Ljubljana related

05 Sep 2019, 09:27 AM

STA, 4 September 2019 - President Borut Pahor has addressed a renewed appeal to Croatia to accept the final ruling of the arbitration tribunal on the Slovenian-Croatian border, indicating that this would affect the Slovenian government's decision on its membership of the Schengen zone.

Croatia must foremost meet all technical criteria to join the Schengen zone, but the Slovenian government will "sooner or later have to accept a decision on that after the European Commission has assessed that Croatia is close to meeting all the conditions," he told the press after a meeting with the Croatian and Austrian presidents in Croatia on Wednesday.

He said that dialogue would be necessary at that point, but Slovenia's decision would be made easier if Croatia fulfilled its obligations with regard to the border. "This is perhaps an invitation to our Croatian friends to think about that in the coming months," Pahor said.

Asked to comment on the statement, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said she was confident about the support of all member states when it came to Schengen zone membership, since this was in the interest of everyone. She reiterated Croatia's position that Slovenia and Croatia are friendly countries capable of overcoming open issues.

President Pahor was also quizzed about why Slovenia is erecting additional fencing on the border with Croatia. While he said it was his "great and sincere wish that ... the Slovenian government can remove the technical obstacles from the Slovenian-Croatian border," he noted that in the absence of a European policy, each country was resorting to tackling illegal migrations independently.

The statements came after the traditional annual meeting of the Austrian, Croatian and Slovenian presidents, which focused on the future of the EU and enlargement of the bloc, Croatia's EU presidency in 2020, the Three Seas Initiative and climate change.

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen expressed the belief that in October the EU will okay the start of membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia. As for Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, he said they were having more problems.

All our stories on the border dispute are here

30 Jul 2019, 10:29 AM

STA, 30 July 2019 - Commenting on reports about Croatia being ready to enter the Schengen area in the autumn, the newspaper Delo says in Tuesday's front-page commentary that the government will thus be faced with a challenge of whether to support Croatia or use this step as leverage to ensure the implementation of the arbitration ruling.

"Prime Minister [Marjan] Šarec faces the first serious foreign affairs dilemma, which is strongly linked to interior policy, in particular to the opposition Democrats' criticism that this government is not able to protect the border properly.

"He will also face the public opinion, which will probably not welcome any yielding to Croatia."

The paper says that in terms of security and border control Slovenia would benefit from Croatia becoming a Schengen country; however, it would also lose its advantage in the two countries' border arbitration dispute.

Given Slovenia's status in Brussels, it is not likely that the country's efforts to let the new EU Commission decide on the issue would be successful, concludes the commentary headlined Šarec's Dilemma of Security and Politics.

13 Jul 2019, 11:39 AM

STA, 8 July 2019 - Slovenia reiterated its stance that by not implementing the 2017 border arbitration award, Croatia is violating EU law, as it presented its view in an oral hearing of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) about the admissibility of Slovenia's lawsuit against Croatia.

The court convened on Monday to deliberate on Croatia's December 2018 arguments that border arbitration between Slovenia and Croatia does not fall under the ECJ's jurisdiction, because borders are a matter of international rather than EU law.

The EJC advocate general will present his legal opinion on the case on 6 November.

Presenting Croatia's stance to ECJ judges, lawyer Jemima Stratford said the case did not fall under the court's jurisdiction and the court should not interfere in bilateral disputes.

Bilateral territorial disputes are outside the EU court's jurisdiction, even if they have a bearing on the implementation of EU law, she said.

She added that the only possible legal basis for the legal action would be Article 273 of the Lisbon Treaty.

The article enables EU members to bring a dispute before the ECJ in a consensual manner. It relates to disputes which are not strictly EU law, but are relevant for member states and the EU.

Stratford explained that Croatia did not recognise the border arbitration award because it had withdrawn from the arbitration process before it was declared.

Although Slovenia claims the arbitration award is a fact, it is also a fact that the award is not being implemented on the ground, she added.

Croatia therefore believes Slovenia is creating a fictitious dispute, she said, adding Croatia and Slovenia were acting in line with their respective legal understanding of their borders.

The apple of contention is therefore the course of the border, not the interpretation of EU law, Croatia's representative said.

Presenting Slovenia's stance, agent Maja Menard said the lawsuit was not about the border, because the border had been set in the 2017 award, which was final and self-implementable, and the two countries were obliged to respect it.

Menard also reiterated that by not recognising the arbitration award, Croatia was violating EU rules and policies.

In the lawsuit, which is based on Article 259 of the Lisbon Treaty, Slovenia proposes the ECJ establish that Croatia violated Articles 2 and 4, which stress the importance of the rule of law and sincere cooperation between member states.

Slovenia also claims Croatia is violating the common fisheries policy, Schengen rules about the free movement of people and a directive on maritime spatial planning.

Menard stressed that a decision of international law was in the ECJ's jurisdiction if the decision was necessary to interpret EU law, to which it referred.

Following the presentation of both countries' positions, judges asked several questions, many about a note concerning the border arbitration in Croatia's EU accession agreement.

The note in annex 3, chapter 5, refers to fisheries, saying the fisheries regimes will start applying when the arbitration award reached on the basis of the arbitration agreement signed by Slovenia and Croatia on 4 November 2009 is fully implemented.

Judge rapporteur Christopher Vajda thus asked Croatia about it in relation to the country's argument that the ECJ had no jurisdiction in the case.

Stratford said the note merely set the time frame of the implementation of the fisheries regime.

But Slovenia's lawyer Jean-Marc Thouvenin explained the note introduced the arbitration agreement and what stemmed from it into EU law, which made it part of EU law.

Italian judge Lucia Serena Rossi said this was really just a note, but a very important one. As such it is part of primary EU law and thus falls under the ECJ's jurisdiction.

Once the two-and-a-half-hour oral hearing was over, Advocate General Priit Pikamäe announced he would present his submissions - his independent legal opinion - on 6 November.

If the lawsuit is admitted, the court will start to deliberate on its content.

Speaking to the press after the hearing, Marko Vrevc from Slovenian Foreign Ministry said he would be surprised if the court decided not to admit the lawsuit.

Menard said the hearing had gone according to plans and the debate had been intense as expected. She has a positive feeling about it since Slovenia had an opportunity to answer the judges' questions in detail.

The agent expects the court's decision on the admissibility at the start of 2020.

She was also not surprised Croatia had referred to Article 273 during the hearing, noting this implied "a quasi arbitration process which requires both sides' consent, but we insist the border dispute is settled, so we need no consensus on another attempt to solve it".

12 Jun 2019, 16:10 PM

STA, 12 June - The EU Court of Justice has scheduled an oral hearing for 8 July in a case that Slovenia has brought against Croatia due to its failure to implement the award of the border arbitration tribunal, according to the schedule released by the court on Wednesday.

Slovenia has accused Croatia of breaching several provisions of EU treaties and regulations with its refusal to implement the final award of an arbitration tribunal the two countries appointed to resolve their long-standing border dispute.

In general, Slovenia asserts Croatia is failing to respect the rule of law, which is a fundamental value of the EU, and unilaterally refuses to fulfil its obligations under the arbitration award, which is in breach of its duty of sincere cooperation as enshrined in the EU Treaty.

Slovenia has also made more specific charges relating to breach of common fisheries policy, violation of the rules governing the free movement of persons, and violations preventing Slovenia from conducting maritime spatial planning.

The arguments will be heard by the court's Grand Chamber, which comprises 15 judges and is called up either at the request of a party or to deliberate on matters that are highly important or complex.

In this part of the procedure, the court will first determine whether the application is admissible; Slovenia claims Croatia's violations directly infringe on EU law, while Croatia has told the court this is a matter of international rather than EU law.

The Foreign Ministry told the STA the Slovenian side would "reiterate its position that the final award of the arbitration tribunal on the border is valid and binding".

"By rejecting the border as determined with the [arbitration] award, Croatia is preventing Slovenia from exercising EU law in certain parts of Slovenian territory. This is why Slovenia is suing Croatia at the EU Court," the ministry said.

Moreover, Foreign Minister Miro Cerar, told Radio Slovenia today that Slovenia was well prepared for the 8 July hearing.

He stressed that the arbitration award would remain binding no matter what the Luxembourg court decides and would have to be implemented.

Having the EU Court of Justice confirm this will be yet another argument for the implementation of award, Cerar told reporters in Trieste on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting of the Central European Initiative (CEI).

"I hope that Croatia will start with the implementation before the end of the proceeding in Luxembourg," he said.

Croatia insists that the court is not competent to rule in the case. "Our position has been clear from the start: we don't see how the court is competent in this dispute," Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković told reporters at an European People's Party (EPP) meeting in Spain.

He also reiterated Croatia's long-held position that all disputes should be resolved bilaterally. The outstanding bilateral issues are "issues left over from the break-up of Yugoslavia. These are issues that can be resolved in agreement," he said.

If the court rules that Slovenia's application is admissible, it will delve into the substance of its claims. It may also decide to merge the admissibility decision with the substantive ruling.

The court's rules of procedure provide for several steps that both sides may follow and while it is difficult to forecast how long the procedure may take, it is unlikely to be completed this year.

All our stories on this border dispute can be found here

10 Apr 2019, 12:33 PM

STA, 9 April 2019 - Slovenia and Croatia have been locked in the border dispute ever since they declared independence almost 28 years ago. The countries have seen several intelligence scandals since, the last one prompting PM Marjan Šarec to call a session of the National Security Council. Below is a timeline of the developments.

25 June 1991 - Slovenia adopts the Basic Constitutional Charter on Independence, which states that the borders of the republics in the former Yugoslavia are the internationally-recognised borders of the new state. Croatia makes a similar declaration.

11 January 1992 - The Arbitration Commission of the Conference on Yugoslavia (the Badinter Commission) adopts the position that the borders of the former Yugoslav republics are the borders of the newly-emerged countries in the region.

28 April 1997 - Slovenia and Croatia sign the Agreement on Border Transport and Cooperation (SOPS) in a bid to facilitate the movement of people living in border areas (all municipalities within the 10-km belt of the border on both sides). The Croatian parliament ratifies the treaty the same year, Slovenia follows suit in June 2001. Even though the agreement also imposes the fishing regime in the Bay of Piran, incidents involving fishermen would be rife in the years to come.

January 1998 - Two operatives of the Slovenian Intelligence and Security Service (OVS) stray into Croatia in a spy van near the town of Zavrč. Their van is confiscated by the Croatian authorities, including the equipment with intelligence. Croatia does not return the van to Slovenia until 2001.

20 July 2001 - The Slovenian and Croatian governments endorse and initial a draft agreement on the border hammered out by the prime ministers, Janez Drnovšek and Ivica Račan. This is the first time that the two countries determine the border at sea. The agreement gives Slovenia 80% of the Bay of Piran and a corridor with access to international waters; Croatia retains contact with Italian territorial waters. The Slovenian parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee confirms the treaty, but the Croatian parliament is staunchly against.

4 September 2002 - Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Račan sends a letter to Slovenia in which Croatia announces it is withdrawing from the Drnovšek-Račan agreement.

3 October 2004 - Croatia implements a protective ecological and fisheries zone in the Adriatic Sea a year after declaring it despite protests from Slovenia and Italy.

10 June 2005 - The governments of Slovenia and Croatia sign the Brijuni Declaration at their first joint meeting, pledging to avoid incidents on the border and to respect the state on the ground as on 25 June 1991.

4 October 2005 - The Slovenian National Assembly passes a law declaring a Slovenian ecological zone and epicontinental belt in the Adriatic which includes a provision that says the demarcation still needs to be agreed at bilateral level.

5 January 2006 - Slovenia declares the whole of the Bay of Piran as its fishing area.

31 August 2006 - In one of the gravest escalations, Slovenia deploys members of a special police force to the area near the Slovenian border village of Hotiza on the north bank of the Mura river in the north-east of the country after Croatia has begun building an embankment and a road towards the Slovenian settlement Brezovec-part or Mirišče without having obtained consent from Slovenia.

June 2007 - Former Slovenian Prime Minister Tone Rop tells a reporter off the record that, prior to the 2004 election, the Slovenian intelligence agency SOVA had intercepted the then opposition leader Janez Janša and Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader as they were plotting border incidents in the Bay of Piran. Due to the revelations, Rop is later fined by court for disclosure of secret data but later acquitted by a higher court.

26 August 2007 - The Slovenian and Croatian prime ministers, Janez Janša and Ivo Sanader, reach an informal agreement in principle at their meeting in Slovenia's Bled to put the border issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

4 November 2009 - Prime Minister Borut Pahor and his Croatian counterpart Jadranka Kosor sign an arbitration agreement in Stockholm, Sweden, under the auspices of the Swedish EU presidency. The treaty sets forth that an arbitration tribunal shall determine the land and sea border, Slovenia's junction with high seas and a regime for the use of maritime zones.

22 July 2015 - The Croatian newspaper Večernji List publishes a recording of phone conversations between Slovenian member of the arbitration tribunal Jernej Sekolec and Slovenian agent in the case Simona Drenik discussing details of the tribunal's confidential deliberations. The scandal prompts the pair to step down and Croatia withdraws from the arbitration process although the tribunal later decides it will resume its work.

29 June 2017 - The arbitration tribunal declares its final decision on the border, awarding Slovenia the bulk of the Bay of Piran, as well as a belt extending 2.5 nautical miles in width that represents Slovenia's junction with the open seas. The border on land largely follows the demarcation of cadastral municipalities.

3 April 2019 - The news web site 24ur.com reports that arbiter Sekolec and agent Drenik were tapped by the Croatian Intelligence Service (SOA) through its operative Davor Franić. The commercial broadcaster POP TV later reveals that the Croatian government had attempted to prevent the publication of the revelations by means of a go-between. Slovenian PM Marjan Šarec responds on 9 April by calling a session of the national Security Council and the Foreign Ministry summons the Croatian ambassador to Slovenia and the Slovenian ambassador to Croatia for talks in Ljubljana.

09 Apr 2019, 11:24 AM

STA, 8 April 2019 - POP TV reported on Monday that the Croatian government had used an intermediary to try to prevent the commercial broadcaster's news portal from revealing that the Croatian intelligence agency SOA was behind the tapping of the phone calls between Slovenia's judge and agent in the border arbitration.

It was 24ur.com which reported last week that the communication between Jernej Sekolec and agent Simona Drenik, who were not allowed to communicate with each other, was reportedly picked up in July 2015 by SOA operative Davor Franić.

The recorded conversations were leaked the same month only to have Croatia declare the border arbitration process "irrevocably compromised".

POP TV journalist Jure Tepina said today that a day before the portal planned to publish the name and a photograph of the Croatian operative, a phone call came from a person asking the portal not to run the story.

"The lobbyist who contacted us was not even aware of the consequences, and he did not know who had actually ordered the attempt to put pressure on an independent Slovenian media house," Tepina said.

"The intention to run the story was known only to two POP TV journalists. Croatia could have learned about this only with special intelligence methods," he added, suggesting that Croatia is spying on journalists.

Tepina said that it was not the only attempt from Croatia to prevent the name of the Croatian operative and the conspiracy by the SOA from being revealed to the Slovenian and foreign public.

"A member of the management board of one of the most influential Croatian media houses and a good friend of numerous Croatian politicians tried to prevent or even bribe a director of a foreign multinational to put pressure on POP TV."

POP TV revealed in its evening news show later in the day that the high-ranking media official was Ivan Tolj, a 51-year-old Franciscan priest "with great influence on the Croatian media".

Citing Croatian media reports, Tepina said in an article posted on 24ur.com that Tolj headed a small parish in Bosnia but spent most of his days in Zagreb, working as a representative of Styria, the Austrian-owned publisher of Večernji List, the paper that first ran the Sekolec-Drenik wire taps in 2015.

Tolj also seems to be close to the Croatian political elite. He has hosted President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović in his home town in Bosnia a number of times, according to Tepina. He was a friend of former Prime Minister Ivica Račan and an ally of former President Ivo Josipović.

24ur.com has published an audio recording of the conversation, in which Tolj says he "has a proposal from the Croatian government" and asks for help. He asks the person on the other side of the line whether he had "influence on POP TV".

Croatia officially denies the report about its intelligence agency being behind the wiretapping and claims that the story is a fabrication.

If this is so, the question is "why the Croatian side would bother so much to influence a foreign media house and prevent the release of a story, for which it claims, without any proof, that it is a fabrication", Tepina wonders.

Croatia has been rejecting any responsibility for the recordings of the conversations between Sekolec and Drenik, which were first published by the Croatian media.

03 Apr 2019, 18:48 PM

STA, 3 April 2019 - The recordings of phone calls between Slovenia's arbitrator and agent in the border arbitration, which were leaked to the public only to have Croatia declare the process irrevocably tainted, were made by the Croatian Intelligence Agency (SOA), news portal 24ur.com reported on Wednesday.

The communication between Jernej Sekolec and agent Simona Drenik, who were not allowed to communicate with each other, was reportedly picked up in July 2015 by SOA operative Davor Franić.

According to 24ur.com, which quotes Bosnian media and own sources at SOA, Franić has triggered a number of scandals under the instruction of top Croatian politicians.

After the recordings of the conversations between Sekolec and Drenik were leaked in the summer of 2015, both of them resigned.

Even though the tribunal decided the breach was not so grave as to abort the process, Croatia declared the process irrevocably compromised and declared it would not accept the arbitration award.

So far it had been speculated that German or US intelligence services were behind the wire-tapping.

The Slovenian Foreign Ministry would not comment on the news today, saying only that it had closely cooperated with the relevant Slovenian bodies after the recordings were made public.

The police told 24ur.com that they could not reveal any details from on-going investigations.

According to the web portal, Franić was a low-profile agent until only a few months ago. Allegedly he had been involved in several failed operations, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But after the arbitration operation, he was propelled to the very top of the SOA, where he is now the chief of staff in the office of the SOA head, Daniel Markić.

A few days ago, his name came up in a case involving recruiting of fighters and smuggling weapons from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina, with which Croatia allegedly attempted to show its neighbouring country as a playground for terrorist.

Franić was allegedly using Bosnian hauliers who have a residence permit in Slovenia as weapons mules. The hauliers reportedly turned to the Bosnian Embassy in Ljubljana for help.

All our stories about the Croatian border can be found here

28 Mar 2019, 10:00 AM

STA, 27 March 2019 - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar announced on Wednesday that Slovenia would issue a diplomatic note to Croatia over a grave border violation by a Croatian police boat in the Bay of Piran last Sunday.

Cerar said the boat crossing 2.5 km into Slovenian waters and even 1.3 km across the bay's midline was a special kind of provocation.

He spoke of an unnecessary escalation between the two countries, of a failure to honour international and EU law and of a violation of the Schengen border - by a country that would like to become a member of the Schengen area.

The newspaper Delo has reported that the Croatian police blamed their excursion on problems with navigation equipment.

"This is obviously just an excuse and as such completely unacceptable", Cerar commented, saying accepting this would be an "affront to the intelligence and abilities of the Croatian police authorities, which know exactly what they are doing".

The latest incident is part of a long history of run-ins in the bay featuring police and fishing boats on both sides of the border.

Since June 2017 the bay has also become the central theatre of the two sides' take on the international border arbitration decision, which Croatia is refusing to implement. The arbitration award gives 80% of the bay to Slovenia.

Cerar added today that Sunday's incident proved the implementation of the arbitration award was urgent, not only from the legal and political standpoints and bilateral relations but also because of "the entire European story".

"Such behaviour is not European and also serves as a poor example to the Western Balkans," Cerar said, adding the EU was constantly repeating that membership candidates needed to respect international law.

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