Border Mediation with Slovenia Could Help Croatia Join European Union

Article excerpt

Slovenia and Croatia have agreed to independent mediation over their disputed border. Analysts say the agreement should remove a major obstacle in Croatia's quest to join the European Union.

A tiny spat over a sliver of sea that has been a major irritant between Slovenia and Croatia since the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 now looks set to be arbitrated by international jurists, unblocking Croatia's stalled bid to join the European Union.

Slovenes, who already belong to the EU, voted Sunday to allow mediators to determine the status of four disputed villages and a 25- mile maritime border and that has fueled a poisonous cloud over the upper Balkans.

The border dispute caused Slovenia to block Croatia's EU bid in 2008, angering Zagreb, whose economy and political future seemed permanently on hold. The block also irritated other EU members over what some said was Slovene intransigence.

EU leaders applauded Sunday's outcome in Slovenia as furthering European values of comity and cooperation. It is "an important step forward" for Slovenia and Croatia and "an important signal for the region," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement Sunday.

The Slovene decision "concludes the procedure... in a European spirit, in a spirit of law and dialogue," French Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bernard Valero told the Monitor. "Croatia is on the threshold" of EU membership, said Mr. Valero. He added that other Balkan states, including Kosovo, remain candidates for accession.

Slovene approval of an independent mediation plan, worked out last fall by their president Borut Pahor and Croat leaders, was a slim 51.5 percent. The leftist Slovene government, already facing a sluggish economy, could face a backlash from opposition populists who warn that bisecting the tiny Bay of Piran will further restrict Slovenia's access to open water and give an advantage to their large southern neighbour, whose coast dominates the Adriatic Sea. …