The new government in Ljubljana has blocked the accession process for neighbouring Croatia by emphasising a longtime maritime border dispute. This means Croatia might not fulfil the accession schedule and be ready for EU membership by the end of 2009.
By Natasa Radic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb -- 22/12/08
Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Jandrokovic said his country was "shocked" by Ljubljana's decision. [Getty Images]
The EU and Croatia opened only one policy area and closed three in an accession conference in Brussels last week because Slovenia decided to use its authority as a member state and block the accession process. As a consequence, Croatia might be unable to obtain EU membership by the end of 2009.
Slovenia and Croatia have disputed their land and maritime borders since becoming independent in 1991. Croatia favours a bilateral resolution, while EU member Slovenia wants the issue settled through Zagreb's EU accession talks. Slovenia's roadblock has introduced a glacial chill into bilateral relations.
Croatia had hoped to open ten new negotiation chapters and close five, which would signify an auspicious acceleration of talks. But Slovenia feared Croatia would be able to obtain a fait accompli on the disputed borders and acted accordingly.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Samuel Zbogar on Friday (December 19th) said in Ljubljana the EU was "obviously not paying enough attention to the interests of member states, which it should be representing, but [was] looking to reach results in the area of enlargement".
A "shocked" Gordan Jandrokovic, Zagreb's foreign minister, vowed to solve the problem.
Croatia, which launched accession negotiations with the EU in October 2005, now has opened 22 out of 35 chapters and formally closed seven. The EC expressed regret over Slovenia's announcement. "Let's all try to calm down," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn advised.
However, emotions are running high on both sides. Facebook groups have sprung up demanding boycotts of the other country's goods. Slovenia is the fourth-largest recipient of Croatian exports, while Croatia is the third-largest recipient of Slovenian exports. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, though, said pressure for a boycott of Slovenia is "unacceptable".