Despite unresolved borders, Balkan countries can enter EU


Croatia has a number of border disputes with BiH, Montenegro, Serbia.

By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb -- 30/07/12


Croatia has unsettled borders with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro. A Croatian border agent works in Brezovica, which borders Slovenia. [Reuters]

When Dusan Slijepcevic works on his farm in Kostajnica, northern Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), he makes sure to keep his identifcation card close, and is frequently under the watchful eye of Croatian police.

His property is part of 50 hectares of land that is still in dispute between the two countries.

''The border runs right across my garden and every day when I go to another part of the estate, I have to sign in and carry papers of my real estate,'' he said, ''Before, there were some rural roads which avoided everyday control, but now police introduced mandatory reporting. I guess they are training for EU regulations.''

Croatia will have several unsettled borders when it becomes the EU's 28th member next year, but its disagreements with BiH, Serbia and Montenegro don't appear to be a signficant obstacle to preventing accession.

In addition to this dispute, Croatia also has a border dispute with BiH in village Kleka, on the Adriatic coast. The dispute with Serbia is on the eastern border, on the Danube River, while the dispute with Montenegro is also on the seacoast, the peninsula of Prevlaka.

Although most agree that Croatia has made significant reforms to earn a place in the EU, the Union has not required Croatia to solve all its border disputes before joining.

''Bilateral issues need to be solved by the parties concerned, with determination, in a good neighbourly spirit,'' Anca Paduraru, press officer at the EC Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, told SETimes. ''They should be tackled as early as possible and not hold up the accession process. The EU stands ready to facilitate the search for solutions and to support related initiatives on a case-by-case basis.


A checkpoint at Maljevac, Croatia, near the BiH border. [Reuters]

''The border arbitration agreement between Slovenia and Croatia is a positive example of how bilateral issues can be addressed,'' she said.

A year ago, Croatia resolved its ten-year border dispute with Slovenia, which had blocked Croatia's application for membership. Authorities agreed to submit the border dispute for arbitration at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Croatian authorities said they will resolve disputes through international law, trying not to spoil bilateral relations with its neighbours.

"It is not possible to accurately predict the manner and time of Croatian border dispute with its neighbours,'' Berislav Zivkovic, spokesman for the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told SETimes. ''What is certain is that Croatia, during the negotiations, made it clear that the border issue will not pose an obstacle to accession to the EU of any neighbouring country.''


A sign welcomes visitors at the Bregana border crossing with Slovenia. [Reuters]

The breakup of Yugoslavia led to numerous border issues throughout the region – the most significant being between Serbia and Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Belgrade has not recognised Kosovo's independence and the two countries have frequent skrimishes in northern Kosovo, where both maintain local government services.

In late February, the political representatives of both countries, with the assistance of the international community, started the technical and political negotiations to normalise relations, which resulted in an agreement on the regional representation of Kosovo.

Oliver Ivanovic, former minister for Kosovo in the Serbian government, said the border issue between Kosovo and Serbia cannot be compared to other issues in the region.

"There is no border between Serbia and Kosovo, because this is our territory,'' he told SETimes. ''There is only an administrative transition. Serbia will enter the European Union with its entire territory, which includes Kosovo, and there is no talk about any kind of border between Kosovo and Serbia.''

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Serbia's new government, led by President Tomislav Nikolic and Prime Minister Ivaca Dacic, have said they are committed to joining the EU and negotiating with Pristina, but vow that Serbia will not recognise Kosovo's independence.

Overall, many believe that the EU will not insist on clearly defined borders for its new members of the Balkans, as long as the EU's borders are safe and stable.

Mladen Ivanic, former foreign affairs minister for BiH, said that Croatia, as a member of EU, will be in a much better position in boundary issue negotiations than BiH, or any other country in the Balkans.

''Croatia will certainly resolve these disputes in its favour. When it comes to EU negotiations, I think that the EU realises the significance of the borders. For Brussels, is essential that the boundaries are safe and they are expecting from Croatia to establish stronger control, regardless of the disputes. If Croatia shows weaknesses in those places where they have a dispute, then they will surely suffer the criticism,'' Ivanic told SETimes.

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