EU relieved after Slovenian vote on border dispute
EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso on Sunday (6 June) evening was quick in welcoming Slovenia's vote on international mediation of a border dispute with Croatia, a move which allows Zagreb to move forward on its membership talks.
Early results on Monday morning showed a narrow victory for the government's agreement to accept the verdict of an international panel in mediating the dispute on the Bay of Piran, an issue which has poisoned Sloveno-Croat relations since the breakup of the Yugoslav federation.
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Some 51.5 percent of Slovenes voted in favour of the deal. A negative vote could have held up Croatia's talks with the EU, which had already stalled for almost a year in 2009 when Ljubljana opposed the opening of negotiation chapters due to the border dispute.
Zagreb is now expected to complete membership talks with Brussels in the coming year, putting the Balkan country on track to become the EU's 28th member in 2012.
"This is an important step forward. I very much welcome the support that the Slovenian people have given in the referendum on the border arbitration agreement signed by the governments of Slovenia and Croatia," Mr Barroso said in a statement.
He stressed that resolving the maritime dispute was an "important signal for the region," in reference to various bilateral issues blocking EU talks with other former Yugoslav countries, such as the name dispute between Greece and Macedonia.
The feeling of relief comes against the backdrop of worsening political and economic climate in the region, with the EU having organised last week a high-level conference in Sarajevo in order to boost Balkan confidence in the enlargement process.
Back in Ljubljana, Prime Minister Borut Pahor hailed the "historic decision" and the "big success" for his country, after being pressured by the opposition to organise a referendum on the border deal. A No-vote would have probably led to the collapse of his coalition government and damaged Ljubljana's credentials as a responsible EU player.
The government in Zagreb also expressed its enthusiasm at the outcome of the vote, with Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor announcing on national television station she foresaw no further Slovenian action to bar Zagreb's path towards joining the EU.
"There will be no more roadblocks. Dialogue certainly continues. With this agreement ... we separated Croatia's [EU] talks from solving the border issue," she said.