21st Sep 2021

Slovenia referendum may revive Croatia border dispute

Slovenia has decided to call a referendum on 6 June to approve or reject the settlement mechanism agreed last year on its border dispute with Croatia. A No vote would deal a fresh blow to Zagreb's EU membership talks.

The Slovenian parliament on Monday (3 May) unanimously endorsed the proposal to hold a plebiscite on last November's deal - to set up an arbitration panel to resolve issues concerning a small piece of land and sea disputed by the two former Yugoslav states for the past 18 years.

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  • Ljubljana: the decision is set to revive the border dispute with its neighbour (Photo: European Commission)

The legislature in Ljubljana ratified the deal last month. But the ruling coalition and the opposition have now agreed to hold a referendum on the issue, which is seen by most Slovenians as a key matter of national interest.

Under the terms of the original deal, the arbitration panel's ruling on the matter will be legally binding.

But the centre-right opposition believes the system could be harmful for Slovenia and hopes it will be rejected in the referendum, forcing a new round of bilateral negotiations with Croatia.

Zagreb's EU membership talks were blocked by Ljubljana in 2009 due to the border dispute. Slovenia is currently the only former Yugoslav country that is a member of the 27-strong club, enjoying veto rights within the Council of Ministers.

Despite the agreement on the border dispute, Slovenia has continued to put other hurdles in Croatia's acession talks, delaying the opening of some negotiating chapters.

In December, Slovenia blocked the opening of three negotiation chapters in the areas of fisheries, environment and security policy. But last month, the foreign ministry in Ljubljana said it no longer had any reservations about any of these or other fields.

For its part, Croatia has vowed that once it joins the bloc it will avoid using this kind of veto in its existing border disputes with other ex-Yugoslav neighbours which are queueing up for EU membership, notably its old enemy, Serbia.

The referendum decision in Slovenia coincided with the eve of a 30-year anniversary of the death of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito.

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