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, 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, 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, 21 August 2019 - Slovenia has started erecting another 40 kilometres of fence along the border with Croatia, commercial broadcaster POP TV reported on Wednesday. Works are currently underway on a 4-kilometre segment between the villages of Zilje and Žuniči, southeast of Črnomelj.
In July, the contractor, Serbia-based Legi-SGS, was chosen for the job by the Public Administration Ministry, but it the department would not reveal where the additional 40 kilometres of fencing would be erected, saying the locations had been specified in a confidential document.
It did say, however, that additional fence would be erected in places where this is required to prevent illegal migration and protect locals and their assets. In some places, the new fence is needed because the old one is damaged.
Once the EUR 4.8 million project is complete, expected in a few weeks' time, more than 200 kilometres of Slovenia's 670-kilometre border with Croatia will be fenced in.
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.
STA , 21 July 2019 - The majority of migrants who were apprehended in a large group in Ilirska Bistrica area on Friday (as reported here) have been handed over to Croatian authorities, the Koper police department told the press on Sunday.
Police spokesman Tomaž Čehovin said that 108 out of 123 apprehended migrants, mostly from Afghanistan, had been handed over to Croatia, while 15, mostly minors, had requested international protection.
According to Čehovin, there was no violence in the course of the police procedure, nor were any weapons or other dangerous items found. The migrants were given food and essentials and no one got hurt.
Some 40 police officers were part of Friday's operation, including reinforcements from other police departments.
Čehovin noted that cooperation with the Croatian police was good and pointed out that the Slovenian Armed Forces' assistance had come in handy.
He was also understanding of the locals' feelings of unease regarding the migrant situation since the Ilirska Bistrica area is quite big and the response time is not always as good as the people would wish.
Ilirska Bistrica police are getting assistance from the army and the Koper police due to a bigger inflow of refugees recently, said Čehovin.
On Friday several camps clustered in the woods near the village of Šembije were discovered, an unusual situation since in the past most migrants would try to cross the border in smaller groups.
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".
STA, 8 July 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said on Monday that security on Slovenia's southern border would be beefed up, including with new equipment such as drones, after meeting with Ilirska Bistrica officials and civil society representatives to discuss the situation on the border with Croatia.
Šarec, visiting the south-western town along with Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar and Police Commissioner Tatjana Bobnar, said that he understood locals' feelings of unease about the situation.
Ilirska Bistrica Mayor Emil Rojc pointed out that the number of illegal border crossings had doubled since Poklukar's first visit to the area.
"We've never said there was no migration issue," said the prime minister, adding that the need for strengthening border controls had been acknowledged.
Šarec announced the expected arrival of additional soldiers to the area as well as the deployment of new police equipment, including border patrol drones, and expansion of the border fence.
However, Šarec also said that Slovenia's border patrol had been effective in meeting set expectations and that "we cannot settle for various forms of fear-mongering, which are sometimes politically-motivated as well".
Šarec will also visit the Kostel and Črnomlje municipalities later today.