STA, 2 December 2019 - The General Court of the European Union will start with oral hearings Tuesday related to Slovenia's legal action against the European Commission for granting Croatia a derogation enabling it to use Teran, the name of a red wine protected by Slovenia.
Hearings at the General Court are similar to those at the European Court of Justice. Each side presents their views and then judges ask questions.
The hearings will be similar to the July oral hearing in a case that Slovenia has brought against Croatia due to Croatia's failure to implement the 2017 border arbitration award.
However, judges of the General Court usually ask more questions and the questions are more detailed, and there is also no advocate general.
A ruling is expected a few months after the hearings, the court has said.
The hearings will be open for the public but may not be recorded. A panel of five judges will be ruling in the case, and their identity will be revealed on Tuesday.
EU institutions and member states can express their support to either of the parties involved but other than Croatia no other countries are expected to present their views on the matter.
Slovenia brought the legal action on 15 September 2017, protesting against the Commission's decision to enable Croatia to use the name Teran for a grape variety for the designated Hrvatska Istra (Croatian Istra) wine label under certain terms.
Slovenia, which will be represented by the State Attorney's Office and German lawyer Roland Knaak, argues that the derogation is unlawful and that it would cause economic damage to Slovenian producers of Teran.
Slovenia will argue that the delegated act on Teran, which took effect on 21 July 2017, is null and void because it runs contrary to the principles of EU law, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food.
The ministry claims that the EU-proposed condition that the name Hrvatska Istra on the wine label is bigger than the Teran name is misleading for consumers, because they can wrongfully assume that this is the protected Slovenian Teran wine.
During the procedure to adopt the delegated act, Slovenia had been presenting numerous remarks related to the procedure and had been arguing that Croatia should have raised the Teran issue during its EU accession talks, before joining the EU.
In a response to Slovenia's action, the Commission reiterated that the delegated act in no way affected the status of the Slovenian protected wine and that the labelling conditions had made sure that consumers would not be misled.
The dispute over Teran broke out in April 2013 at a meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Luxembourg. After Slovenia removed Croatian wine that was sold under the name of Teran from store shelves, Croatia protested and called for a joint cross-border protection of Teran.
The European Commission said at the time that Slovenia had protected Teran as a Slovenian wine on the EU market, so no Croatian wine can be sold under that name, and that Croatia had not opposed to Slovenia's move.
But as the Commission's leadership changed in 2014, rumours started that the Commission was planning to adopt a delegated act on Teran in line with an agreement made during Croatia's accession talks, which Slovenia knew nothing about.
In December 2016, the Commission decided to grant Croatia a "limited exception" in the case of Teran, meaning that the country would be allowed to use the name for wines justifying existing labelling practices.
Subsequently, Slovenia has brought legal action against the Commission. After the General Court delivers its ruling, both parties will have the right to appeal to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
STA, 3 November 2019 - Milan Kučan, Slovenia's first president, criticised political elites in Slovenia and Croatia in his address at a commemorative ceremony in Croatia on Sunday, accusing them of a lack of ideas to resolve issues troubling bilateral relations. He also called for dialogue to resolve the Catalan crisis.
The ceremony at Kučibreg in Istria marked the 75th anniversary of the World War Two battles in which more than 120 Croatian, Slovenian and Italian Partisan resistance members were killed in fighting the Germans together.
The ceremony, organised by organisations and local authorities from the three countries, was also attended by Slovenia's Ambassador to Croatia Vojislav Šuc, among others.
In his keynote, Kučan said that "the fight for freedom never ends" because "freedom is never secured for ever", and that the message of the Kučibreg battles was that the fight for freedom knew no national boundaries.
"The desire for freedom cannot be confined to one man, one group or one nation. This was also testified by the fighters here, on the slopes of Kučibreg, where Slovenes, Croats and Italians fought together. They fought under the common banner of freedom."
Turning to the troubled relationship between Slovenia and Croatia today, Kučan said: "Is it truly more important to deny the right to a few miles of sea and to deny the authority of international tribunal than to have the opportunity for both countries to contribute to resolving vital issues in the EU?"
Responsible politicians should know that there are no winners in such disputes, and that there are no innocents, he said. "If anything, it is a shared defeat," he said, adding that both countries lack ideas, direction and capability to make serious initiatives and take steps in resolving issues.
Kučan also raised the developments in Catalonia in his address, in what he described as a field of the fight for freedom, human rights and human dignity.
"Catalan-Spanish relations are in a serious political crisis," which could only be solved through democratic political means, openness, dialogue and responsibility on the part of the parties involved.
He said it was necessary to say out loud that it was unacceptable to have political prisoners in any country in Europe today. "We cannot keep silent, because silence would mean assuming responsibility for the fate of the recently convicted Catalan leaders, and for the fate of European values."
STA, 22 October 2019 - Commenting on the European Commission assessing that Croatia has met the conditions to enter the Schengen zone, PM Marjan Šarec regretted on Tuesday that such an important decision had been made right before the end of the Commission's term. Speaking of a political decision, Šarec expects Croatia to meet all technical and legal conditions.
"We had already said that if the decision was political, then Slovenia would also act politically and in line with its interests," Šarec reiterated at an event in Cankarjev Dom in Ljubljana.
He said that the European Commission had apparently put the issue on the agenda at the end of the term, which "seems disputable to us". It would be better if the new Commission dealt with that, he added.
The prime minister's office quoted Šarec earlier as saying that "Slovenia expects that Croatia will meet all conditions, both technical and legal, including the respect of the rule of law, to enter the Schengen zone."
It added that Croatia must show the ability to protect the external border effectively and thus ensure security of the entire EU.
According to Šarec, Croatia needs to carry out a number of activities to be able to ensure permanent and effective management of the external border of the EU and to fully meet the required technical conditions.
The prime minister also told the press in Cankarjev Dom that "we are a bit worried" regarding Croatia meeting the technical requirements, noting that "we have had 12,000 illegal migrants already this year."
He added that "this means that they are coming from somewhere and that the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia is porous. This is why I doubt that this will change over night with the potential entry to Schengen."
Interior Ministry State Secretary Sandi Čurin meanwhile told the press that the green light from the European Commission was only an intermediate step in the process of Croatia's accession to the Schengen zone.
He noted that the assessment procedure was far from being concluded and that the "accession of a country to the Schengen zone is decided on by the member states with consensus."
"Today's message is exclusively intended for supporting Croatia in its efforts to enter the Schengen zone and encouraging it to make the steps needed to meet all standards and conditions," Čurin said.
He stressed that it was not an implementing act, as those were subject to discussion by the EU Council, and that it had no legal consequences whatsoever.
European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said that the report was only one of the steps in the process, adding that before any enlargement of Schengen, it needed to be secured that the system was fully functional.
Speaking to the press in Brussels, the Slovenian EU commissioner said that she had told the fellow commissioners at today's meeting that the Schengen area as it was known today was not functioning as a whole.
"There are still six Schengen countries - Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria and France - which have kept border checks within the Schengen area, including on the border between Austria and Slovenia," she noted.
Bulc believes that the final assessment should take into account the progress that needs to be made in the migration policy, protection of external borders, rule of law and good neighbourly relations.
Noting that consent of the EU Council was required for the decision that Croatia entered Schengen, the commissioner said that the member states, including Slovenia, would have the final say based on a technical report.
The parliamentary parties which have so far responded to the announcement expressed varied opinions.
Parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan, the head of the coalition Social Democrats (SD), said that it was a "political decision" which makes "Europe lose reputation even more".
Židan believes that an outgoing European Commission should not adopt any major decisions and "as a European" he wished that the next European Commission would act differently.
Jožef Horvat of the opposition New Slovenia (NSi) said that it was somewhat unusual for the outgoing Commission to take such an important decision, adding that the precise conditions that Croatia needed to fulfil were known.
"If such a decision is made casually, the Schengen regime will definitely collapse, as it has already been strongly undermined with controls on internal borders", he added.
Horvat said that the NSi "is not on the side of those who would make ultimatums", which Zmago Jelinčič of the opposition National Party (SNS) agreeing, saying that "Slovenia will achieve nothing by extorting Croatia."
They were probably referring to speculation Slovenia could make its approval of Croatia's entry to the Schengen zone conditional on Croatia fully implementing the border arbitration decision.
Matej T. Vatovec of the opposition Left too said that blocking Croatia's entry to the Schengen zone would be counter-productive.
He supports Croatia entering the Schengen zone as soon as possible as the borders would be eliminated, which would make life in the border area easier and be followed by the elimination of border fences and razor wire.
Slovenian MEPs have expressed different opinions about the assessment, but a majority regrets that it has been made by an outgoing Commission. They also noted that the EU Council will have the final say on the matter.
"I regret the move by the outgoing European Commission. Instead of eliminating internal borders ... it is giving the false hope of the expansion of Schengen," said Milan Brglez (S&D/SD).
His party colleague Tanja Fajon added that the "message from the Juncker commission would be remembered as one of the most political ever," as it suggested that accession to the Schengen zone was no longer a technical process.
Irena Joveva and Klemen Grošelj (both Renew/LMŠ) also regretted the European Commission making a "political" decision right before the end of the term.
They agree that the expansion of the Schengen zone is in everybody's interest, including Slovenia's, but that there should not be a sliver of doubt in the professionalism of such a decision.
Ljudmila Novak (EPP/NSi) said the decision should have been left to the new European Commission. "Today's decision will not be able to avoid the connotation of political, and not professional decision-making."
Agreeing with Novak, Franc Bogovič (EPP/SLS) said that the decision was inappropriate and unfair as the readiness of Croatia to effectively protect its borders with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia was being realistically doubted.
On the other hand, Romana Tomc (EPP/SDS) believes that the European Commission was unbiased and professional in its decision. She noted that the member states would have the final say in a consensual decision.
"This means that Prime Minister Šarec has the opportunity to prevent Croatia from entering Schengen if he thinks that there are reasons for this and if this benefits Slovenia," she added.
Her party colleague Milan Zver thinks that Croatia has taken the appropriate measures, and that the Slovenian public will welcome the elimination of the Schengen border between Slovenia and Croatia as this would mean smoother traffic.
All our stories on Croatia are here
STA, 18 October 2019 - Slovenia's MEPs have urged leaving the decision on Croatia's readiness to join the Schengen zone to Ursula von der Leyen's European Commission, arguing that such a strategic decision should not be taken by an outgoing Commission.
Ljudmila Novak (EPP), Franc Bogovič (EPP), Irena Joveva (RE), Klemen Grošelj (RE), Tanja Fajon (S&D) and Milan Brglez (S&D) say in their call it would be completely incomprehensible and hard to accept if a decision with long-term and strategic consequences for the EU was to be made by Jean-Claude Juncker's Commission, whose term runs out soon.
The Slovenian MEPs also believe the decision should be taken based on an objective expert assessment of whether Croatia meets all the technical and security conditions.
The Commission must also make sure there is absolutely no doubt the assessment of Croatia's ability to protect the Schengen border is not based on political reasons.
Aware of the advantages of Croatia's joining the passport-free zone for Slovenia and the EU, the six out of Slovenia's eight MEPs say its entry is "in our common interest", but must not pose a security threat to the EU.
The MEPs say there are very serious doubts about Croatia being technically and legally fit to protect the EU's external border.
What is more, there are very serious doubts about its compliance with EU standards, foremost in respecting and implementing treaties and court decisions.
The MEPs are also "deeply worried about statements coming from some media outlets and Croatian government officials which bring up serious questions about their privileged access to information and a serious doubt about relevant procedures being transparent, independent and based on expertise".
The appeal was addressed to Juncker and von der Leyen, to European Council President Donald Tusk and his successor Charles Michel as well as to Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec.
The Commission is expected to discuss Croatia's meeting the technical conditions to join the Schengen zone on Tuesday.
The appeal to the top EU officials was not signed by the two European People's Party (EPP) MEPs from the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS).
Novak said that Romana Tomc and Milan Zver had not explained why they would not join the appeal. "We were only told they had decided not so sign it."
However, Tomc later took to Twitter, saying she agreed that Croatia's Schengen entry was in Slovenia's interest and that Croatia must meet all the conditions before joining the zone.
But she also believes that the answer to this very sensitive political question should be sought at the highest diplomatic level.
STA, 16 October 2019 - The Slovenian Chamber of Craft and Small Business (OZS) and the Croatian Association of Hauliers called for eliminating traffic jams at the countries' border crossings at a meeting in Croatia on Wednesday. Road congestions on the border are causing enormous economic damage, according to the hauliers.
Peter Pišek, the head of the OZS hauliers' section, said that hauliers from both countries were experiencing unreasonably long queues at the border crossings due to the border authorities' ineffective system.
"This is problematic particularly at the start of the week when crossing the border could take up to 10 hours. Since hauliers have strictly limited working hours, they cannot continue working on the day they cross the border," said Pišek in a OZS press release.
The chamber has also pointed out that hauliers from both countries had been striving for a session of the Slovenian-Croatian haulage commission to be held and include police representatives from both countries.
Both organisations believe that the commission needs to establish ten border crossings between Slovenia and Croatia as soon as possible to allow an easy and unlimited haulier passage. The commission's meeting has been postponed a number of times for unknown reasons.
The hauliers would like to see new haulage rules, including in regular weekly rest periods and changing posted worker regulation so that a person would be a posted worker only if they performed cabotage operations.
Moreover, they advocate the development of secure parking places that are equipped with hygiene and recreation facilities, and could thus serve as a resting period place.
STA, 5 September 2019 - Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar is known for saying the Slovenian police are fully in control of migration. "If this was not the case, we would have more illegal migrants in the country, at railway stations, cities and abandoned buildings," he told the STA. He said the country was cooperating well with Croatia and Italy.
"Slovenia being a safe country is a fact confirmed by international comparisons and many countries envy us on this," Poklukar said in an interview with the STA.
He believes that the statistics on the foreigners apprehended prove that police are on top of things.
Slovenia has apprehended more than 9,600 people this year and some 460 persons have been returned to Slovenia from Austria, Italy and Hungary. Poklukar believes this shows that only few people avoid being caught.
He pointed to the beefed up security measures such as additional fences on the border and high resolution systems of video- and thermal cameras.
According to the minister, police are also successfully preventing migrant smuggling by individuals and criminal rings mostly from the Balkans and Slovenia.
Investigators have formed special task forces to deal with this and police are cooperating well with Frontex, Europol and Interpol.
Poklukar also praised cooperation with other countries. Cooperation with Croatia has improved significantly since the 2015 and 2016 mass migrations, he said.
Slovenian police officers are cooperating in mixed patrols with Croatian and Italian counterparts. The deal on the mixed patrols with Italy envisages such cooperation until the end of September.
"We are evaluating the situation on a daily basis and I have found them to be successfully preventing illegal human trafficking," Poklukar said about the patrols.
He is confident that the success of Slovenian police will be recognised by Italy. He reiterated Slovenia opposed a fence on the Slovenian-Italian border for historical reasons and because it would disturb the lives of locals.
The country is also bothered by the fact that Austria continues to conduct controls on its border with Slovenia, an issue Poklukar plans to discuss with his Austrian counterpart in Ljubljana next Monday.
According to the minister, Slovenian police are also monitoring the migration flow in Balkan countries, in particular in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and are helping protect the borders in Serbia and North Macedonia.
Four new police attaches are to be deployed to Skopje, Rome, Zagreb and Vienna shortly.
Asked whether the mass influx of migrants such as the one Europe witnessed a few years ago could happen again, Poklukar said that there was some fear that the migration flow would enhance every autumn due to upcoming winter but not in the scope as in 2015 and 2016.
He said Slovenia was ready for a potential influx and expected Croatia to protect the EU's external border as efficiently as Slovenia is protecting the Schengen border.
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
STA, 5 August 2019 - The newspaper Delo expresses bewilderment on Monday at European Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen's calling Croatia the EU's most successful country and a role model.
"They can be a role model for us, actually. In tourism they have beaten us well in many areas (not in all elements, that is). They may be our role model in construction of roads in Istria, for example [...]
"They could serve as an example to us in football, in how their seaside towns are neat compared to Piran, by the steep bills ... Or by diplomatic jostling, brand stealing and the game called steal the land ...
"But to be our role model as a European rule of law entity, as a whole, with all the economic, demographic, klepto-corrupt, clero-fundamentalist, fascist-loving [...] and other complexes? Well, politics disrupted Ursula's dioptre a bit there. We have thus come out of Jean-Claude's frying pan into Ursula's fire," writes the paper under the headline Pearls of Piran and Croatia.
STA, 5 August 2019 - This year's celebrations of Operation Storm in Croatia are another step towards a revisionist interpretation of the independence war. The victory is increasingly framed as the Ustasha having defeated the Chetniks, Večer comments on Monday.
For example, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović openly speaks about how she would like to attend a concert in Split by the chauvinist singer Thompson, who has been banned in Istria, Switzerland, Germany and other places because of his Ustasha lyrics.
"But it is not enough to say that the far-right turn in Croatia and attempts to normalize extremist views and content is happening just because of the campaign for the presidential election, which has not even formally begun yet.
"With Trump in the US, Johnson and Brexit in Great Britain, not to mention the buffoons in Central Europe headed by Orban, this is unfortunately a global trend.
"That joke from the times of Operation Storm - hating those of other nationality or religion more than you have to - is becoming a rule. Including in Slovenia with its village guards," the paper concludes in Normalization of Extremism.
Related, and from Total Croatia News: Ahead of Operation Storm Anniversary, New Tensions Between Croatia and Neighbours
STA, 30 July 2019 - The Croatian police have apprehended at the weekend a Slovenian couple who was trying to smuggle more than eight kilograms of illicit drugs to Croatia, the Rijeka-based newspaper Novi List reported on Tuesday.
The couple from Kamnik near Ljubljana, who were caught with the drugs at the Jelšane/Rupa border crossing north-west of Rijeka, are facing sentences of between one and twelve years in prison.
The Croatian police apprehended the 41-year-old man and the 40-year-old woman on Saturday at around 5am as they were entering Croatia, discovering the drugs in their vehicle. The couple was taken into custody in Rijeka.
The police seized a total of 8.2 kilograms of various illicit drugs, with amphetamines representing more than half. The pair was also smuggling cocaine, heroin, marijuana, hashish and ecstasy.
The drugs have an estimated street value of almost EUR 150,000, Novi List said, adding that this was one of the largest drug busts in the area recently.
The drugs were found in a backpack in the trunk of the car, in a bag put in the compartment for the spare tire, and in the right front door. The pair tried to hide the drugs with clothes and accessories for holidaying.
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.