Yugoslavia’s dark legacy The border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia, which dates back to the Yugoslavia period, has entered a critical pass. Many important terms will need to be redefined at this time. If they are done correctly, we can consider the Balkan peninsula will be a happy place in the future. But today we are far from that point. Croatia criticised Slovenia on 18 December for blocking its EU entry negotiations because the long-running border dispute on 18 December.
In its statement, Croatia blamed Slovenia, but was careful to be “cautious” and expressed its hope that “Ljubljana would reconsider its decision”. But even though Croatia’s Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, speaks of his hope that Zagreb will open ten new negotiation chapters and close five, his Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor says his country would be satisfied with one chapter being opened and three being closed. This shows that the situation is critical. There are disputed common land and sea borders between Slovenia and Croatia.
In documents it presented to Brussels that include maps of the area, Slovenia claims Croatia could create “presumptions” in this dispute. That is why Mr Pahor has called on his opposite number to refrain from using these documents in all international arbitration events and negotiations over this sensitive subject. Mr Sanader has branded that request “unacceptable”. Croatia started its EU membership talks in October 2005. Zagreb hopes to become a full member in 2011. So far, of the 35 chapters, four have been conditionally closed, and twenty-one are open.
The European dimension of the disagreement
Slovenia is working meticulously and successful to use this “golden opportunity” it has to resolve the border dispute. At the end of the day, Slovenia is an EU member and Croatia is not. What is more, Croatia wants to become an EU member and Slovenia has a say in this. It is at this stage that the European Commission’s view is most important, because these decisions can set a precedent. The Commission believes that bilateral matters such as the border disagreement between Croatia and Slovenia cannot be part of the membership negotiations and need to be solved reciprocally. This confirms the Commission’s position.
It sees it fit to use low profile statements such as “We encourage Slovenia and Croatia to resolve the border problem through the spirit of good neighbourly relations”. Which means that the Commission does not identify itself as a direct supporter of either side in bilateral disagreements. Of course, the statement opens the door to Slovenia to use its right to veto, but it does allow the Commission to keep its hands clean. But the fact that Commission does not see the matter as a part of membership negotiations is important for different matters.
There is an important detail here regarding the wider, European perspective: If the Commission will not be a party to the disagreement between Slovenia and Croatia, it should adopt the same approach to other similar matters. But there is something more: if border disagreements in the context of bilateral relations do not tie membership negotiations, then the side that locks negotiations, blocks chapters and uses its veto because of a dispute would be the “unjust” side.
There is no mechanism or precedent in the EU for this situation and position. But seeing as the Commission’s statement brings the obligation of “finding a solution within the spirit of good neighbourly relations”, then according to the principle of precedent, a side behaving in accordance with this would have the right of answer in the event of being disadvantaged. For instance, in the dispute between Turkey and South Cyprus, South Cyprus’s approach and behaviour coincides with that of Slovenia. Turkey, meanwhile, is in a similar position as Croatia, and could in light of the Commission’s statement complain about and take South Cyprus to court!
A turmoil of witches: the Balkans
It is already true that if the Commission does not take precautions soon, it will be greatly tired in the near future because of Turkey-Greece relations. From the EU’s perspective the Balkans are a difficult geography, and their integration into the Union is of strategic importance. But it is quite difficult for the EU to surmount the conditions of this region with its existing capabilities and viewpoints. Greece’s anti-Turkey approach and protests at Macedonia’s name are just two examples of bilateral disagreement.
There are other large problems. The EU’s attitude is first to make a member out of Croatia, then Serbia, then Macedonia and the rest. This Balkan strategy is connected not just with the EU’s enlargement process but also its process of deepening. Because if Croatia becomes a full EU member in 2010, the Lisbon Treaty’s ratification will be successfully completed. There is one reason for this: Ireland is to vote again on Lisbon in exchange for a series of concessions.
These concessions on abortion, taxation and neutrality will be “dealt with” during the process of approving Croatia’s membership. If Croatian accession does not occur in the projected time, the continuing process of ratifying Lisbon will “technically” return again to the beginning and all members will have to ratify once more. It should be noted that in these conditions Slovenia and Croatia will be the “most comfortable two countries”. And, as Mr Sarkozy declared during France’s term presidency, “there will be no more accession to the EU before the Lisbon Treaty is ratified”. That is why we could consider the EU to be stuck between two stones labelled Slovenia and Croatia.
Slovenia-Croatia border conflict
The Koper port is very important for Slovenia, because it conducts its entire trade with the world from here. This port is also Central Europe’s exit route, and subsequently this North Adriatic corridor has long been disputed. That is why Slovenia’s access to international waters is very limited. This problem is a legacy from the break up of Yugoslavia. The Slovenia-Croatia border continues along the River Mur. The existing border regime is based upon the agreement that accepted the borders between the Yugoslav federated states to continue after independence.
But the River Mur is also known as Europe’s oldest frontier; over time, it has changed its course and is continuing to do so. Flooding and rising waters in 2005 particularly caused difficulties. Dam works in 2006 were, according to Croatia, intended to prevent flood disasters, but Slovenia protested construction work in a disputed area. It prevented the works by sending a police force to the area.
In September, the Slovenian and Croatian prime ministers visited the region together and agreed to conduct the necessary works through a jointly-established consortium and police it with a joint force. But when Slovenian journalists went to the region they were deported by Croatian police for “infringing the border”. Upon this, Slovenia sent in a heavily-armed police force, and also wrote to the European Commission, taking the matter to the European floor. Croatia, meanwhile, criticised the border dispute becoming so politicised and claimed in an undiplomatic tone that developments were being distorted. Although Croatia accused Slovenia of behaving in contravention of Europe’s spirit and good neighbourly relations, the conditions have not changed.
Land border disputes left behind from Yugoslavia
(redefinition of borders)
Sea border disputes left behind from Yugoslavia