Border disputes in Europe

The Balkan politics of the EU on the test bench

The two member states of the European Union, Slovenia and Croatia, are having an unsolved border dispute. This concerns the Piran Bay. Both sides claim the property and the access to the sea for themselves. Initially, there should have been an agreement already in 2001. The former Minister Presidents of Slovenia and Croatia, Janez Drnovšek and Ivica Račan, agreed on a compromise. Slovenia should have access to the international sea and as a compensation some Slovenian territories should be given to Croatia. The Croatian population was not happy with this agreement and thus the compromise was not ratified by the Croatian side.

In 2012, eleven years later, Slovenia and Croatia agreed to give their case to the court of arbitration, which should finally clarify the border dispute. In 2017, the court of arbitration passed a sentence and awarded big parts of the Piran Bay to Slovenia. But again, the sentence was defeated by Croatia, who left the procedure before and thus is not ready to acknowledge the judgement. The long-lasting already created a number of problems. Slovenia for instance made use of its veto right and tried to block Croatia’s entry into the European Union. Only due to pressure from the EU, Slovenia accepted Croatia as fellow member state. A similar thing could happen now again. As Croatia seems to be unwilling to accept the judgement of the court, Slovenia is considering to block Croatia’s entry to Schengen. In addition, Slovenia could sue Croatia at the European Court. Croatia in the contrary regards itself as victim and seems to damage itself with its very counterproductive behaviour. As the last state which entered the European Union, Croatia needs to still catch up with the other member states. In addition, it could not benefit in the way it hoped from its EU-membership. These are the relevant topics, which are critical for Croatia, but its politicians would prefer to act in a populist and symbolic way and block Croatia’s development in order to start real reforms and changes.

As both states, Croatia and Slovenia, are member states of the European Union, the EU should be able to act as mediator in the border conflict. However, the unsolved dispute und the stubbornness of the two states pose a problem for the EU. The dispute influences the whole European integration strategy at the Balkans. Brussels often seems to be powerless, as it is not able to dictate the foreign policy of its member states. Thus, the member states would try to blackmail other states, for instance through using their veto power on EU-level. The accession policy concerning the Balkans is hindered by certain vetoes. Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro are in a row due to territorial conflicts and take away their own chances to become EU member states. The concerned states need to have the political will to agreement and compromise on their own, otherwise Brussels cannot do much to support them.