On the 29th of December, the final deadline for implementation of arbitration declared by Permanent Court of Arbitration in Haag between Slovenia and Croatia will come to an end. The six-months time period for implementation, or to be precise, for reaching an agreement where is the border between these two counties, will end and no one really knows what will happen after that date. The countries keep repeating themselves; Slovenia on one hand insists that international law must be obeyed, and on the other hand Croatia persist that they withdrawal from the arbitrary agreement because they think that the procedure was compromised when Slovenian part leaked informations in a telephone conversation. Although both countries are members of the European Union, the Union is convinced that these is none of their business and that the countries must find mutual agreement on their own.
I’m telling you these because European Union is making a huge mistake that can effect all countries under their domain and even the countries that are still trying to enter the Union. In long term it may even jeopardise the existence of the European Union as we know it today. The relations between Slovenia and Croatia -countries between Alps and Adriatic Sea- have a huge significance for the stability of the whole Western Balkan region, which primarily consists of countries that were once part of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Since the downfall of Yugoslavia and the Balkan wars, the question of borders is one of the most important and most destructive questions in the whole region. Through history, the Balkan region was known for its instability. Let me just remind you on the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo that started the First World War and on the Srebrenica massacre and genocide in 1995. If the European Union will turn their eyes away from the current arbitration case, there’s a remote possibility that the old “barrel of gunpowder” will blow up once more.
“According to what we are watching, I think that the relations are at one of the lowest points in history. Political leaders of Slovenia don’t speak to political leaders of Croatia. /…/ We are still waiting on the meeting between the Prime minister of Slovenia Miro Cerar and the Prime minister of Croatia Andrej Plenković. /…/ The Slovenian government is preparing all that is necessary so it can appeal on the European Court,” said Nataša Mulec, journalist at Radio Slovenia, specialised in politics. It is clear that Slovenia and Croatia are trying to determine where the border lies for more than 25 years. And it is also clear that the dispute won’t end in December because both governments are stubborn and the trust between them is nowhere to be found. Almost every day the Slovenian media report that Croatian police boats are patrolling in the middle of the Piran Bay even though the arbitration declared that the 63 percent of it belong to Slovenia, which can also use the connection to the international waters. Therefore Slovenia blocked Croatia, when Croatia wanted to enter in the Organisation for Economic Co-operatio and Development (OECD) in September 2017. This political move is quite similar to the move that Slovenia pulled in the first decade of the 21st century when Slovenia blocked the Croatia when the country wanted to start the accession negotiations with the European Union. At the end, Slovenia unblocked Croatia, when Croatia agreed to enter in the arbitration process.
“Slovenian political escalation is also possible if Slovenia interprets that Croatia is making a precedent for other countries in the Western Balkans and that Croatia’s behaviour will strain solving the border questions for other countries which are also included in enlargement politics of the EU. /…/ These could be an exemplary case of solving border questions. For some time, it was an exemplary case for the Western Balkan countries, but because Croatia didn’t implement the arbitration with Slovenia, they decided to freeze their own implementations with other countries. For instance that happened in the case of Montenegro and Kosovo,” said Ana Bojinović Fenko, Professor of the International Relations at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Ljubljana.
As I sad before, the political environment in both countries is relatively strange and uncertain. The European Union and the European Commission expect from countries to make a deal, but to be honest the governments of both countries have other problems as they are standing on a very thin ice. “At this moment, the Croatian government don’t pay much attention to arbitration because they have Agrokor and 8 billion of debt, and Slovenian government will face elections in the next year,” pointed out Nataša Mulec. “/…/ Croatian government is pretty much standing on a draft because of the current economy questions that could rock the whole national economy. It’s a question for how long will these government stand,” added Danijel Crnčec, Teaching Assistant at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Ljubljana. It’s almost certain that the arbitration will become a problem of one of the next governments. For now, the implementation will probably stay the matter of time and political will.
The current situation is really bad for the stability of the whole region. And as already mentioned, instability can jeopardise the existence of a system as we know it today. For instance, we can just observe, what instability brought to Catalonia and Spain, and what happened to the United Kingdom and their believe in the united european story. “I doubt that the European Union will fall apart in such short notice, after all we are talking about the connection and integration of European countries since the second world war. Despite the strengthening of some political currents that are not pro-European, that defend nationalism and economical protectionism, which are not in accordance with what European Union presents. The Union will have to face that question and find another way forward,” concluded Danijel Crnčec.
We need to realise that the Slovenian-Croatian problem is not an isolated problem. Yes, it is really bad and embarrassing not just for the two countries but for the whole European Union. Two neighbours, once part of the same country aren’t capable of finding a logical solution, but we mustn’t forget, that they are still part of the European family and a family should take care of one another. All parties involved will have to realise that their stubborn behaviour is destructive not just for them but for the whole region. The situation is actually quite sad because the two countries and their citizens are so similar to each other, yet their politics couldn’t be further apart.