20th Sep 2018

EU enlargement process hangs on Slovenian vote

  • Piran in Slovenia - the dispute over the waterway has lasted almost 20 years (Photo: ucouldguess)

The EU's plan to welcome Croatia as its 28th member in 2012 could be dealt a blow by Slovenian voters on Sunday (6 June) in a referendum on maritime boundaries.

The referendum boils down to the question: Are you in favour of a law ratifying an arbitration agreement between Slovenia and Croatia on how to divide sea access to the strategic Bay of Piran in the Adriatic sea?

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A Yes vote will see Slovenia and Croatia begin the international arbitration process in line with an EU recommendation.

A No vote will plunge the dispute resolution process back into uncertainty and cast doubt on Croatia's ability to wrap up its accession process in time - the two sides have wrangled over the bay for 18 years, with Slovenia in recent years wielding its veto to block Croatia entry talks.

A No vote will most likely bring down the coalition government of centre-left Prime Minister Borut Pahor as well, and damage the country's credentials as a responsible EU player.

The union is at a time of economic turmoil keen to rebuild international confidence in its ability to govern itself. A high-level conference in Sarajevo on Wednesday was specifically aimed at building Western Balkan confidence in the enlargement process.

Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor in a TV interview on Friday put the finishing touches on his hectic Yes campaign, with a simple majority of Slovenia's 1.7 million voters required to secure the result.

"We are counting on a positive result and we are quietly confident," a spokesman for Mr Pahor told EUobserver. "The consequences [of a No for Croatia's EU accession progress] are difficult to predict."

But pollsters say the vote is too close to call, amid a lack of interest in and understanding of the complex legal issues involved.

"An average citizen can hardly understand the compromise and the many facets of the border issue ...The responsibility for that decision should have remained in politics," Slovenian constitutional law expert Miro Cerar said on national TV in recent days.

Slovenian free daily Zurnal24 on Wednesday predicted that Sunday night's final of reality TV show Slovenia's Got Talent will draw more viewers than people who turn up to the referendum ballots.

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