Slovenia votes in favour of Croatian border deal

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Croatia-Slovenia maritime boundary dispute.

Slovenians yesterday voted in a referendum in favour of a border deal with Croatia. The Border Arbitration Agreement allows for international arbitrators to resolve a 20-year border dispute that dates back to the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Parliaments in both countries approved the deal, which will be binding on both countries. In March, Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor's centre-left government yielded to demands for a referendum on whether to accept a border deal. "Solving the border dispute with Croatia is the basis for a lasting peace, security and friendship of both nations," Pahor said. "If it is rejected, it is questionable how long I or my successor will need to reach another agreement which, I believe, could not be better." he added.

The national Electoral Commission said that after 99.9 per cent of votes were counted, 51.5 per cent voted for the deal and 48.5 were against it. It is impossible for the remaining 2,000 votes, cast by Slovenians living abroad, to change the outcome.

Slovenia is situated between Italy and Croatia, where the dispute involves land on the Istrian peninsula in the northern Adriatic and the small Bay of Piran in the Adriatic Sea. A panel of five international experts will define the new land and maritime borders and could force Croatia to cede some of the sea it views as its own. In the past, Croatia has called for the border to be drawn down the middle of the bay. However, Slovenia, which has a much shorter coastline, feared that this would deny its ships direct passage to international waters.

Slovenia is the only former Yugoslav state to have joined the European Union (EU), while Croatia hopes to conclude EU accession talks this year and join the twenty-seven member union in 2012. A rejection could have delayed Croatian membership. Slovenia has blocked Croatia's membership talks over the border issue in the past. Croatian President Ivo Josipović welcomed the outcome as "a victory for Slovenia, Croatia and Europe."

Brussels and Washington welcomed the deal. José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission said, "This is an important step forward. We now look forward to a final settlement of the dispute. Resolving this bilateral issue is an important signal for the region and the relations between Slovenia and Croatia."