Ljubljana related

31 Jan 2020, 13:13 PM

STA, 31 January 2020 - The EU Court of Justice has decided that a lawsuit Slovenia has brought against Croatia over its refusal to implement the 2017 border arbitration award is inadmissible, but it said in a decision issued on Friday that both countries nevertheless had to endeavour to resolve this dispute in accordance with international law.

The decision is not surprising given that in December the court's Advocate General Priit Pikamäe proposed that the suit be ruled inadmissible. While his opinion was not binding on the court, it was seen as a strong indication of the court's course of action.

Slovenia had built its case around the argument that Croatia infringes several articles of EU law by refusing to implement the award of a border arbitration tribunal that both countries had pledged would be binding.

The advocate general however argued that "the infringements of EU law of which Slovenia accuses Croatia are ancillary to the issue of determining the boundary between those two states, which is a matter of public international law".

The court's Grand Chamber used exactly the same argument in its decision. It said the arbitration tribunal was founded on the basis of international law, whereby "neither the arbitration agreement nor the arbitration award formed an integral part of EU law".

While it is true that the Act of Accession of Croatia to the EU makes a reference to the arbitration award, which Slovenia has interpreted as a strong argument in favour of its position that the court should take on the dispute, the judges did not see that as making the arbitration award a part of EU law.

They said the reference to the arbitration agreement "could not be interpreted as incorporating into EU law the international commitments made by both member states within the framework of the arbitration agreement".

Despite the inadmissibility, the court indicated that both sides needed to respect the arbitration agreement. It said both countries were required by the EU Treaty to "strive sincerely to bring about a definitive legal solution to the dispute consistent with international law, in order to ensure the effective and unhindered application of EU law in the areas concerned".

In order to achieve this, they may use other means of settling their dispute, including a submission to the Court under a special agreement pursuant to Article 273 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, which gives the court jurisdiction in any dispute between member states "if the dispute is submitted to it under a special agreement between the parties"

Slovenia had brought the case under Article 259 of the EU Treaty.

Mojca Menard, Slovenia's agent in the case, described the decision as a "dangerous precedent" that is not in line with the court's case law and potentially paves the way for violations of EU law by member states by invoking "allegedly open international issues".

She said it raised the question of how the court may act in the event of violations of fisheries regulations or the Schengen Code by Slovenia of Croatia in the border area. "Which country will then be considered an infringer by the EU Commission," she wondered.

The court's decision is final and cannot be appealed. Menard said it "changes nothing" with regard to the arbitration award or for the border line that the arbitration award determines.

Slovenia sees EU Court ruling as vindication of its position

STA, 31 January 2020 - While the EU Court of Justice did not admit Slovenia's lawsuit against Croatia over its refusal to implement the award handed down by the border arbitration tribunal, Slovenia feels vindicated. Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said the ruling showed the court saw the border arbitration award as "valid and binding," which was an important goal.

The decision is "not a legal victory for Croatia," which will be "reminded every week that it must respect the arbitration award," he told the press on Friday after the court handed down its decision.

The court said the border between Slovenia and Croatia is determined with the arbitration award, "yet another proof that Slovenia has been right all along - that Croatia must implement the arbitration award as well," said Cerar.

"No antics by the Croatian side can change this fact, which is finally written down black on white in the [court's] statement," said Cerar, who was confident Croatia would gradually recognise it needs to behave more constructively and in line with the law.

"Slovenia must be patient. The law is on our side. The border has been determined and we have signed it into law. There is no reason for any excitement or rushing, but we have to persistently exert legal pressure."

Cerar, a jurist by profession, also expressed disappointment at the court not having had the courage to decide the matter on substance. "This is a defensive stance about the rule of law, the European legal order as well as international law," he said.

If the judges decided to delve into the substance of the matter, they would be bound to decide that Croatia is violating EU law, he said.

Marko Vrevc, a senior Foreign Ministry official who has worked on the border arbitration brief for years, sees the decision as a confirmation that "implementation of the law as interpreted and implemented by Slovenia is fine, and Slovenia will continue to pursue it."

He was particularly pleased with the court's appeal that the two countries should endeavour to bring about a legal solution to the dispute. "We're now counting on Croatia realising in a foreseeable time that this dialogue is needed on this basis."

The court today announced that it was not within its purview to hear the case, but it nevertheless urged both sides to "strive sincerely to bring about a definitive legal solution to the dispute consistent with international law".

Croatia, on the other hand, interprets the decision as a victory of its arguments. Prime Minister Andrej Plenković thus reiterated Croatia's long-held stance that the dispute should be resolved in bilateral talks and urged Slovenia to engage in "dialogue and bilateral negotiations".

24 Jan 2020, 15:13 PM

STA, 24 January 2020 - The EU's Court of Justice will announce on 31 January whether it will admit Slovenia's suit against Croatia over the latter's failure to implement the 2017 border arbitration award, according to a posting on the court's website.

In early December 2019, the court's Advocate General Priit Pikamäe proposed to the court to rule the case inadmissible, which came as a surprise to many in Slovenia.

However, while many agreed the opinion did not bode well for the fate of the procedure, the opinion does not prejudge the court's final decision on admissibility.

Slovenia, arguing Croatia infringes several articles of EU law, brought its case to the EU court in July 2018, after the European Commission refused to do do.

In his no-binding opinion, Pikamäe argued that "the infringements of EU law of which Slovenia accuses Croatia are ancillary to the issue of determining the boundary between those two states, which is a matter of public international law".

His understanding is that since the award has not been implemented, the border between Slovenia and Croatia has not been set, which is why Croatia could not be accused of violating relevant provisions of EU law.

The advocate general interpreted Slovenia's suit as an attempt to force Croatia to implement the border decision, which he argued does not fall under the EU's jurisdiction.

If the court agrees with Pikamäe's opinion, the procedure will stop there. If it admits the case fully or partly, the case will be further processed, followed by another opinion by the advocate general and the final ruling.

Slovenia and Croatia signed the arbitration agreement in November 2009, agreeing to task an international tribunal with settling the border after years of futile attempts to determine the course of the border in the aftermath of the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991.

06 Jan 2020, 16:52 PM

STA, 6 January 2020 - President Borut Pahor has congratulated Croatia's newly elected President Zoran Milanović over the phone. "I am happy that he reiterated in our conversation that he wanted to improve relations with Slovenia and that this will be one of his priorities," Pahor told the press on Monday.

"I replied that, in this sense, Slovenia has a friend, somebody completely devoted to dialogue, to finding solutions. But added that he must be aware of my position about the arbitration agreement and that these must be taken into account."

He expressed hope that the dialogue will lead to the implementation of the border arbitration decision through agreement of both countries and to benefit of them both.

Pahor said he would attend Milanović's inauguration in early February, to convey the message that Slovenia and Croatia are neighbouring countries and must also be friendly countries.

He believes that his presence at the inauguration will also be that relations between the two countries were mostly good, bar one, very complicated chapter.

However, a tribunal has decided on the issue and the decision will have to be upheld sooner or later, added Pahor.

Milanović was Croatia's prime minister at the time when Croatia withdrew from the border arbitration procedure, declaring it null and void after a wire tap showed inadmissible communication had taken place between Slovenia's arbitration agent and the tribunal member nominated by Slovenia.

The agent and the tribunal member resigned immediately and the tribunal decided that the breach was not such as to warrant a discontinuation of the arbitration process.

Nonetheless, Croatia withdrew and has been refusing to implement the border arbitration decision ever since it was presented in mid-2017.

Pahor, who signed in his capacity as prime minister in 2009 the arbitration agreement with Croatia that led to the arbitration procedure, said today that he would approach his relationship with President Milanović "with open arms and open doors".

Social Democrats (SD) president Dejan Židan also congratulated Milanović, who is a member of the Croatian Social Democrats (SDP).

Židan expressed confidence that the countries will be able to renew friendly relations "based on the rule of law, mutual respect and dedication to common European values".

11 Dec 2019, 15:00 PM

Jump to the Slovenian reaction

STA, 11 December 2019 – The ECJ Advocate General Priit Pikamäe has stated that the EU Court of Justice is not competent to rule Slovenia's case against Croatia over its failure to implement the border arbitration award, having assessed that the case is an international border dispute outside the scope of EU law and thus outside the court's jurisdiction.

"The infringements of EU law of which Slovenia accuses Croatia are ancillary to the issue of determining the boundary between those two states, which is a matter of public international law," the advocate general stated in his opinion, released by the court on Wednesday.

The opinion is not binding on the court. Available statistics show that the court's Grand Chamber, which is deliberating on Slovenia's case, agrees with the advocate general's opinion in about half of the cases.

In its case Slovenia argues that Croatia infringes several articles of EU law by refusing to implement the award as declared by the mutually appointed arbitration tribunal in June 2017.

Slovenia alleges Croatia's infringements of the principles of the rule of law and sincere cooperation, regulation on the Common Fisheries Policy, Schengen rules governing the movement of persons across borders and the directive establishing a framework for maritime spatial planning.

Slovenia has been insisting that its legal action against Croatia is not about the border dispute, which has been resolved through the arbitration award, which is final.

In his opinion, Pikamäe notes that the purpose of an action for failure to fulfil obligations under Article 259 of Treaty on the Functioning of the EU is to obtain a declaration that the conduct of a member state is in breach of EU law and to terminate that conduct.

The advocate general notes that the situations in which the EU is bound by international law are well-established; "it is bound by international conventions concluded by the EU pursuant to the provisions of the Treaties, by international conventions where the EU assumes powers previously exercised by the member states, and by rules of customary international law when the EU exercises its powers".

"International conventions that do not fall within those categories are not acts of the EU and do not bind it," the advocate general finds.

Relying on the court's case law, he points out that "the territorial scope of the Treaties is an objective fact predetermined by the member states which the EU has to accept".

Consequently, he is of the opinion that "delimitation of national territory does not fall within the sphere of competence of the EU or, therefore, of the Court of Justice".

As regards the relationship between, on the one hand, the arbitration agreement and the arbitration award and, on the other hand, EU law, the advocate general says that it does not fall within any of the situations in which the EU is bound by international law.

Concerning the alleged infringement of the value of the rule of law and of the principle of sincere cooperation, he finds that those "are merely ancillary to the issue of delimitation of the land and maritime boundaries between the two member states concerned and that, accordingly, the Court does not have jurisdiction to hear and determine those complaints".

Citing case law, the advocate says that the principle of sincere cooperation has constituted an independent basis for obligations in cases where the EU was party to a mixed agreement or where the obligations being fulfilled arose under the EU Treaties. "However, the conduct at issue does not fall within either of those two situations."

Regarding the alleged failure to fulfil obligations related to the common fisheries policy, border control and maritime spatial planning, Pikamäe says that "Slovenia is relying on the premiss that the boundary has been determined by the arbitration award.

"However (...) the award has not been implemented in the relations between the two member states concerned," so the advocate general "is of the opinion that, from an EU law perspective, the boundary between those two member states has not been established".

Hence, Pikamäe infers that "Slovenia is seeking, by implication, to have the arbitration award implemented, which falls outside the EU's sphere of competence".

His conclusion is that "the alleged infringements of EU law are ancillary to the issue of determining the boundary between Croatia and Slovenia. Determining that boundary is, by its very nature, a matter of public international law in respect of which the Court does not have jurisdiction."

In releasing the advocate general's opinion, the court made a point of noting that the opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice.

"It is the role of the Advocates General to propose to the Court, in complete independence, a legal solution to the cases for which they are responsible."

Now the court's judges will start deliberations on the admissibility of the case. "Judgement will be given at a later date," the release said. Unofficially, it is expected in the first quarter of 2020.

If the court finds the case outside its jurisdiction, the case is closed. However, if it finds the case admissible or partly admissible, another hearing will follow, followed by another opinion of the advocate general and another judgement.

Slovenia rejects Advocate General's opinion

STA, 11 December 2019 - Slovenia did not expect the EU Court of Justice (EJC) advocate general would deem the country's lawsuit against Croatia over EU law violation inadmissible. Foreign Minister Miro Cerar believes the advocate general's reasoning is weak, indicating that the court's decision might be different.

President Borut Pahor said the opinion of the advocate general does not change the fact the border between Slovenia and Croatia had been drawn by a Hague-based international arbitration tribunal.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said that Slovenia remained determined to implement the arbitration decision and that bilateral talks or returning to square one was out of the question.

The Foreign Ministry stressed in a release that Advocate General Priit Pikamäe's position was not binding on the court, noting the procedure at the ECJ would not affect the fact the border arbitration decision from 2017 was valid and binding for Slovenia and Croatia.

Cerar, who called a news conference to comment on the opinion, said the court had so far decided in only five cases brought against a fellow member state and that the court followed the advocate's position in only three of the cases.

He added that the decision had "absolutely no effect on the validity of the arbitration award" and that arguments were on Slovenia's side.

Cerar also highlighted the fact that nobody had ever said Croatia did not have to implement the arbitration award, while many countries had urged it to do so.

When asked whether Slovenia had plan B if the court decided the case was inadmissible, Cerar said plan B was not needed because "there is plan A, which is completely clear: Croatia must implement the arbitration award".

The lawsuit brought against Croatia is in no direct relation to the border arbitration as such, but discusses violations of EU law committed by Croatia, the ministry said in a release.

Slovenia has taken measures and adopted legislation to implement the border arbitration decision, while Croatia is yet to fulfil this obligation, it added.

Pahor and Šarec commented on the matter following a tradition December meeting of the president, the prime minister, the presidents of both chambers of president.

Pahor stressed Slovenia would insist on setting up a Slovenian-Croatian demarcation commission which will set the land border, as envisaged in the arbitrtaion award.

Šarec explained Slovenia had called on Croatia to appoint its members to the commission four times now, but Croatia had failed to respond.

Slovenia's agent Maja Menard meanwhile believes Pikamäe ignored Slovenia's claim and was deciding as if Slovenia had expected the EU court to define the border. On the basis of Croatia's refusal to implement the arbitration award, he also argued the border had not been drawn.

Menard is however reserved in any further comments, saying she must read the full opinion first. This was also echoed by Marko Vrevc of the Foreign Ministry, who said that the advocate general's position was not what Slovenia had expected.

"Slovenia is not taking Croatia to court because the course of the border was unclear but because it realised Croatia was hindering Slovenia from following EU law," Vrevc said, expressing belief that the Luxembourg-based court would decide differently than Pikamäe.

The opposition New Slovenia (NSi) regretted the advocate's position and hopes the ECJ will decide differently. A decision by a panel of judges is expected in a few months' time.

On the other hand, head of the National Party (SNS) Zmago Jelinčič said Slovenia displayed a poor understanding of international law.

Democrats (SDS) head Janez Janša tweeted the Slovenian government had known the outcome in advance and that Cerar, who was prime minister when Slovenia decided to sue Croatia, should cover the expenses from his own pocket.

When asked whether Cerar should be held responsible if thecourt follows the advocate's position, Šarec said the decision to take Croatia to court was a political one, taken after consultations of parliamentary party leaders.

Speaker Dejan Židan was very happy that the prime minister, the president, the upper chamber president and himself displayed complete unity in the face of today's development.

Alojz Kovšca, the National Council president, meanwhile, warned the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia was a bad signal for other nations with unresolved border issues in the Balkans.

On the other hand, the opposition Left believes Slovenia should take a different approach instead of taking Croatia to court. MP Matej Vatovec reiterated the party's position the lawsuit was barely legitimate.

The coalition Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) said Slovenia must persist in getting Croatia to implement the arbitration award even if the court decided the lawsuit was indeed inadmissible.

The SAB, as well as the coalition Social Democrats (SD) underlined the advocate general's position had no bearing on the validity of the arbitration award, which remains a binding element of international law.

All our stories on the border dispute can be found here

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.

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