Friday

3rd Feb 2023

Slovenia may hold referendum on Croatia EU entry

Croatia's accession talks with the EU risk remaining blocked for some time, and its EU entry may eventually face a referendum in Slovenia, if the year-long border dispute between the two countries is not solved soon, Slovene foreign minister Samuel Zbogar has said.

"If the situation remains as it is now, it will be very complicated. A referendum is not a threat but a fact if the border issue is not solved," Mr Zbogar told Slovenian weekly Mag on Wednesday (7 January).

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  • Croatia is hoping to conclude EU accession talks by the end of the year and become an EU member by 2011 at the latest. (Photo: turist.hr)

A referendum in Slovenia would be "very easy to call" from a procedural point of view, according to Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for Slovenia's representation to the EU.

However, Ms Kocijancic stressed that it was something the government did not desire and its blocking of Croatia's EU talks in December was done with this precisely goal.

It froze the process in order to seek "a solution benefiting both sides," so that there is no need to call a popular vote, she told the EUobserver.

Meanwhile, Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has said a referendum in Slovenia would not be "politically wise," but expressed certainty that if it happened, "Slovenian citizens would largely support Croatia," according to Croatian news agency Hina.

Mr Zbogar's statement comes a few weeks after Slovenia blocked accession talks with EU candidate Croatia in December, arguing that maps that Croatia had provided during its accession process could prejudge a solution of their long-running border dispute.

The two states have been fighting over their common border since they each broke away from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

Ljubljana accuses Croatia of claiming an illegitimate share of the Adriatic Sea close to the Slovenian city of Piran, and denying Slovenian ships direct access to international waters.

They are also fighting over a speck of land in the area where their joint border meets Hungary.

Consequences for Irish protocol

Consequences of a Slovenian referendum would go beyond Croatia and possibly affect a protocol containing legal guarantees promised to Ireland in order to secure a second referendum by Dublin on the EU's Lisbon Treaty.

The bloc's foreign ministers meeting in Prague on Thursday were to discuss how exactly to incorporate the text into Croatia's EU accession treaty after EU leaders "committed" to do so during their last meeting in December.

A decision has not been reached yet, but one could assume "in principle" that the two elements would be married together and a referendum would therefore affect them both – unless the Slovenian government decides to somehow submit only parts of the text to public vote, according to Antonio Missiroli, director of studies at the European Policy Centre think-tank in Brussels.

However, it is not clear how this would happen legally, he added, stressing that in his opinion the referendum was no more than a political tool Ljubljana was using to put pressure on Croatia, as well as on the other EU member states.

"You can always waive the threat of a referendum," Mr Missiroli told the EUobserver, but "the sheer prospect of a referendum in Slovenia is a nightmare."

It could also trigger "a series of referendums" in other member states, something EU leaders are at pains to avoid.

"Politically, there would be huge pressure on Slovenia [by the other member states] not to do this," as nobody wants another referendum, given the EU's recent history of referendums, the analyst added.

Before Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum in June last year, both France and the Netherlands said "No" to the EU's Constitutional Treaty in the spring of 2005.

Second Irish referendum linked to Croatian EU accession

Legal guarantees promised to Ireland and paving the way for a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in the country are to be written into a protocol together with Croatia's accession treaty to the EU in 2010 or 2011, current EU President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday. His statement represents the clearest indication so far that the Balkan country could become the bloc's 28th member by 2011 at the latest.

Slovenia to block Croatia EU accession talks

Slovenia said on Wednesday it would block further accession talks with EU candidate Croatia due to a long-running border dispute between the two countries.

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