Stanley's blog

The Slovenian and Croatian foreign ministers, meeting yesterday with EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, failed to agree on EU mediation to overcome a border row that threatens to delay Croatia’s plans to conclude EU accession talks by the end of 2009.

The dispute is over the small bay of Piran in the Adriatic Sea at the border between the two countries, and concerns access to international waters, very important to Slovenia whose coastline is only 46km long, compared with Croatia’s huge 1,700km one. Croatia claims that the border should be drawn down the middle of the bay of Piran, but Slovenia fears that this would prevent the direct passage of its ships to the open sea. Four small villages in the northern Istrian peninsula are also disputed.

The debate dates back to the 1991 break-up of Yugoslavia, before when borders were not relevant. Since then, there have been incidents between fishing boats.

Slovenia has blocked an important part of the accession negotiations and time is running out for Croatia, if it wishes to conclude them by the end of 2009.

The two countries do not agree on how to solve the problem. Croatia regards the border dispute as a legal and not a political issue, which should be referred to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Slovenia prefers EU mediation led, for example, by Martti Ahtisaari.

This news prompts four observations:

· First, it is a reminder of the many Balkans quarrels in ‘old Europe’ which sometimes threatened the stability of the region.

· Second, it once again proves how right the then UK foreign minister, Lord Carrington, was when he stated that Croatia and Slovenia should not be recognized in 199i. He argued that we should wait to recognize the independence of all the ex-Yugoslav territories at the same time.

· Third, the dispute is a sad commentary on intra-European relationships.

· Fourth, the blocking of accession is yet another destructive application of the veto.

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