has proposed that the border follow the present-day river, but Croatia has rejected this.

Diplomacy has kept this dispute from escalating.

Since 2008, local farmers – such as from the northern Međimurje towns of Štrigova, Sveti Martin na Muri, Mursko Središće and Podturen) – have to reach their properties (fields, meadows or woods) on the river's other side by crossing the strict Schengen border checkpoints.

Attempts at dispute resolution

Drnovšek-Račan agreement

The maritime borders in the Bay of Piran, according to the Drnovšek-Račan agreement, would grant the disputed area to Slovenia and provide a corridor to international waters.

On 20 July 2001, the prime ministers of Slovenia and Croatia, Janez Drnovšek and Ivica Račan, made the Drnovšek-Račan agreement, which defined the entire border between the countries, including the maritime border.[37] According to this agreement, Croatia would get approximately one third of the gulf and a maritime border with Italy, while Slovenia would get a corridor to international waters.

This solution included a Croatian "maritime exclave" between Italian and Slovenian waters. However, there are interpretations that such a solution breaks the Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, which prohibits sovereignty over parts of the sea unconnected to land.[7][38] Article 4 states, "... the sea areas lying within the lines must be sufficiently closely linked to the land domain to be subject to the regime of internal waters," and "... baselines may not be applied by a State in such a manner as to cut off from the high seas the territorial sea of another State."[7]

In the Drnovšek-Račan agreement, the border strip on the Dragonja's left bank was recognized as part of Croatia.

The Parliament of Slovenia ratified this agreement.[39] The Croatian parliament, however, never voted on the agreement's ratification,[40] criticizing Račan for unilaterally simply giving all the disputed area to Slovenia, and insisting that the border dispute should be settled in the International Tribunal of Justice at the Hague.

Bled agreement

In 2007, the prime ministers Sanader and Janša achieved an agreement in principle to solve the border problem using the International Court of Justice in the Hague.[41] According to the Slovenian proposal,[42] both sides could dispute any part of the border and ask for it to be redrawn in court. Analogously to the Drnovšek-Račan agreement and Croatian politicians, the Bled agreement did not receive much support from most Slovenian politicians.[43] Croatia, however, has kept insisting on the Bled agreement. Slovenia never officially informed Croatia of abandoning the agreement; a Slovene-Croatian working group continued to work for a year and a half on the matter.

EU accession blockade

EU blockade background

Zmago Jelinčič, leader of the right-wing Slovene National Party (SNS), has reportedly stated that Slovenia should block Croatia's EU accession until the matter is resolved to Jelinčič's satisfaction. Former Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel and Minister of Finance Dušan Mramor stated in 2003 that they would stop supporting Croatian efforts to join the EU, together with Romania and Bulgaria. These two countries joined the EU while Croatia's negotiations were stalled by the EU's accusations that it was unwilling to apprehend Ante Gotovina on its territory and deliver him to the Hague on war crimes charges; Gotovina was actually located and captured in Spain.[44] However, former Slovenian president Janez Drnovšek stated that Slovenia should act in the "European spirit" and carefully respond to any problems with Croatia.[45]

On 23 September 2004 Slovenia threatened to veto Croatia's EU accession after Croatian border police detained 12 Slovenes, among them Janez Podobnik (leader of the opposition Slovenian People's Party (SPP)), after they refused to show their identification at the Sečovlje crossing point. The activists stated they were visiting Joras, who lives on the narrow strip of disputed land and claims it to be a part of Slovenia. After an emergency meeting, Slovenia's then Prime Minister Anton Rop declared that Croatia was not fit to join the EU.[46][47]

Piran Bay belongs to Slovenia. Podobnik, also known for his suggestions to hold a referendum in Slovenia on whether Croatia should enter the EU, stated for Globus magazine that "the map is logical because on the day of 25 June 1991 Slovenia had possession over the whole Piran Bay and unlimited access to international waters".[49] Croatia's president Stipe Mesić stated: "Our friends in Slovenia can draw whatever maps they want, as part of Slovenia they can even encompass Helsinki and Reykjavík, that's of no interest to me".[50][51]

In August 2007, the Croatian proposal for solving the disputed border issues before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg was rejected by Slovenia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Dimitrij Rupel.[52][53] Croatia has also suggested arbitration on other disputes with Slovenia, such as a dispute over penalties for an electricity cutoff for Croatia from a jointly-managed nuclear power plant.[54]

Before December 2008, Slovenia had rejected claims that it was responsible for blocking Croatia's EU accession, stating that the process' slowness was "because [Zagreb] has difficulties meeting the standards of the organization it wants to join".[55]

Description of the blockade

Croatia included in documents presented in its process of negotiation for joining the EU their border proposal, without clearly demarcating the disputed status of parts of the borderline; this was perceived by Slovenia as prejudicing the ultimate borderline outcome. Therefore, Slovenia blocked Croatia's negotiation chapters for its EU membership that included the controversial documents.[56]

Slovenia's Prime Minister Borut Pahor stated at the time that documents – notably maps – that Croatia had provided as part of its candidacy for accession could prejudice a resolution of the two countries' long-running border dispute. The blockade was strongly criticized by Croatian officials.[57][58][59]

Politicians from both states accused each other of trying to steal a part of their territory. Croatia suggested a border arbitration by a third party, while the Slovenian government suggested that the dispute be resolved through a special Croatian-Slovene commission.[60]

A majority of other EU member states were in favour of continuing the accession talks. Six months before the blockade the Slovenian government reportedly told Croatian authorities that it would continue the opening of new EU chapters if Croatia annulled its Ecological and Fisheries Protection Zone (ZERP). Croatia officially did so on 15 March 2008,[61][62] but in December 2008 Slovenia nonetheless began its opposition to Croatia's EU membership. The European Commission promised to mediate with a special commission.[63]

In December 2008, Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader and Montenegrin prime minister Milo Đukanović agreed that their own border dispute regarding Boka Kotorska would be settled in the International Court of Justice in the Hague, with both countries respecting the arbitration decision.[64][65] The same was proposed to the Slovenian government, but Pahor refused.

In September 2009, after Jadranka Kosor became Croatia's Prime Minister, she reached an agreement with Pahor, who subsequently announced an end to the 10 month blockade.[66]

Blockade of negotiations in December 2008

Borut Pahor, Slovenia's former Prime Minister

Although previously Slovenia had sporadically slowed down the opening of new chapters between Croatia and the EU due to the border dispute, the new Prime Minister Borut Pahor immediately announced a total blockade when he came to power, accusing Croatia of prejudging the border in its border descriptions in the negotiation chapter with the EU. France, then the head of the EU presidency, moved to prevent a possible blockade. On 21 November 2008, Pahor gave a speech declaring that for the "last 14 days we have been in lively contact with the French EU presidency and are thankful for taking into consideration of our objections, so that the issue can be resolved on the adequate way".[67]

Pahor stated that Slovenia supports Croatia joining the EU, but that he expects understanding from the EU for Slovenia's reservations due to the unresolved border issue. The Croatian government responded that it just gave maps to the EU for the negotiation process, which simply show the border based on the 1991 former Yugoslav republics' borders. Pahor stated that he will "study the French suggestion for a compromise, but only under the condition that the documents which were prepared by Croatia for the accession negotiations don't prejudge the state border and that both the European Commission and the Council of EU understand that stance".[67]

Croatia's EU accession was thus set back by the following (7 December 2008) meeting of the 27 EU ministers of foreign affairs in Brussels. The ministers did not confirm the suggestion by the European Commission (EC) that Croatia's EU accession negotiations end by 2009; this was because of Slovenia's threat of a veto if the border dispute with Croatia was not resolved. As a consequence, the ministers did not record a conclusion date for the EU-Croatia negotiations. Croatia had initially hoped to join by 2010 or 2011. Italian foreign minister Pasquale Ferrara stated that "Member states, understandingly, do not want another border row inside the EU", concluding that one revolving around Cyprus is already enough. Following a discussion with the EC, Pahor said, "Zagreb should accept the negotiation plan for the border dispute which was suggested by Slovenia to France". Pahor initially gave hints that Ljubljana was ready to find a solution at the negotiating table. "If Croatia does not open 10 chapters in December, it is obvious that it will not be able to close and conclude the negotiations by the end of 2009", said analyst Željko Trkanjec.[68]

Disputed documents

On 19 December 2008 Slovenian Minister of foreign affairs Samuel Žbogar revealed to the Slovene public the documents from 7 chapters that Croatia was negotiating with the EU, and which were the main reason for the Slovenian negotiation blockade. According to Žbogar, these were documents from the chapters Agriculture, Food safety, Veterinary & Phytosanitary Policy, Taxation, Infrastructure, Regional politics and structural instruments, Justice, Freedom and Security as well as Environment.[69]

  • In the chapter on agriculture, the disputed settlements on the left side of the Dragonja river (Škrile, Bužin, Škudelini, and Veli Mlin) were stated as part of Croatia.
  • In food safety, the disputed point was the Croatian epicontinental area in the Adriatic sea.
  • In the chapter on taxation, the border crossing Plovanija is explicitly stated, regarding the temporary border control point at Sečovlje; in 1994, the prime minister Nikica Valentić had explicitly and in writing stated that this control point does not prejudge the border.
  • In infrastructure, maps were enclosed that show the proposed sea border.
  • In the area of regional policymaking, the stumbling point was the intervention plan in case of sea pollution, which mentions the ZERP, and maps were enclosed which show the proposed sea border.
  • In the chapter on justice, maps were enclosed that show the border crossings, mentioning Plovanija and cadastral parcels from the cadastre which was created after 25 June 1991.
  • In the chapter on the Environment, the ZERP was mentioned and maps were enclosed that show the proposed sea border.

Minister Žbogar told the reporters that Slovenia must "protect its national interests" and that "Slovenia does not enjoy this position". He added that for any arbitration Slovenia would not use documents that were created after 25 June 1991 and the Conference at Brijuni.[69]

On 23 June 2009, Slovenia blocked the closing of another chapter in Croatia's EU accession negotiations, Statistics, leaving Zagreb with a total of 13 blocked chapters. The explanation was that the statistics chapter contained maps with Croatia's borders pre-drawn against Slovenia's wishes.[70][71]

On 24 July 2009, Slovenia officially blocked the closing of the policy chapter Freedom of Movement for Workers in Croatia's EU accession talks, explaining similarly to before that in that chapter, too, Croatia had submitted documents "prejudging the Croatian-Slovene border"; this raised the number of blocked chapters to 14. Slovenia was the only EU member country that withheld its consent for the closing of the Freedom of Movement for Workers chapter. Slovene officials said the reason for such a decision was that in its documents submitted to the European Commission, Croatia referred to the Act on the Office of Notary Public, which in turn referred to the Act on Towns and Municipalities and its list of towns and municipalities in Croatia, including four border villages in Istria that Slovenia disputes.[72]

A source in the Swedish EU Presidency said that despite the blockade, Croatia was continuing with reforms within the accession process; this was taken note of at the enlargement task force meeting.[73][74]

French proposal for solving the blockade

Nicolas Sarkozy tried to unblock the negotiation procedure, but Slovenia rejected his proposal.[75]

The French proffered a simple document that would finish the dispute, namely a signed declaration of both sides that neither is prejudging the border. The Committee of Permanent Representatives discussed over 3 days the Slovene-proposed amendments on the French proposal for unblocking the negotiation process; its chairman, French ambassador at the EU Pierre Sellal, stated that he is "in touch with the Slovene colleague in order to find a fair solution". All other member states were for the French proposal; only Slovenia was for the Slovene amendments. Sellal also said "One needs to understand that the negotiations of Croatia's EU accession cannot have the goal to resolve bilateral issues between Croatia and Slovenia. I respect the Slovenian opinion, but I will try during the accession negotiations to prevent a possible predisposition of the border. These negotiations are neutral towards the bilateral and local relationships between Slovenia and Croatia". French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner expressed his surprise at Slovenia's move to block Croatia just due to the dispute over a "few kilometres of coast".[76] The Slovene correspondent to Večer from Brussels, Darja Kocbek, expressed her concern on the Razgledi portal that "Croatian lobbyists may be more successful that Slovenian lobbyists".[77]

Sarkozy used the upcoming second vote of Ireland for the Treaty of Lisbon 2009 to insert a protocol for the accession of Croatia into the EU.[78] Sarkozy told journalists: "To give a legal value to the engagements made to Ireland by the 26 other member states, we have committed that at the time of the next EU enlargement – whether that will be in 2010 or in 2011, when probably Croatia will join us... we will use that to add a protocol (on Ireland) to Croatia’s accession treaty.” The announcement confirmed that the Balkan country with an EU candidate status since 2004 and in EU accession talks since 2005 could effectively become the bloc’s 28th member state by 2011 at the latest".

Nationalist Zmago Jelinčič congratulated Borut Pahor for his radical stand in the matter and blocking Croatian proposals.

Pahor stated than unless all his terms are met, there would be no new momentum in the negotiation process.[79] Pahor told Sanader that he no longer had anything to discuss with him one to one and nothing more to say than he had already said in front of the media.[80] On 19 December 2008 Slovenia officially blocked the opening of new chapters between the EU and Croatia. Slovenia remained the only EU member state that insisted on the blockade; the other 26 states approved the continuation of accession negotiation between Croatia and the EU. Pahor's government was criticized from outside; Hannes Swoboda declared that the EU should tell Ljubljana that "it doesn't go that way".[81] Some questioned if Pahor's blockade was actually a red herring trying to gain concessions from both the EU and Croatia.[82]

Commercial TV station POP TV conducted an internet poll in which 10,000 Slovenian viewers participated; 84% of them believe their government's blockade decision was "completely justified". The same station quoted Minister Žbogar who said that the maps displayed by Croatia were a "problem" to Slovenia and that they must not be used in arbitration. "If Croatia says that she won't give away her territory for the EU, the same goes for us", he said.[83]

Croatian president (at the time) Stipe Mesić said "This is not our problem any more, this is now Brussels' problem" in reaction to the blockade.[84] He also said it was a mistake that would harm economic and other relations between Croatia and Slovenia.

"The blockade of 10 chapters, 8 for opening and 2 for closing, is a move without precedent in the history of the negotiations of European Union", said Croatia's then Prime Minister Ivo Sanader. "If it doesn't rethink its stance and change its decision of the blockade of Croatian negotiations, the Slovenian government will show exclusiveness, which is in discrepancy with the basic principles of solidarity, community, supranationalism and good neighbor relations on which the EU and the whole Europe are based", added Sanader in a special news conference summoned after the intent of Slovenia to put a blockade.[85][86][87]

A couple of anonymous groups on Croatian websites urged the Croatian public to boycott all Slovene products, even though Sanader urged the people not do so.[88]

Bernd Posselt, the German representative at the European parliament, condemned on 18 December 2008 the Slovenian government's act of blockade, calling it "Anti-European aggression". Posselt, a representative of the Bavarian CSU Party in the European parliament, also called it an act of "ransom": "The Slovene socialist government is abusing its right for a veto. Because of a marginal bilateral dispute, Slovenia is blackmailing the middle European candidate country Croatia, excellently prepared for an EU accession, even though the deeply pro-European Croatian government expressed its readiness to let all the unresolved problems get resolved at the international arbitration a long time ago", he said. He also added he feels "disappointed and double-crossed by Borut Pahor's administration, who previously promised a balanced and constructive relationship with Zagreb".[89]

The European Commission regretted Slovenia's decision to block Croatia. Crisztina Nagy, a commission spokeswoman, said "The commission has consistently maintained the view that the border issue is a bilateral issue that should not be brought to the table of the accession negotiations".[90]

Slovenia's threat to also block Croatia's NATO accession

  Albania and Croatia joined NATO in 2009.

In January 2009, some Slovenian politicians started threatening to also block Croatia's accession into NATO. Slovene Prime Minister Borut Pahor stated his regret on 29 January of the move by the opposition Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), which threatened to boycott the assembly that was supposed to decide about the ratification of accession protocols into NATO of the future member states Croatia and Albania; as a result, the assembly had to be postponed. However, the Slovenian parliament ultimately ratified Croatia's NATO accession.[91] An unforeseen complication arose when the small, extra-parliamentary Party of Slovenian Nation (SSN) and the Institute 25 June gathered over 5,000 signatures;[48][92] according to the Slovenian Constitution, this gave it time until March 2009 to gather an additional 40,000 signatures to mandate a referendum on Croatia joining NATO.[93][94][95] NATO then expressed concern about such a complication.[48][94] Controversy erupted over claims that Andrej Šiško, a SSN member convicted for an attempted murder and sentenced to 22 months in prison, was released for a day in Rogoza to attend the negotiations of the highest body of his Party with Pahor about preventing a referendum.[96]

The Večernji list columnist Milan Jajčinović wrote in response "Slovenia's Prime Minister Borut Pahor, it seems, got scared of the created madness he himself contributed to. And he is not the only Slovenian politician whose (ill) considered statements participated in creating intolerance towards Croatia...Problems with Croatia have already for years been exaggerated or even made up, and then such constructions are used to madden the masses... The tactic is always the same: at first a politician finds a grouch against Croatia, then the media publish it, the public gets upset and agitated, hysteria breaks out, and then those same politicians show up again, because 'the public opinion demands it'".[97]

The referendum attempt was not successful (less than 2,500 more signatures were gathered), allowing Croatia to become a full NATO member in April 2009, although the process' constitutionality was questioned.[98] Croatia's NATO membership prompted discussions about Pahor's wishing Croatia to join NATO but blocking it from joining the EU.

EU proposal for mediation in the border dispute

On 22 January 2009, the European Commission announced that it was ready to create a three-member committee to mediate in the border row. According to reports, Finland's Nobel prize winner Martti Ahtisaari and the French legal expert Robert Badinter were supposed to be members. The report came out just a day after Olli Rehn visited politicians in Ljubljana and Zagreb.[99]

At first, Ivo Sanader rejected meeting with Pahor without European Commission participation,[100] but he then decided to compromise and agreed. After numerous complications around the meeting's location and time, the meeting was held on 24 February 2009 in Macelj,[101] but nothing significant was achieved. Subsequently, the Slovenian government blocked the Statistics accession negotiation chapter, totalling 13 blocked chapters in Croatia's EU membership talks.[102][103] A second meeting was planned on 28 April 2009 in Croatia, but it was cancelled by the Slovenian side.[104]

On 17 April, President Mesić again stated his puzzlement regarding Pahor's blocking the accession talks instead of resolving the issue at the International Court of Justice: "I don't understand, why is Slovenia so afraid of International Law? That's the only enigma I can't comprehend".[105]

In June 2009, Croatia accepted Rehn's proposal for an arbitration commission, but Slovenia rejected it and proposed four amendments. Out of four amendments proposed by Slovenia, Rehn accepted just one, for the three 'ad hoc' arbitrage judges to be selected by the two parties in dispute from a proposed list instead of the ICJ's president. However, Croatia refused this amendment after reviewing the list proposed, which mainly had 'legal experts' and not renowned judges, and decided for the original proposal, which Ljubljana rejected. At the same time, the Slovenian delegation also opposed this as it failed to guarantee a successful outcome. Sanader proposed that the two parliaments ratify a statement that none of the documents presupposes the border, and should Slovenia not accept this, that European Commission lawyers should examine the documents to determine whether it is true. If Ljubljana should reject both proposals, "it is up to the EU to decided how the accession talks with Croatia should end and whether the article 7 of the EU contract should be activated", which implies revoking voting rights of a member country that is persistently violating EU principles. Sanader added that Pahor "should ask Berlusconi for some sea".[106]

On 1 July 2009, Croatia's prime minister Ivo Sanader unexpectedly resigned. He held a brief news conference before announcing his decision. Jadranka Kosor succeeded him.[107]

Kosor-Pahor meetings and the end of the blockade

On 31 July 2009, the second meeting between the Croatian-Slovenian governments was held, this time in Croatia at the Trakošćan castle. The meeting between the newly appointed Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and her Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor was reportedly constructive and respectful. "We have found the road to take...I am very satisfied we [have] started to agree on issues in the interest of both countries", Kosor stated. Pahor argued it is likely that the border dispute's solution and EU access for Croatia will be accomplished this year. One solution could be an area of shared sovereignty (possibly involving joint governance structures) over the Savudrija Cove, also known as the Piran Bay.[108][109][110]

On 11 September 2009, Kosor and Pahor met again, this time in Ljubljana, and agreed on the final details of an agreement to end the blockade. After Kosor sent a letter from Ljubljana to the EU presidency announcing Croatia does not wish to prejudge the border and that border dispute negotiations will take place under EU supervision, Pahor said that Slovenia's blockade will soon be lifted.[111]

Pahor said his government would immediately propose to the Slovenian parliament that "Slovenia removes restraints for Croatia's EU negotiating process". For her part, Croatia's prime minister said she had faxed a letter to the Swedish EU presidency saying they had "reached an agreement on the continuation of talks with the EU and continuation of the border talks... No document can be prejudicial to the final border solution", she added. Pahor claimed it was a "victory for both countries".[1][112]

Delo editorialized that this Slovenian/Croatian agreement was a "return to common sense".[113] The Slovene People's Party (SLS) announced that it would start collecting signatures of support for a referendum on the arbitration agreement between Slovenia and Croatia that is to determine the manner in which the final border between the two countries is to be set down.[114]

Kosor and Pahor met again on 26 October 2009 in Zagreb and worked out the final proposal of an arbitration agreement.[115] On 2 November 2009 the Croatian Parliament gave its consent to the Arbitration Agreement with Slovenia.[116]

The Arbitration Agreement between Croatia and Slovenia was signed in Stockholm on 4 November 2009, by both countries' prime ministers, Jadranka Kosor and Borut Pahor, and the EU President, Fredrik Reinfeldt.[117]

Despite the agreement, the Slovenian government did not lift the blockade of three chapters – on the environment, on fisheries, and on foreign, security and defence policy. Samuel Žbogar, Slovenia's foreign minister, declared in December 2009 that his government had "reservations" about the three chapters' substance.[118]

However, a Slovenian referendum was held on 6 June 2010 on approving an agreement to bring the border dispute with Croatia before an international arbitration tribunal. The agreement was supported by 51.48% of voters and opposed by 48.52%,[119] allowing arbitration to solve the border dispute.

Resolution of the dispute by an arbitration tribunal

On 25 May 2011 Croatia and Slovenia submitted their arbitration agreement to the UN, a necessary step before the arbitration process could begin. The treaty specifies that the arbitration process will happen after UN registration and Croatia's signing of its accession into the European Union. "It has been decided that an ad-hoc arbitral tribunal will be used to resolve the outstanding disputes. It is now believed that with the submission of the agreement to the UN that the arbitration tribunal could begin within a year, but is expected to take at least three years to reach a decision that will be binding upon each country."[120]

See also


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External links

  • "Slovenia to block Croatia EU accession talks". EU Observer. 18 December 2008. 
  • "Obrezje Journal – Slovenia Border Spat Imperils Croatia's NATO Bid". New York Times. 22 March 2009. 
  • Ortophoto and Topographic maps of the area, centered at Joras's house, from the Geodesic Institute of Slovenia
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