20th Sep 2019

EU proposes mediation group for Croatia-Slovenia dispute

The European Commission has suggested forming a special group to help solve the lengthy Croatia–Slovenia border dispute and Finnish former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari could be the person chairing it.

"Commissioner Rehn has discussed with President Martti Ahtisaari and explored whether he would be available to chair a senior expert group in order to facilitate a solution on the border issue between Slovenia and Croatia," Krisztina Nagy, spokesperson for EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn, told journalists on Friday (23 January).

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  • Mr Ahtisaari won the Nobel Peace Prize last year. (Photo: UNMIK)

According to a Slovenian POP TV report on Thursday, the group would be composed of three people – Mr Ahtisaari; Robert Badinter – the French legal expert who headed the arbitration commission for the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s; and a third member who is reportedly "a woman, a legal expert who is not widely known to the public."

Mr Ahtisaari, 71, who last year won the Nobel Peace Prize for "his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts," but who also has a controversial image in the Balkans for having favoured Kosovar independence during his work as the UN's special envoy there from 2005 to 2007, is reportedly open to the proposal.

But Ms Nagy declined to confirm the other members of the body, or its size, saying it was "premature" to do so before Croatia and Slovenia have accepted the commission's initiative.

"What is important now is not to put the cart before the horse. So, the first step to launch a possible European facilitation is that the two countries agree on the terms and conditions of such facilitation," she said.

Croatia positive, Slovenia cautious

Croatia on Thursday spoke out in favour of the move, with Prime Minister Ivo Sanader "hailing" the European Commission's proposal.

"Such an initiative to move away from a frozen position and blocked Croatian [EU] talks is certainly welcomed," he was quoted as saying by Croatian news agency HINA.

Slovenia, however, has had a more cautious reaction.

"It is too early to say" whether Ljubljana supports the proposal, the country's foreign minister Samuel Zbogar said, according to Slovenian news agency STA.

"Yesterday [Wednesday], we had the first meeting, the first presentation, this is still just an initiative, many details remain unclear," he added.

Slovenia and Croatia have been fighting over their common land and sea border for over 17 years.

Particularly thorny is a patch of the Adriatic Sea close to the Slovenian city of Piran that would secure Slovenian ships direct access to international waters.

The sea-access issue caused Slovenia to block accession talks with EU candidate Croatia in December, arguing that maps that Croatia had provided during its accession process could prejudge a solution to their long-running dispute.

Earlier this week, Mr Rehn visited both Ljubljana and Zagreb for talks on the issue.

After returning from his visits, he admitted that from initially being "a bilateral issue", the border dispute had become "a European problem."

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