New Members of Arbitration Tribunal Named


The appointments were made after both countries in the process were left without their respective arbitrators on the five-member arbitration tribunal in the wake of a spying scandal in the summer.

The Slovenian and Croatian arbitrators resigned in the space of several days in late July after a Croatian media outlet published purported recordings of the Slovenian arbitrator Jernej Sekolec holding conversations with one of the country's agents.

Sekolec was the first to step down, along with the agent, Simona Drenik, and Slovenia initially nominated head of the International Court of Justice Ronny Abraham as its arbiter, only to see him resign soon after Croatia continued to pursue withdrawal from arbitration.

Arguing that the process was tainted, Croatia notified the tribunal it wanted to pull out and its arbitrator, Budislav Vukas, resigned.

Slovenia maintains that there are no grounds for halting arbitration and the agreement regulating the process envisages that the tribunal president appoints replacement arbitrators when the countries fail to do so within 15 days.

Slovenian officials welcomed the news of the appointments on Friday, expressing hope that the tribunal would continue with its work and come up with a ruling.

Prime Minister Miro Cerar said in a statement that Slovenia was fully supportive of the autonomy and impartiality of the tribunal.

The country had decided on 13 August not not to put forward its nominee, instead allowing the tribunal to appoint a replacement in an effort to strengthen the appearance of impartiality in the wake of the scandal.

President Borut Pahor, who signed the arbitration agreement in 2009 as prime minister, was also satisfied with the news, with his office assessing that the development strengthened the expectation that the border between the countries would be determined in line with the agreement.

Parliamentary Speaker Milan Brglez said he was happy that the tribunal was reconstituted and would be able to continue its work. He said the appointments had a symbolic significance, with the new arbitrators coming from countries that were neutral diplomatically and politically.

Brglez would not comment on the Croatian refusal to issue an official response on the appointments.

With the appointments complete, the tribunal said it would "consider the parties' positions carefully", including Croatia's move to withdraw from the arbitration agreement.

It will be ready to accept new submissions on this issue as it got back to work.

The Slovenian Foreign Ministry said in response to the development that the tribunal "would now be able to continue with its work in line with its authority".

Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec said he expected the arbitration procedure would continue, but warned that an outcome would likely be delayed. The court had said in June that it expected to deliver a ruling in December.

Also expressing hope that the procedure will continue now is the chair of the parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee Jožef Horvat, who said that he expected the court "not to fall victim to pressure and live up to its commitments in line with the arbitration agreement".

The ruling coalition parties in Slovenia joined the chorus of satisfaction with the appointments. Their representatives said they expected the arbitration process to run to a conclusion with the determination of the border.

Most of the opposition parties assessed the development as the only logical step following the scandal. The Democratic Party (SDS), which stepped up criticism of Erjavec in the aftermath of the scandal, did not respond to the STA's queries.

Fife will take over from Abraham and Michel will replace Vukas on the tribunal, the statement released by the court said.

The 53-year-old Fife last year took over as Norway's ambassador to France and has an extensive career in international law. He has represented Norway before international courts and tribunals, and is a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Michel is an international law professor, who has most recently worked as a full-tenured professor at the University of Geneva. He has previously worked as legal adviser at the Swiss Foreign Ministry and was the highest-ranking legal officer of the UN from 2004 to 2008, according to the tribunal's press release.