The agreement signed by Slovenia and Croatia to resolve the ongoing dispute over Ljubljanska Banka deposits has cleared the path for Zagreb's EU accession.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb -- 20/03/13
Before the war, 430,000 Croats had deposits in Slovenia's state-owned Nova Ljubljanska Banka. [Drazen Remikovic/SETimes]
A recently resolved bank dispute between Croatia and Slovenia will improve relations between the two countries and eliminate Croatia's last obstacle to EU membership, officials said.
"We finally have a deal. That pleases both sides," Croatia's Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said at a joint news conference with his Slovenian counterpart Janez Jansa in Mokrice, Slovenia, after signing the agreement last week.
"This memorandum solves the last open issue … between our two states that stood in the way of the ratification of Croatia's EU accession treaty," Jansa added.
Officials in Croatia believe that the agreement will also improve the relations between the countries.
"Croatia and Slovenia … have not only many common interests, from the economy to a forthcoming joint membership in the EU, but a shared responsibility for the region and its path towards European integration," Danijela Barisic, spokesperson of the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told SETimes.
Croatia wanted Slovenia's state-owned Nova Ljubljanska Banka, the successor to Ljubljanska Banka, to stump up 270 million euros to cover the deposits Zagreb paid back to most account holders in the 1990s.
Zagreb resident Jozo Pilancic, 58, is one of the 430,000 Croats that had a deposit in Ljubljanska Banka. He hopes that his money finally will be returned.
"Before the war, I had about 40,000 euros in that bank. As the years passed, I thought that this money is lost forever," Pilancic told SETimes. "But now, my fate is retrieved. It's been more than two decades and I think it's about time for us to get our money back."
Claims against the bank date back to late 1990, when banks across Yugoslavia froze accounts as the country disintegrated. Ljubljanska Banka not only froze funds belonging to Slovenian citizens, but also to depositors from other republics. Only a few hundred citizens have been able to retrieve their funds through the court so far.
Under the agreement, the issue will be resolved through internationally-brokered talks on the distribution of assets owned by the former Yugoslav republics. Active negotiations to that effect will continue at the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, in line with the succession treaty.
In a political sense, the agreement will stabilise relations between the two states, Damir Novotny, economic analyst and a former member of the governors' council at the Croatian National Bank, told SETimes.
"When it comes to the people, I think that it will be a difficult way for them to reach their savings because Slovenia now intends to recover the debts from a succession, which will be a long judicial process," Novotny told SETimes. "In an economic sense … Ljubljanska Bank will now be free to operate in the Croatian market."