Voters in Slovenia approve boundary arbitration with Croatia
(7 June 2010)
Voters in Slovenia have narrowly voted in favour of an agreement with Croatia which will send their intransigent land and maritime boundary dispute to international arbitration. The treaty had been ratified by both parliaments but had to be sent to a popular referendum in Slovenia for final approval. The agreement was approved by just 51.5% of voters with a turnout of around 42% of the 1.7 million eligible voters.
Since the initial dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991, Croatia and Slovenia have disputed several sections of their land boundary, mostly along the Dragonja river. The two governments have also failed to agree on a maritime boundary that would extend from the land boundary terminus, through Piran Bay and potentially further out into the Adriatic Sea. With only a short coastline and given the concave nature of the northeast corner of the Adriatic, Slovenia would only generate a small wedge of maritime space beyond Piran Bay if the maritime boundary were to be drawn using strict equidistance as advocated by Croatia. However, Slovenia believes that such a methodology would not achieve an equitable solution, and instead requests that it should be entitled to a corridor of maritime jurisdiction extending beyond a 12 nautical mile territorial sea in order to gain access to areas of less restricted navigation.
Currently the only member of the European Union (EU) from the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia has maintained a threat to veto Croatia’s application for membership into the EU until the dispute is resolved. This agreement now approved by both states stipulates that the land and maritime boundary dispute will be resolved by an ad hoc arbitral tribunal whose decision will be binding on both states. The judges to sit on the tribunal have not yet been named. Once arbitration proceedings are in motion, Slovenia will lift its threat to veto Croatia’s membership bid into the EU which is likely to be accepted.
Sources: ‘Slovenia backs Croatia border deal in referendum vote’ BBC News, 7 June 2010; ‘Poll results show 'yes' vote on Slovenia-Croatia border deal’ Deutsche Welle, 7 June 2010; ‘Slovenian vote important for Balkans region: Croatian PM’ Agence France Presse, 7 June 2010; ‘Former ICJ President Says Arbitration Agreement Good for Slovenia’ STA, 2 June 2010.