Image: Slovenia and Croatia standoff over naval boundaries

Slovenia and Croatia standoff over naval boundaries

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Despite the strong admonition that countries should resolve border disputes before joining the European Union, Slovenia and Croatia failed to reach an agreement regarding the Bay of Piran before becoming a part of the EU. Tensions over the two countries’ boundaries have been on the rise, and on December 29th police boats from both countries had started to patrol the area escorting fishermen. Ramming incidents resulted. 

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The Bay of Piran is one of the most important access points to international waters for Slovenia. Photo: Wikimedia/Stephan Colebourne

The Bay of Piran, between Slovenia’s maritime borders with Croatia and Italy, is vital to its access to international waters in the Adriatic. Slovenia consequently levered its various border proposals through vetoing Croatia’s addition to the EU.

Slovenia retracted its veto in 2009 after both countries agreed to arbitration to settle the border dispute, and Croatia joined the EU in 2013. The dispute stabilized until Croatian involvement in the arbitration commission was withdrawn in 2015, after conversations between Slovenian commission members were leaked.

In spite of the withdrawal, the arbitration commission still issued a ruling in June 2017. The tribunal gave both Slovenian and Croatian powers 6 months to implement the border changes. The 6 months concluded on December 29, and relations between the two countries have soured in the interim. The Bay of Piran was made 80% Slovenian territory by the arbitration council.

The Slovenian government forced the issue by announcing it would fine Croatian fishermen who crossed the border, and, on January 4th, the Croatian government announced similar fines.

Jean-Claude Juncker places responsibility for Balkan Engagement on Slovenia and Croatia. Photo: BBC

The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, expressed that the Commission would never repeat the mistake of adding countries with undetermined border disputes. Juncker went so far as to say that “The future enlargement of the EU to Western Balkans states is in the hands of Slovenia and Croatia.” 

[Title Photo: Croat Police Boat. Photo: the Croatian Interior Ministry]

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