Slovenia and Croatia failed to resolve a border dispute that has poisoned their relations in last-minute talks between their two prime ministers on Tuesday (19 December) and Slovenia said it would now implement an international court ruling which Zagreb dismisses as invalid.
Slovenia, an EU member since 2004, wants Zagreb to accept the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague about the sea and land border in the northern Adriatic, passed in June.
Croatia, which joined the bloc in 2013, only after agreeing to the arbitration with Slovenia, says the legal proceedings had been contaminated and compromised and were therefore null and void.
Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar met his Croatian counterpart Andrej Plenković in Zagreb in view of the forthcoming 29 December deadline for the implementation of the ruling.
“Slovenia considers the arbitration ruling, by which the Arbitral Tribunal determined the land and sea borders, to be binding and will therefore respect and implement it. We expect the same from Croatia, since implementation of the ruling is an obligation under international law that applies to both countries,” Cerar said after the talks.
“Slovenia will start the implementation where it can do it alone, and will seek dialogue and cooperation from Croatia where it cannot act alone,” he added. He stressed that respecting international rulings was of vital importance as an example for the Western Balkans, where several countries that hope to join the EU have a number of border issues.
To complicate matters, Slovenia is a member of the EU’s borderless Schengen area, while Croatia is not. Slovenia has hinted that the border issue might complicate Croatia’s access to Schengen.
For his part, Plenković said he had proposed Cerar a new framework for resolving the dispute, which would include identifying the land and sea borders and the navigation regime, a joint committee that would identify the borders and, finally, the ratification in both parliaments.
“We want experts to continue talks and we want to refrain from unilateral moves,” the Croatian prime minister said.
At the heart of the dispute is the northern Piran Bay as well as the land border around it. Slovenia, which has just 46 kilometres (29 miles) of coastline, had argued its access to international waters was at stake because Croatia, whose coast stretches for 1,700 kilometres, wanted the maritime border to be drawn down the middle of the disputed Piran bay.
The dispute has been one of the most contentious issues that soured relations between the neighbours since they both declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
“What we expect now is the Commission to act,” said an EU diplomat familiar with the issue. “The Commission has said it is willing to help implement the ruling. If all else fails, Slovenia could take a legal path and go the Luxembourg court,” the diplomat added.