15th Dec 2017

EU urges Slovenia and Croatia to end border dispute

  • The bay of Piran - Croatia and Slovenia have been unable to agree on where their sea border should lie for 18 years (Photo: EUobserver)

The EU on Monday (27 April) called on Slovenia and Croatia to accept a European Commission proposal for international arbitration in order to solve their long-standing border dispute, warning that if the quarrel drags on it could have repercussions on other countries in the region.

"We recall the urgency attached to this issue," Czech deputy prime minister Alexandr Vondra, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said at a press conference following a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg where Croatia's EU progress was discussed.

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"Many member states feel a certain sense of urgency, that the stalemate cannot last forever, that very much is at stake ... the whole strategic concept towards the Western Balkans, as well as other disputes," Mr Vondra added.

Slovenia and Croatia have been unable to agree on their common land and sea border since they both seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991, with a patch of the Adriatic Sea close to the Slovenian city of Piran being a particularly thorny issue.

The dispute has escalated in the last few months after Ljubljana blocked Zagreb's EU accession talks in December. The blockage is now threatening to delay the EU timetable targeted by Croatia - namely ending EU talks this year and joining the bloc by 2011.

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn in January proposed setting up a mediation group to solve the dispute.

His proposal has been updated several times since to fit the countries' demands. The latest version last week suggested that the two countries nominate five judges - one each and three jointly - to solve the problem.

'Let's just do it'

Mr Vondra said Mr Rehn's initiative was a "solid base" for a compromise, adding that a solution should now be "within reach."

The proposal "includes the essential objectives of both Slovenia and Croatia, so let's just do it and get moving," Mr Rehn told journalists in Luxembourg.

Croatia has already signalled a positive reaction, calling it a constructive proposal and "a very good basis for a final solution." It has said it would file its official answer shortly.

Slovenia has been more cautious, saying it now needed to thoroughly examine the idea first.

"Our interests here are so important we have a right to protect them," Slovenian foreign minister Samuel Zbogar said.

EU credibility at stake

Mr Rehn said the EU was "concerned" that if the dispute dragged on it could have an impact on "the credibility of the EU and its policies in the western Balkans."

Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg said that the border dispute did not "make a good impression" and that other western Balkan countries' EU bids could also be affected by it as "a lot of politicians in Europe tend to put the whole of the Balkans in one basket."

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, whose country will take over the rotating EU presidency from the Czechs on 1 July, said: "It's very important that everyone in the Balkans be made aware that these things have no place in accession negotiations," German news agency DPA reported.

Currently, the EU progress of all three candidate countries – Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey – is being to a certain extent blocked due to a bilateral problem with one EU member state.

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Bulgaria calls for West Balkan EU integration after Brexit

The UK leaving the EU gives an opportunity to bring the Western Balkans closer, Bulgaria's PM said in Brussels. Bulgaria will hold the upcoming rotating presidency, while Juncker said Serbia and Montenegro will be EU members by 2025.

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