Slovenia’s border dispute with Croatia falls victim to internal squabbling

The Slovenian parliament decided on Monday (3 May) to hold a referendum to decide whether to endorse or reject a law aimed at finding a solution to the country's border dispute with Croatia. The Slovenian centre-right opposition indicated that they would campaign to reject the law.

On 6 June, Slovenes will have to answer a rather difficult question: "Do you support the implementation of the Law on the Ratification of the Arbitration Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the Government of the Republic of Croatia, which was adopted by the Slovenian Parliament at its session of 19 April 2010, becoming valid?"

The agreement was signed last November by Slovenian and Croatian Prime Ministers Borut Pahor and Jadranka Kosor and ratified in both parliaments (EURACTIV 30/09/09).

At the parliamentary session in question, a slim majority voted in favour of the country resorting to international arbitration to resolve the border dispute. Seventy-eight of 82 MPs attending the session voted in favour and none voted against. Currently the Croatian parliament has 153 members.

Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor said that rejection of the agreement would be a disastrous mistake for Slovenia, adding that the agreement offered the right resolution of the long-standing border dispute and protected Slovenia's vital interests, Croatian agency HINA reported.

Slovenia's left-wing ruling coalition has already begun a campaign to persuade voters to support the law and the agreement with Croatia.

But the centre-right opposition insisted that the agreement was bad for Slovenia, because it did not guarantee it direct access to international waters. They want the Pahor cabinet to step down if the deal is rejected in the referendum.

Croatia is poised to become the first country to join the EU since the accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007. The country is expected to complete its accession negotiations by the end of 2010 (EURACTIV 11/02/10).

But during the 2008 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). 

In September 2009 the prime ministers of both countries agreed that this would not constitute an obstacle to Croatia's accession (EURACTIV 30/09/09).

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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