Croatia has accepted a European Union offer to mediate in its border row with Slovenia, but only to prepare for the dispute to go before an international court, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said on Monday (9 March).
“We expect accession talks to be unblocked as soon as the (EU’s mediation) commission starts work,” Sanader said after meeting leaders of all political parties. He said there was “national political consensus” on the issue.
The dispute over a small stretch of their land and sea border, dating back to the 1991 break-up of Yugoslavia, prompted EU member Slovenia to veto in December one-third of Croatia’s EU membership negotiations.
“What we now need to do is, together with the European Commission, look into the mandate of the (mediators), because we are accepting it, with the aim of going before the international court to resolve this long-standing border row,” Sanader said.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, who had warned both sides not to attach “impossible conditions” to mediation, welcomed Croatia’s positive response. He will meet Croatian and Slovenian foreign ministers in Brussels on Tuesday.
“We are studying the details of both the Croatian and the Slovenian positions,” he told a news briefing in Brussels.
Rehn said Croatia could still complete accession talks this year, as planned, if Slovenia lifts its veto “shortly”.
However, Slovenia’s Foreign Minister Samuel Zbogar struck a more cautious note, saying Slovenia – which has rejected recourse to any international court – would not lift its veto immediately.
“The conditions Croatia has given narrow the possibilities to start mediation. We must now wait for Commissioner Rehn’s reaction […] and for Croatia’s explanations,” he said.
Zagreb and Brussels are due to hold a conference on March 27, at which entry talks could formally resume.
When Slovenia imposed its veto on Zagreb’s talks, it said Zagreb had submitted documents to Brussels that were prejudicial to the border dispute.
Slovenia, squeezed between Italy and Croatia, wants direct access to international waters in the northern Adriatic. This would force Croatia to cede some offshore waters. Four small villages in the northern Istrian peninsula are also disputed.
Rehn proposed in January that Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, mediate in the dispute. It is not known if Ahtisaari’s team should propose the “final border solution” or only the best way to handle it.
(EurActiv with Reuters)
During the French EU Presidency, Slovenia blocked the opening of nine out of ten negotiating chapters with Zagreb due to an unresolved border dispute (EurActiv 18/12/08).
Diplomats believe serious doubts will surround Croatia's objective of wrapping up accession talks by the end of the year (so as to be ready to join the bloc in 2010) if the bilateral dispute is not resolved soon (see EurActiv LinksDossier on EU-Croatia relations).
The border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia concerns small pockets of land along the Adriatic coast, which could prove important if accompanied by exclusive rights to deep sea zones. Unlike Slovenia, Croatia has a long coastline, prompting Ljubljana to attempt to assert its rights as a "geographically disadvantaged state".
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