24th Oct 2016

EU officials tire of Croatia-Slovenia dispute

In a new setback to Croatia's EU bid, the Czech EU presidency on Wednesday (24 June) cancelled an EU-Croatia intergovernmental conference planned for 26 June due to a lack of progress in Croatia and Slovenia's border dispute which has been blocking Zagreb's EU accession talks for six months.

"Despite substantial efforts to facilitate a solution to the country's border dispute with Slovenia, Croatia's accession talks remain blocked and no new chapters can be formally opened or closed," the Czech presidency said in a statement.

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Slovenia and Croatia have been unable to agree on their common land and especially sea border since the two countries declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. In December, Slovenia blocked Croatia's accession negotiations over the issue and attempts by EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn to set up a form of international mediation between the two countries to break the deadlock failed last week.

Additionally, Slovenia on Tuesday blocked the closing of another chapter of Croatia's 35-chapter EU accession negotiations package – the one on Statistics – bringing the number of chapters currently blocked to 13 - nine for opening and four for closing.

This cancellation of the meeting means that no EU accession conference with Croatia will have been organised during the Czech Republic's six-month presidency. It is the first time no such conference has taken place under a presidency since Croatia started EU talks in October 2005.

Meanwhile on Tuesday (23 June), Slovenia urged the EU not to give up on helping the two countries find a solution to their dispute, which it said is within reach.

"Slovenia will propose officially to the European Commission to continue the process," Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

A number of EU member states – "the big ones as well as countries from the region," such as Greece and Cyprus – are also calling for further EU efforts, both from the commission and from the presidency, to break the deadlock, according to diplomatic sources.

But the issue has fatigued diplomats in Brussels. Both Mr Rehn and the incoming Swedish EU presidency have told the two countries to sort out the issue between themselves.

"The European Commission has tried to help Croatia and Slovenia solve their 18-year-old dispute. But, after six months of work and discussion, I believe it is up to Croatia and Slovenia to find a solution," Mr Rehn said.

Slovenia not acting in the European spirit

This shows that "apparently, everyone is fed up [with the issue]," according to Gergana Noutcheva, an analyst specialised in South East Europe with the Brussels-based think-tank Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

Slovenia's behaviour and its firm position in this dispute "does not make a good impression," she told EUobserver.

Because Slovenia is now an EU member state – it joined the bloc in 2004 – it is in a position of force and what it is doing now is "a sort of blackmail."

"It is rather Balkan [behaviour] and not very ‘European.' The other member states should bring Slovenia to its senses," Ms Noutcheva said.

The Slovenia-Croatia case is similar to that of another EU candidate, Macedonia, which has been unable to even start EU accession talks for almost four years due to a dispute with Greece over its name.

"It is the same story again," Ms Noutcheva said, adding that "if everyone started to [use enlargement to] get even like this," it would go against all European values.

"It is not the spirit of the EU, of European integration and of enlargement," the analyst pointed out.


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