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19th Oct 2018

Slovenia to block Croatia EU accession talks

Slovenia said on Wednesday (17 December) it would block further accession talks with EU candidate Croatia due to a long-running border dispute between the two countries.

Zagreb was hoping to open 10 new chapters of its accession negotiations package with the EU and close another five during an intergovernmental conference on Friday (19 December) in Brussels.

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  • A coastal border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia threatens the former's EU accession talks (Photo: European Commission)

But speaking ahead of the meeting, Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor said his country had reservations, arguing that documents – notably maps – Croatia had provided during its accession process could prejudge a solution of their long-running border dispute.

"Slovenia has reservations concerning seven chapters, since the documents presented by Croatia could prejudge the common border," Mr Pahor told journalists in Ljubljana.

"And concerning another four chapters, we also have substantial reservations," he said, adding that Slovenia would at this stage "only give its consent to open one chapter and close three."

Ljubljana accuses Croatia of claiming an unfair share of the Adriatic Sea close to the Slovenian city of Piran, and denying Slovenian ships direct access to international waters.

The two states have been fighting over their common border since they broke away from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

'No blackmail'

For its part, Croatia strongly criticised the "unprecedented" decision by Slovenia.

"Croatia isn't and won't be ready nor will it ever accept blackmail and exclusivism, which have no place in the EU... We won't buy our membership of the EU with territory. This is our firm position and our friends in Slovenia must know this," Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader told journalists in Zagreb, Croatian news agency Hina reported.

If the Slovenian government does not reconsider, it "will show exclusivism that is not in line with the principles of good neighbourly ties, solidarity and unity," he said, adding that the "blocking of 10 chapters ... is a move without precedent in the history of [EU] accession talks."

Vesna Pusic, chairwoman of a Croatian parliament committee for monitoring EU accession talks, warned that eventually the move could have more impact on Ljubljana than on Zagreb.

"It is a bad decision for us, but it is also a very bad decision for relations between Croatia and Slovenia ... In the long term, it will have the most harmful effects on them," she said.

Croatia has held EU candidate status since 2004 and started EU accession talks in 2005. It has so far open 21 chapters of the 35 contained in its accession package and closed four.

Last month, the European Commission said Croatia could conclude accession negotiations with the bloc by the end of next year – if it fulfills the remaining conditions – but a deadlock with neighbouring Slovenia may threaten that goal.

The western Balkan country is expected to become a full fledged EU member by 2011.

Turkey's talks threatened too?

Meanwhile, Turkish media reported earlier this week that Cyprus could slow down Turkey's accession process as well.

An EU candidate since 1999, it launched EU talks in 2005 and has since opened eight accession chapters and closed one.

It is hoping to open two more during its accession conference with the EU on Friday.

But Cypriot foreign minister Markos Kyprianou told Turkish daily Hurriyet that his country would object to the planned opening of the chapter on energy.

There has been more tension between the two countries since November, as Cyprus is accusing Turkey of having harassed its research vessels in the Mediterranean Sea no fewer than four times, hindering its oil and gas exploration activities, the newspaper writes.

For its part, Turkey has argued that the ships were on its continental shelf.

"As long as there are threats regarding the exercise of our sovereign right to exploit the natural resources within our Exclusive Economic Zone, in accordance with international law, ... it is very difficult for us to embark on discussions on the relevant chapter of the negotiations," Mr Kyprianou told Hurriyet on Monday.

Slovenia may hold referendum on Croatia EU entry

Croatia's EU entry may eventually face a referendum in Slovenia, if the year-long border dispute between the two countries is not solved soon, Slovene Foreign Minister Samuel Zbogar has said. A referendum would possibly affect a protocol containing legal guarantees promised to Ireland in order to secure a second referendum by Dublin on the EU's Lisbon Treaty.

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