Europe’s Smallest Border Dispute Could Jeopardize Croatia’s Upcoming EU Bid     Print
Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Europe’s smallest border dispute didn’t derail Croatia’s NATO membership last month, but it could jeopardize its EU bid, coming up on April 24th.

An 8-mile stretch of Adriatic coastline (20 Square Miles) is the cause of a territorial dispute between Croatia and Slovenia, which belongs to both the EU and NATO and could use its veto block planes for Croatia to join the EU. Austria, the biggest supporter of Slovenia, is a member of the EU but not NATO, and could prove to be the final hurdle of Croatia’s long-drawn bid for European integration via EU membership.

The dispute is hard to comprehend without the advantage of being able to consult the map below. For Slovenia, the dividing line in the Piran Bay is vital for Slovenian access to international waters. In both views, Slovenia has no legal access to international waters because Croatia claims an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that would make it impossible for deep sea vessels to reach the open sea from Slovenia’s short Adriatic coast. Croatians claim that the Dragonja River has always been the traditional border between the two countries and should remain that way.

Slovenia Croatia border

This dispute, which has dragged on since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, could now cause the postponement of Croatia’s EU membership. “Slovenia is misusing its position as a member of the EU and thinks it can blackmail us,” Tomislav Jakic, foreign policy adviser to Stipe Mesic, the Croatian president, said in an interview in the New York Times. “But our bottom line is that we are not ready to pay for our accession to the EU with our territory.”

After Croatia failed to meet the March 30 deadline, Olli Rehn, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, postponed the April 1 meeting with Slovenia and Croatia and held an emergency gathering of the French, Czechs, and Swedes (past, present, and future holders of the EU presidency). They expressed support of Rehn’s decisions and reaffirmed their interest in Croatia’s EU accession talks which are expected to resume during the upcoming Intergovernmental Conference with Croatia scheduled for April 24.