Croatia’s EU talks to resume after long dispute

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Slovenia is expected to unblock Croatia’s EU accession talks at a ministerial meeting today (15 June). The two countries have clashed for several months over disputed territories on the Adriatic coast.

Gordan Jadronkovic, Croatia’s foreign minister will meet his Slovenian counterpart Samuel Zbogar on the sidelines of the EU foreign affairs ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg on 15 and 16 June. 

The meeting will take place under the watch of EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn and the current EU presidency ‘troika’: France, the Czech Republic and Sweden. 

On 10 June, Rehn said he expected Croatia’s EU accession negotiations to be unblocked soon. He added that after six months of hard work, the sides were now close to an agreement. 

The Czech EU Presidency also expressed hope that on the occasion of the Luxembourg meeting, the EU-Croatia intergovernmental conference would be able to take place on 26 June. Prague hopes that this success will brighten its final days at the EU helm. 

More problems coming up for the Balkans 

However, this may not be the end of the region’s problems, as similar obstacles are expected to emerge in the Western Balkan accession process as a whole, diplomats told EURACTIV. 

EU diplomats said the lack of a clearly defined border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina could soon create problems “one hundred times worse” than the current dispute between Ljubljana and Zagreb, in which the European Commission has invested a huge mediation effort. 

The Czech Presidency also revealed that at its invitation Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), will brief the EU ministers about Croatia and Serbia’s cooperation with the Hague-based UN tribunal. 

As the Croatian news agency HINA reported, some EU members have shown reservations regarding the opening of the ‘Judiciary and Fundamental Rights’ chapter, after Brammertz had criticised Croatia for its failure to deliver some key military files from the August 1995 Storm Operation, related to the trial against Generals Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac. 

Croatia insists that some of the documents never existed, while others are missing. If Slovenia lifts its veto, Croatia will be able to open nine and provisionally close up to five policy chapters at the 26 June intergovernmental conference, HINA further writes. 

Mladic ‘home movies’ controversy 

Without any doubt, the ministers will also ask Brammertz about the progress made in the search for Serbia’s most-wanted war criminal, Ratko Mladic, diplomats said. On 10 June, Bosnian TV station FTV aired several home movies featuring Mladic, apparently recorded during private parties, thus proving that the man responsible for the Srebrenica massacre is not avoiding public events. 

According to FTV, one sequence might have been shot as recently as last year. But a Serbian government spokesperson said that the footage shown had been seized during a search of Mladic’s house in 2008 and handed over to the Hague tribunal. None of the footage was less than eight years old, he insisted. 

The Netherlands and Belgium are blocking the ratification of the EU’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia as long as Mladic is at large. Diplomats say that imposing such conditions makes it difficult for the reformist government in Belgrade to withstand the surge of nationalist and anti-European forces. 

In this perspective, the EU is now getting closer to giving the green light to visa-free travel for citizens of several Western Balkan countries. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have been singled out as the most prepared for the move. Croatians are currently the only citizens in the region to enjoy visa-free travel throughout the Schengen area. 

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). 

The Czech Presidency has so far failed to make any progress in the negotiations. Indeed, the EU recently postponed an accession conference after the two countries had failed to show any sign of conciliation (EURACTIV 24/04/09). 

Diplomats have serious doubts about the viability of 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 access rights to deep-sea zones. 

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