The end of the Croatia-Slovenia border dispute?
In the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia an international arbitration tribunal in The Hague has ruled that most of an area of contested waters in the Bay of Piran on the Adriatic coast belongs to Slovenia. Under the ruling Croatia in return profits from certain border corrections and gains a mountain peak. Zagreb, however, refuses to accept the ruling. Media in both countries are sceptical about the results and wonder what will come next.
No leverage against Croatia
The problem with the ruling is the political reality of the situation, writes Delo:
“International law always fails in the biggest crises: e.g. the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Cyprus problem and in the South China Sea. … The Slovenia-Croatia dispute is more of a symbolic nature. And yet in this case too, respecting international law is contingent on support from the international community and the allies. Slovenia has few friends, no one explicitly supports the Croatian standpoint. But who's going to force Croatia to implement the arbitration ruling? Slovenia was left satisfied by the decision. Now the country will experience first-hand how international law works in practice.”
Time works in Slovenia's favour
Zagreb's delaying tactics in this affair won't help its cause, Novi list suspects:
“This tactic is based on the false assumption that the arbitration ruling must be implemented in six months' time even though Article 7 of the arbitration agreement specifies that both sides must take the necessary steps to implement the decision within that time. … In other words, time works in Slovenia's favour in this case, and not in Croatia's, which will come under ever greater diplomatic pressure as time goes by. Croatia has lost its friends and allies from the EU. And Trump's America, which supposedly backs Croatia in resolutely rejecting the ruling, is a long way away from Europe. Prime Minister Plenković was made to feel this in Triest, where he was left all on his own at the EU-Balkans summit.”
EU's hopes fading
The row over the ruling could be the last nail in the coffin of EU expansion in the Balkans, Dnevnik fears:
“The EU had hoped that in taking the arbitration proceedings between Slovenia and Croatia under its wing, it would find an elegant solution for resolving the accumulation of open issues between Balkan states that are candidates for EU membership. Now that dream seems to have been shattered. And this is perhaps not all that inconvenient given that the EU is suffering from expansion impotence. The will to solve the problems of Southeast Europe is diminishing - and the conviction that it is wrong to bring these problems into the EU is growing.”
Face-saving solution needs time
Novi list suggests how Croatia and Slovenia could find a way around the ruling which they both see as unsatisfactory:
“Croatia isn't happy with the deal because it only gets to keep a quarter or a fifth of the Bay of Piran. ... Slovenia is dissatisfied because in the end it won't have direct access to international waters and because it will also lose a little territory. Of course Slovenia isn't going to accept any less in bilateral talks. ... But with time, once things have calmed down somewhat, one could perhaps seek a bilateral arrangement that is similar to the tribunal's ruling. A 'gentlemen's agreement' with which the Croatian leadership could still claim to refuse the tribunal's decision while at the same time respecting it through a bilateral accord.
The civilising power of law
The judgement by the arbitration tribunal shows that Western civilisation is still capable of acting, Delo believes:
“Slovenia's borders have been clearly defined since yesterday, and that's what counts. This arbitration procedure was supported by all important countries in the EU and the world. The solution to this conflict can be a model for solving the unresolved border disputes in the Balkans. And the judgement is also an example of the rule of law and the civilising power of the law in a conflict. It could teach us much about legal and, if you will, also about political culture. Not only in Croatia, but above all in Slovenia. Civilisation has spoken.”
No one has cause to rejoice
Everyone has lost out in this case, Večernji list writes:
“The tribunal has lost credibility. Will other states bring their cases before this tribunal in good faith in the future? … Croatia has lost too. … Croatia can afford an escalation in its relations with its neighbours as little as it can afford political feuds and battles. … Slovenia, too, has lost. Yes, it has gotten what it wanted for the most part, but at what price? At the price of a decision that it won't be able to push through. At the price of ruined relations with its neighbours and of being depicted by part of the international community as a state that openly violates agreements, cheats in court and doesn't recognise ethical norms and legal regulations.”
Will Croatia replace Greece as big blocker?
Croatia's rejection of the ruling could herald a new blockade policy on the Balkans, Der Standard fears:
“The withdrawal of EU member Croatia from the proceedings reveals a highly problematic attitude to the rule of law. … Croatia now wants to simply ignore the decision. Some observers already fear that this political stance in Zagreb will have repercussions for neighbourly relations. Croatia could veto Bosnia and Herzegovina's candidate for EU membership status if an election law isn't amended to suit the interests of Herzegovinian Croatians. … Up to now the main blocker was the Balkan state Greece, which vetoed Macedonia for years. Now Croatia may will deprive it of that status.”