Croatia–Slovenia border disputes

Croatia–Slovenia border disputes
Location of Croatia (green) and Slovenia (orange)

The border disputes as well as other unresolved issues between Slovenia and Croatia have existed since the independence of the two countries (through the process of the break-up of Yugoslavia), most notably the border issue around the Piran Bay.

The countries have not been able to agree whether international arbitration is required, or what would be its scope.[1][2]

The situation became more complex when the dispute almost derailed Croatia's application to NATO[3] and escalated further with Slovenia's blockade of Croatia's EU accession, a roughly ten-month period from December 2008 until September–October 2009, when Slovenia, a European Union member state, blocked the negotiation progress of Croatia, an EU candidate state.[4]

An Arbitration Agreement between Croatia and Slovenia was finally signed in Stockholm on 4 November 2009, by both countries' prime ministers as well as the President of the EU.[citation needed]


Origins of the issues relating to the Gulf of Piran

Following World War II, the area extending from the north of Trieste to the river Mirna in the south was a part of the Free Territory of Trieste. In 1954, the Territory was dissolved and the area was provisionally divided between Italy and Yugoslavia, and formally annexed by the Treaty of Osimo in 1975.

In 1991, shortly after both countries declared independence, in the first draft proposal of delimitation, Slovenia proposed[5] establishing the borderline in the center of the Bay of Piran, which was the previous boundary of the Republic of Croatia. However, Slovenia changed its proposal the following year, for the first time declaring sovereignty over the entire gulf on 5 June 1992.[5] Since then Slovenia has continued to insist on this position.

Slovenian police/coast guard boat P111 on the Gulf of Piran

The name "Savudrijska vala" ("Bay of Savudria") was first used as a toponym for the whole bay around the year 2000 (before it was used for just part of it) by local Croatian fishermen and was quickly adopted, first by Croatian journalists, then local authorities, and finally at the state level, leading to publication of official maps to this effect. Such practice is contrary to established practices with long-standing toponyms, and is seen by Slovene authorities as an attempt to imply historical connections with the bay.[6] Another name was introduced in Croatia, Dragonjski zaljev or Bay of Dragonja, but it failed to gain traction.[7]

Sea dispute

Croatia claims that the border line should be of equal distance from both shores. The claim is based on the first sentence of the Article 15 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea:

Article 15: 'Where the coasts of two States are opposite or adjacent to each other, neither of the two States is entitled, failing agreement between them to the contrary, to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas of each of the two States is measured. The above provision does not apply, however, where it is necessary by reason of historic title or other special circumstances to delimit the territorial seas of the two States in a way which is at variance therewith.'


Slovenian claims are based on the Article 15 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as well; however, its second sentence, which stipulates historical claims and control of the seas supersedes other claims.

The Law of the Sea also states that the international waters begin 12 nautical miles (22 km) from the shore of the country – while the international waters are 15 miles (24 km) away from the Slovenian shore.[9]

The Convention states that a coastal state is able to assert its exclusive right to manage all natural resources in a band up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from its shore (an 'exclusive economic zone').[10]

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] Although the convention does make 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.[12]

Slovenia also claims the right to access international waters. Slovenian claims are based on the argument that the country had free access to the international waters while being part of Yugoslavia. Due to the statements of Croatian negotiators, Slovenian politicians have also presented the concern that without territorial connection with the international waters, Croatia could limit "harmless passage" to its ports (contrary to international agreements and practice) which would complicate Slovenia's sovereignty at sea and could cause economic damage.[13] Because of these concerns, Slovenia invokes the principle of equity due to unfortunate geographic conditions.[14]

According to Slovenia, Savudrija was associated with Piran (which had an Italian majority at that time) for centuries, and claims that its Slovenian police controlled the entire gulf between 1954 and 1991.[14] If this claim prevails, Slovenia could request certain parts of the bay on the Croatian side of the median line. Historical control by Slovenia continues to be disputed by Croatia.[5]

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

However, 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 allows only incoming traffic on the Croatian side of the border, while outgoing traffic must go through Italian waters.[15] 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 the fact 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," on whose inclusion in the process the Slovenian side insists.[16] The point of dispute between the countries is also regarding the question whether the legal principle "ex aequo et bono" itself also constitutes a part of international law or not, since the principle had never been used at the International Court of Justice.

Land dispute along the Dragonja river

Border dispute in the Gulf of Piran.
  Main flow of Dragonja, according to Croatian side
  Artificial canal of St. Odorick
  Slovenia claimed border

Along with the sea dispute, the two countries also have a land border dispute in the Gulf area, along the Dragonja river. Like in other disputed parts of the border, the dispute stems from differing principles of demarcation: 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.[citation needed] 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 canal). The Croatian side rejects Slovenian arguments for cadastral borders on just this part of the mutual border (where it goes in favor of Slovenia), saying that if the cadastral principle would be consistently implemented, Slovenia would lose much more territory elsewhere than it could receive in the Gulf of Piran.[citation needed]

Another source of conflict in this area has been the border crossing at Plovanija,[17] unilaterally established by Croatia, on territory which has been claimed by both sides. Despite stating that the border cross-point is only a temporary solution, Croatia has included this checkpoint as indisputable in its international documents. Consequently, the territories lying south of that border checkpoint with Slovenian population are considered to be under Croatia's occupation by many Slovenian politicians and legal experts.[18]

Old part of the Sečovlje Salina, picture taken from Croatian coast of the Bay of Piran

Both countries claim to have exercised most of the administrative jurisdiction over the contested area on the left bank of the river since 1954. The inhabitants in the strip were also granted Slovenian citizenship in 1991. The Slovenian judiciary considers the area as an integral part of Slovenia.[19][20]

Among the Slovenian citizens residing in the area on the left bank of the Dragonja river is also the politician Joško Joras, whose refusal to recognize any Croatian jurisdiction after independence of two countries has led to numerous conflicts between Slovenia and Croatia since the early 1990s. Joras claims he is on Slovenian territory that was occupied by Croatia, garnering much local public, albeit not international attention.[4][21]

According to some Croatian experts,[who?] the border between the countries should be a few miles north from the current flow of the river Dragonja, on what is regarded by them as the original flow of the river. The current river flow is actually a man-made canal, known as the Canal of St. Odoric. They point out that in 1944, in a meeting organized by the Partisan Scientific Institute, led by the Slovenian historian Fran Zwitter, Slovenian and Croatian officials agreed on the river Dragonja as the border between the Socialist Republics of Croatia and Slovenia.[22] However, the agreement was not officially established and neither the Slovenian nor the Croatian parliament has ever ratified it, neither was it ever internationally recognized. Even more, according to some Slovenian legal experts, e.g. Pavel Zupančič, the last internationally recognized border between the two countries was on the river Mirna to the south of the Dragonja.[17] However, the proposed border on Dragonja has also been referenced many times and even partially implemented[citation needed]. The Croatian argument is, accordingly, based exclusively on the Dragonja border proposal which Slovenia has never officially recognized. According to Croatian view, the current main flow of the Dragonja (Canal of St. Odoric) was man made; and, according to Dr. Ekl, international law does allow changes of river borders when they were made by nature, but not when they were man made.[23] This, however, is not the official position of the Croatian government.

The Slovenian counterpart of the similar argument claims that the historically established municipality of Piran has historically also included the cadastral municipalities of Savudrija and Kaštel which constitute the northern part of Cape Savudrija.[24] The division of the prewar municipality of Piran is therefore considered to be legally void, since any changes of borders should be, according to the former Yugoslav constitution, accepted by either the former federal parliament or by the parliaments of the former Yugoslav republics.[25] Another support for the Slovenian claim of the Cape Savudrija comes from the ethnic structure of the area including Kaštel and Savudrija. In Kaštel, for instance, in 1880, 99.31% of the population was Slovenian-speaking. In 1910, the percent of Slovenian-speaking inhabitants fell to 29.08%, the rest of population being predominately Italian-speaking (65.22%), with only 5.70% Croatian-speaking population. Similarly, in Savudrija, in 1910, the percent of Slovenian-speaking population was 14.01, while the majority was Italian speaking (78.77%).[26] Slovenians were therefore the largest population in Kaštel and the largest non-Italian minority in Savudrija at the time. On that basis and since the two mentioned towns are claimed by Croatia, those experts claim that the border between the countries should be changed and established at the south border of the cadastral municipalities of Kaštel and Savudrija, at the middle of the Cape Savudrija. This position has been also supported by a few of notable Slovenian politicians, for example by Marjan Podobnik and his political and party-colleagues.[18]

Another Slovenian view in which change of international border was proposed by the first President of Slovenian Parliament and legal expert, France Bučar.[25] He asserted that the present division of the Istrian peninsula, which was historically included in the Austrian part of Austro-Hungarian Empire (which also included the territory of modern Slovenia, but not the majority of modern Croatian territory, which was rather included in the Hungarian part), is legally unfounded and irrelevant. According to Bučar, this division has never been based on proper legal acts and especially not on the will of Istria's autochthonous population. Therefore, Bučar proposed that the border in Istria should be determined on the basis of referendum, which should be carried out for any territory which either of the countries proposed.[25] This proposal is, according to Bučar, based upon the legal principle of self-determination, the same principle on which the both countries' Declarations of Independence were based in 1991. Such process of border determination has been historically employed for the solution of the Slovenian-Austrian border, in the s.c. Carinthian Plebiscite.

Land dispute on Žumberak/Gorjanci

Military object on top of the mountain

The peak of the mountain Žumberak/Gorjanci, Sveta Gera, has been the focus of a dispute in the 1990s, but as of 2011 the issue is dormant.

The summit is claimed by both Croatia and Slovenia[27][28] and is recorded in the Croatian land register. An old Yugoslav People's Army barracks building stands there, and is used as an outpost by the Slovenian Army.[29][30] Control over the military complex is part of the dispute between the two states as well. Owing to diplomacy, the dispute has not escalated.

In March 1999, Milan Kučan, then president of Slovenia, characterized the use of the barracks building as a military outpost of either the Slovenian or Croatian Army as controversial and "at least uncivilized".[31] In 2004, he argued for the Croatian TV that it would be better to open a mountain lodge there.[32]

Land dispute in the north

Međimurje is the northernmost county of Croatia and it shares borders with Slovenia and Hungary. The river Mura has divided Croatia from Slovenia (Prekmurje region) for many centuries. As far as it is known, the border between the two countries (also within the Habsburg Monarchy) was officially determined in the 17th century and thus recorded in the Land register.

The river Mura is pretty fast and unpredictable and it occasionally floods and changes its course. The border line, however, remained always as it had been determined before. This is the reason why the border line today does not follow the present river path. In the recent years this fact has not been approved by Slovenian authorities. Slovenia proposed that the border line should follow the actual river path, but Croatia did not accept it.

Owing to diplomacy, the dispute has not escalated. Still, local inhabitants, especially from the municipalities in northern Međimurje (Štrigova, Sveti Martin na Muri, Mursko Središće and Podturen), in their agricultural activities sometimes have difficulties to reach their estates (fields, meadows or woods) on the other side of the river, due to contiguous zone regime.[33][34][35][36][37]

Attempts at dispute resolution

Drnovšek-Račan agreement

The maritime borders in the Bay of Piran, according to 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 so-called Drnovšek-Račan agreement, which defined the entire border between the countries, including the maritime border.[38] According to that agreement, Croatia would get approximately one third of the gulf and a maritime border with Italy, while Slovenia would get a corridor to the international waters.

This solution included a Croatian "maritime exclave", between Italian and Slovenian waters; there are interpretations that such a solution is contrary to the Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, which prohibits sovereignty over parts of the sea unconnected to the land.[5][39]

The Parliament of Slovenia ratified this agreement.[40] The Croatian parliament, however, never voted on the ratification of the agreement,[41] criticizing Račan for unilaterally simply giving all the disputed area to Slovenia, and insisting that the border dispute should be settled by a border arbitration in the International Tribunal of Justice at the Hague.[citation needed]

According to the Drnovšek-Račan agreement, the border strip on the left bank of the Dragonja was recognized as part of Croatia.

Bled agreement

In 2007, prime ministers Sanader and Janša achieved a principal agreement about solving the border problem before the International Court of Justice in Hague.[42] According to Slovenian proposal,[43] both sides could dispute any part of the border and ask for it to be drawn at court. Yet, analogically to the fate of the Drnovšek-Račan agreement, the Bled agreement did not receive much support from Slovenian policy.[44] Croatia, on the other side, has kept insisting on the Bled agreement. Slovenia never officially informed Croatia of abandonment of the agreement, although a Slovene-Croatian working group continued to work for a year and a half on the matter.[citation needed]

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 his satisfaction. Former Slovenian foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel and minister of finance Franci stated in 2003 that they would stop supporting Croatian efforts to join the EU by 2007, together with Romania and Bulgaria. These two countries joined the EU while Croatia's negotiations were stalled due to 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).[45] However, former Slovenian president Janez Drnovšek stated that Slovenia should act in the "European spirit" and carefully respond to any problems with Croatia.[46]

On 23 September 2004 Slovenia threatened to veto Croatia's EU accession after Croatian border police detained 12 Slovenes, among them leader of the opposition SLS Janez Podobnik, after they refused to show their IDs 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 Prime Minister Anton Rop declared that Croatia was not fit to join the EU.[47][48]

Marjan Podobnik, the head of the Slovenian "Zavod 25. junij", an organization that "preserves the national heritage", and the president of the Slovenian National Alliance at the SLS, published a new map in May 2007 in which the borders of Slovenia go deeply into Croatian territory, while the whole Piran Bay belongs to Slovenia. Podobnik, also known by his suggestions to hold a referendum in Slovenia on to 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 Reykjavik, 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 the dispute over the electricity debt.[54]

Before December 2008, Slovenia had, on numerous occasions, rejected the claim that it was responsible for blocking Croatia's EU accession, stating that "Zagreb is opening new chapters slowly because it has difficulties meeting the standards of the organization it wants to join".[55]

Description of the blockade

Croatia has included in this documents, presented in its process of negotiation for joining the EU, their proposal of the border, without clearly demarcating the disputable status of those parts of the borderline. This was perceived by the Slovenian side as an act of prejudicing the borderline. Therefore it resulted in Slovenia's blocking those Croatia's negotiation chapters for its membership in the EU which included the controversial documents.[56]

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

A majority of other EU member states were in favor of continuing the accession talks. Six months before the blockade the Slovenian government reportedly asserted to Croatian authorities that it would continue the opening of new EU chapters if Croatia would annul its Ecological and Fisheries Protection Zone (ZERP). Croatia officially did so on 15 March 2008,[60][61] but in December 2008, Slovenia nonetheless began its opposition to Croatia's candidacy for EU membership.

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.[62] The European Commission promised to mediate with a special commission.[63]

In December that same year, Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader and Montenegrin prime minister Milo Đukanović agreed that their own border dispute regarding the Boka Kotorska would be settled in the International Court of Justice in The Hague and that both countries will respect the decision of the arbitration.[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

Slovenia's Prime Minister Borut Pahor

Although Slovenia sporadically slowed down the opening of new chapters between Croatia and the EU due to the border dispute, new Prime Minister Borut Pahor immediately announced the total blockade when he came to power when he accused Croatia of prejudging the border in its descriptions of its borders in the negotiation chapter with the EU. France, then the head of the EU presidency, moved on to prevent a possible blockade. On 21 November 2008, Pahor gave a speech declaring that the "last 14 days we have been in lively contact with the French presidency of the EU 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 negation process, which simply shows the border based on the 1991 borders of former Yugoslav republics. 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]

A heavy blow to Croatia's EU accession was thus given by the following meeting of ministers of foreign affairs of the 27 EU countries in Brussels on 7 December 2008. The ministers did not confirm the suggestion by the European Commission, which demands that Croatia's EU accession negotiations end by 2009. The reason for that was Slovenia, which threatened with a veto if the border dispute with Croatia was not resolved. As a consequence, the ministers did not record the date of the conclusion of EU-Croatia negotiations. Croatia had initially hoped to join by 2010/11. "Member states, understandingly, do not want another border row inside the EU", stated Italian foreign minister Pasquale Ferrara, concluding that one revolving around Cyprus is already enough. Following a discussion with 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 is ready to find a solution in front of the negotiation 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

Slovenian Minister of foreign affairs Samuel Žbogar revealed to Slovene public on 19 December the content of documents from 7 chapters in which Croatia is negotiating with the EU, and which are the main reason for the Slovenian blockade of negotiations. According to Žbogar, these are documents from 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 Dragonja river were stated as part of Croatia (Škrile, Bužin, Škudelini, Veli Mlin).
  • In food safety, the disputable point is the mention of Croatian epicontinental area in the Adriatic sea.
  • In the chapter on taxation, the border crossing Plovanija is explicitly stated, apropos temporary border point at Sečovlje, for which in 1994 the prime minister Nikica Valentić explicitly and in written stated that it does not prejudge the border.
  • In infrastructure, maps were enclosed which show the drawn sea border.
  • In the area of regional policymaking, the stumbling point is the intervention plan in case of a sea pollution, which mentions ZERP, and maps were enclosed which show the drawn sea border.
  • In the chapter on justice, maps were enclosed which show the border crossings, mentioning Plovanija and cadastre parcels from the cadastre which was created after 25 June 1991.
  • In the chapter on the Environment, ZERP is mentioned and maps were enclosed which show the 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 in case of 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 contains maps sent to Brussels as part of Croatia's accession documents, with the country'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, standardly explaining that in that chapter, too, Croatia had submitted documents "prejudging the Croatian-Slovene border". This raises the number of chapters the opening or closing of which has been blocked to 14. Slovenia was the only member-country that withheld its consent for the closing of the chapter Freedom of Movement for Workers. Slovene officials said the reason for such a decision was that in its documents submitted to the European Commission Croatia was referring to the Act on the Office of Notary Public, which in turn was referring to the Act on Towns and Municipalities and its list of towns and municipalities in Croatia, including four border villages in Istria which Slovenia disputes.[72]

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

French proposal for de-blockade

Nicolas Sarkozy tried to de-block the negotiation procedure, but Slovenian government rejected his proposal

The French proffered a simple document, which would finish the dispute, namely a signed declaration on both sides that neither is prejudging the border. The Chairman of the Board of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) of the Council of EU ministers of foreign affairs (GAERC), which discussed for 3 days about the Slovene amendments on the French proposal for de-blockade of the negotiation process, 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 26 member states were for the French proposal, while none were for the Slovene amendments.[75]

"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", said Sellal. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner expressed his surprise at Slovenia's move to block Croatia just because of the dispute over a "few kilometres of coast".[76] The Slovene correspondent to Večer from Brussels, Darja Kocbek, expressed her concern on the portal Razgledi that "Croatian lobbyists may be more successful that Slovenian lobbysts".[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".</ref>

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 tell than he 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 – which is why Pahor's government underwent a certain dose of criticism from outside: Hannes Swoboda declared that the EU should say to Ljubljana that "it doesn't go that way".[81] Some questioned if Pahor's move of blockade was actually a red herring by which it is trying to gain concessions from both the EU and Croatia.[82]

Commercial TV station POP TV conducted an internet poll in which, as it states, participated 10,000 viewers, and 84% of them retain the opinion that their governments decision of blockade 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]

"This is not our problem any more, this is now Brussels' problem", said Croatian president Stipe Mesić in his reaction to the blockade. He said that it was a mistake which will have negative consequences on economic and other relations between Croatia and Slovenia.[84][85]

"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 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 re a special news conference summoned after the intent of Slovenia to put a blockade.[86][87][88]

A couple of anonymus groups on Croatian websites urged the Croatian public to boycott all Slovene products, even though Sanader urged the people not do so.[89]

Bernd Posselt, the German representative at the European parliament condemned on Thursday 18 December 2008 the Slovenian government's act of blockade, calling it "Anti-European aggression". Posselt, a representative of 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 a 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".[90]

The European Commission expressed its regret due to Slovenia's decision to block Croatia. "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", said Crisztina Nagy, a commission spokeswoman[91]

Ljubljana's threat of additional blockade of Croatia's NATO accession

  Albania and Croatia joined NATO in 2009.

In January 2009, some Slovenian politicians started threatening that they would also block Croatia's accession into NATO. Slovene Prime Minister Borut Pahor stated his regret on 29 January due to the move by the opposition Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) which threatened to boycott the assembly which was supposed to decide about the ratification of accession protocols into NATO of the future member states Croatia and Albania, which resulted in the fact that the assembly had to be postponed. Still, in the end, the Slovenian parliament ratified Croatia's NATO accession.[92] Unforeseen complications occurred when the small, outer parliament Party of Slovenian Nation (SSN) and "Zavod 25. junij", headed by Marjan Podobnik from the SLS Party, gathered 2,500 signatures which, according to the Constitution, gives it time until March to gather additional 40,000 signatures for a referendum of Croatia joining NATO".[93] NATO then expressed its concern due to such complications.[94][95] Controversy erupted over claims that Slovene Andrej Šiško, a man convicted of 22 months in prison for an attempted murder and a member of the SSN, took a day off in prison in Rogoza to attend the negotiations of the highest body of his Party with Pahor about preventing a referendum.[96][97]

The Večernji list columnist Milan Jajčinović sharply criticized this outcome in his column: "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"".[98]

Still, the referendum attempt wasn't successful since not even 2,000 signatures were gathered, opening the way for Croatia to become a full NATO member in April 2009. That again prompted discussions about Pahor's discrepancy, since Croatia is supposedly not good enough for the EU, but fine for NATO membership.[99]

EU's proposal for a mediation in the border dispute

On 22 January 2009, the European Commission announced that it is ready to create a mediation council made out of three members which is supposed to mediate in the border row. According to reports, Finland's winner of the Nobel prize Martti Ahtisaari and French expert for law Robert Badinter were supposed to join the council. The report came out just a day after Olli Rehn visited politicians of Ljubljana and Zagreb.[100]

At first, Ivo Sanader rejected a meeting with Pahor without participation of the members of the European Commission,[101] but he then still decided for a compromise and agreed. After numerous complications around the location and time of the meeting, the meeting was held on 24 February in Macelj,[102] but no significant accomplishment was achieved. Subsequently, the Slovenian government blocked another additional negotiation chapter, totaling 13 blocked chapters in Croatia's talks with the EU.[103][104] A second meeting was planned on 28 April in Croatia, but it was canceled by the Slovenian side.[105]

On 17 April, President Mesić again stated that he is puzzled by Pahor's move to block 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".[106]

In June 2009, Croatia accepted Rehn's proposal for an arbitration commission, but Slovenia rejected it and proposed four new, changed 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 the proposed list instead of the president of the ICJ. However, Croatia refused this amendment after reviewing the list, including mainly '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 stating that none of the documents presuppose the interstate border, and should Slovenia not accept this, that legal experts at the European Commission should examine the documents to determine whether it is true. In case 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 a revokement of voting right for a member country which is persistently violating EU principles. Sanader added that Pahor "should ask Berlusconi for some sea".[107]

On 1 July 2009, Croatia's prime minister Ivo Sanader unexpectedly announced his resignation. He held a brief news conference before announcing his decision. Jadranka Kosor succeeded him.[108]

Kosor-Pahor meetings and the end of the blockade

Jadranka Kosor, Croatia's Prime Minister since 2009

On 31 July 2009, the second meeting between the Croatian-Slovenian governments was held, this time in Croatia, in the castle in Trakošćan. The meeting between the newly appointed Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and her Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor was reportedly constructive and passed in mutual respect. "We have found the road to take…I am very satisfied we started to agree on issues in the interest of both countries", Kosor stated. Pahor argued that there is a big chance that already this year a solution will be found for the problem of both countries, that is EU access for Croatia and a solution for the border dispute. The agreement will be found on the basis of good neighbouring relations according to both leaders. One of the solutions could be a condominium - an area in which sovereignty is shared and may involve the establishment of joint governance structures - over the Savudrija Cove, also known as Piran Bay.[109][110][111]

On 11 September 2009, Kosor and Pahor met again, this time in Ljubljana, and agreed on the final details of agreement to end the blockade. After Kosor sent the letter from Ljubljana to the EU presidency announcing Croatia does not wish to prejudge the border in any way and that negotiations about the border dispute will take place under EU supervision, Pahor said that Slovenia's blockade will soon be lifted.[112]

Pahor said the government would immediately propose to 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".[113][114]

Delo editorialized that this Slovenian/Croatian agreement was a "return to common sense".[115] 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.[116]

Kosor and Pahor met again on 26 October 2009, in Zagreb and worked out final proposal of Arbitration Agreement.[117] Croatian Parliament gave its assent to Kosor for signing the Arbitration Agreement with Slovenia on November 2, 2009.[118]

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 President of the EU, Fredrik Reinfeldt.[119]

Despite the de-escalation after the agreement, Slovenian government avoided to lift the blockade of the three last 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 substance of the three chapters.[120]

However, the Slovenian border dispute agreement referendum, 2010 was held on 6 June 2010 on approving an agreement to bring the border dispute with Croatia before an international arbitration tribunal. The results showed that the agreement was supported by 51.48% of voters and opposed by 48.52%,[121] opening the way for an 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 can begin. The treaty specifies that after registration at the UN, the procedures for arbitration will begin after Croatia signs 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."[122]

See also


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External links

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