The Slovenia Times

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back



pollution and, on 1st January, 2008, the country began asserting its jurisdiction over fishing in these waters - despite several EU warnings that doing so would harm its ambitions to join the 27-nation bloc.

The measure mostly affected neighbouring Italy and Slovenia, since it limited the fishing of those two countries and, understandably, their governments condemned the move. The European Union also made it clear that Croatia's membership negotiations would grind to a halt unless it retracted its claim over the zone. The former Yugoslav republic launched its EU membership negotiations in 2005 and has so far opened 16 and closed 2 chapters of its 35-chapter EU negotiation package.

The carrot and the stickIn mid March, Croatia suspended the EFPZ in order to salvage its efforts to join the EU by 2010. "Both issues are important for Croatia; they are both in our national interest," Croatia's prime minister, Ivo Sanader, said. "But eventual accession to the EU is absolutely in the national interest," he added. Apparently the local lawmakers gave his words careful consideration and they voted 77-9 to accept the PM's request to suspend the full implementation of the fishing zone in order to save their EU membership. The vote was seen as a very positive step by the European Commission and its president, Jose Manuel Barroso, signalled that Croatia should be able to conclude its EU membership talks next year and join the bloc by 2010.

The decision of the Croatian National Assembly was also welcomed by the Slovenian PM Janez Janša, who stressed that Croatia had taken an important step on its path towards the European Union. Meanwhile, the government rejected media reports suggesting it may sue Croatia over the implementation of the EFPZ after it was estimated that the zone had cost its fishing industry around EUR 100,000. "Slovenia has no intention of suing Croatia for losses incurred by Slovenian fishermen during the period in which the EFPZ was active," a spokesperson for the Agricultural Ministry said.

Selling off our land

Even before the troubled waters of the EFPZ had begun to calm another front had been opened between the bickering neighbours. This time it was the sale of land south of the Dragonja River by Croatian authorities that sparked another heated debate. The property in question is in a 'disputed area' although it is owned by the Slovenian Farmland and Forestry Fund. According to the current tenant, Joško Joras, Croatia has simply annexed Slovenian territory on the left bank of Dragonja despite his warnings to the Slovenian government that it was about to do so.The Slovenian government did react however; PM Janez Janša sent a strongly worded protest to his Croatian counterpart. "I also informed Mr Sanader that were such interference to continue, the Bled Agreement of August 2007 would be in jeopardy. The answer I was given was that the actions were not those of the Croatian government; they had in fact been performed by the Municipality of Buje," said the Slovenian Prime Minister. "This is Slovenian land. The disposal of parcels of land by unauthorised parties is, legally speaking, null and void," said Janša, who added that the owner had a right to protect his property should there be any attempt to change its status by force.

Bordering on the absurd

Nevertheless, it seems that Croatia paid little heed to Slovenia's warnings. When Sonja Lukin from the Farmland and Forestry Fund was sent to inspect the fund's land, she was refused access by the Croatian border police and banned from entering Croatia for at least two days. "This is Slovenian national territory. Her (Ms Lukin) treatment at the hands of the Croatian law enforcement authorities is unacceptable," Slovenia's state secretary, Matjaž Šinkovec, told the Croatian ambassador to Slovenia, Mario Nobilo. According to Šinkovec, Croatia has again violated the Brijuni Declaration on the avoidance of incidents and the principle of neighbourly relations that every country wishing to join the EU must observe. A day after this incident, the Croatian border police also prevented Slovenian journalists from entering the country.

At the end of March, PM Janša invited the leaders of the major parliamentary parties to a meeting where he briefed them on the current state of our relationship with Croatia. At the end of the fourth such meeting in the last 12 months, the prime minister declared that Slovenian politicians may not be any more united on issues concerning Croatia, but they are certainly more informed. He also commented that current events had not forced the meeting, rather it was just another in a series of briefings designed to keep all parties abreast of issues concerning our bilateral relationship.


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