Slovenia border row could set back Croatia's EU bid
Zagreb hopes to open 10 more negotiating 'chapters' with Brussels and close five on Dec. 19.
Croatia will be unable to achieve its goal of completing European Union accession talks next year unless tensions over an old border row with EU member Slovenia ease in the next week, a political analyst said on Thursday.
Zagreb hopes to open 10 more negotiating 'chapters' with Brussels and close five on Dec. 19. This requires the approval of all 27 member states and is vital for the success of its plan to wind up the EU talks by the end of 2009.
Slovenia, saying that documents and maps among the papers Croatia submitted to the European Commission were prejudicial in the territorial dispute, has threatened to allow Zagreb to open and close only a few chapters.
"Unless Croatia opens the 10 chapters in December, it is abosolutely clear that it cannot close all of them and complete the talks in 2009," said political analyst Zeljko Trkanjec.
The two former Yugoslav republics have been unable to agree on a sliver of land and Adriatic sea border since they jointly proclaimed independence from Socialist Yugoslavia in 1991. Slovenia joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.
France, keen to push Croatia forward during its current EU presidency, has proposed a compromise whereby Zagreb would sign a document saying it was in no way trying to enforce any border solution in its EU talks.
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, attending a European People's Party summit in Brussels on Thursday, indicated he was not very optimistic.
"The first step would be for Croatia and Slovenia to sign statements, under French supervision, that no document will pre-judge the border solution," he told state news agency Hina.
"We have accepted it, but it seems that Slovenia hasn't."
Slovenia's Foreign Ministry told Reuters in a statement there was little time "so talks are as intensive as possible".
It said that "French plans, under which Croatia would take a step forward in 15 chapters, are very ambitious," but did not give its views on the proposed statements on the border issue.
Diplomats say Croatia's EU bid is weighed down by slow reforms of the judiciary, public administration and economy and the lack of concrete results in the fight against corruption and crime. Some member states are also concerned about Zagreb's cooperation with the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
But they say the row with Ljubljana was the most imminent danger and had wider implications for the rest of the Balkans, one of Europe's poorest regions which also has EU ambitions but is way behind Zagreb in the process.
"No one really understands what is happening. But this could set a dangerous precedent, that you can enforce bilateral issues on the EU membership agenda," said a Zagreb-based EU diplomat.