Slovenia, Croatia to agree on border dispute arbiters

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Foreign ministers of Slovenia and Croatia are to meet on 10 January in Brussels to agree on the membership of an arbitration tribunal to solve a long-standing border dispute between the former Yugoslav republics, the EU executive confirmed yesterday (4 January).

The meeting is to be held under the auspices of Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle.

Asked if it had already notified Zagreb and Ljubljana of the list of potential arbiters for the border dispute panel (see background), Füle spokesperson Peter Stano declined to comment.

The Commission is not party to the Slovenia-Croatia arbitration, but it has been given "a certain role" by the arbitration agreement. In order to better fulfil this role, the Commission would not comment at this stage, Stano said.

On 25 May 2011 the two countries submitted their arbitration agreement to the UN, a necessary step before the arbitration process can begin. It is believed that the tribunal could begin within a year. Croatia is expected to join the EU on 1 July 2013, after the completion of the Accession Treaty ratifications in all 27 EU countries.

The good-bye wink

The recent signature of the Croatia accession treaty will be remembered among other things by the winkfrom by outgoing Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor to the then-Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor of Croatia. The body language was interpreted by journalists from the region as a reminder of the outstanding border dispute.

The ratification process is now open for Croatia's accession treaty. Like any other EU member, Slovenia has the right to reject Croatia's accession.

At the time of the signature of the treaty, the governments both of Croatia and Slovenia had been defeated in  national elections held a few days earlier. At the next week's meeting in Brussels, Croatia will be represented by its new minister Vesna Pusi?, while Slovenia would be represented by outgoing minister Samuel Žbogar, who has been named the EU ambassador to Kosovo.

"We expect at the meeting we will be presented with a list [of candidates to the arbitration panel] from which we will choose the president and two members," Pusi? was quoted as saying by the French news agency AFP.

The border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia concerns small pockets of land along the Adriatic coast that could prove important if accompanied by exclusive rights to deep-sea zones.

Unlike EU member Slovenia, EU applicant Croatia has a long coastline. Slovenia invoked this to assert its rights as a "geographically disadvantaged state".

In 2010 the two countries agreed for international arbitration to help solve the dispute, which lifted  obstacles for Croatia's EU membership bid. An international team is expected to settle the dispute, and its ruling would be binding for both countries.

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