ZAGREB, September 18, 2018 – Spokesman for the European Commission Margaritis Schinas has said that there is no legal obligation for the European Commission to take a stand on Slovenia’s lawsuit against Croatia over their border arbitration dispute, and underscored that the Commission does not comment on its internal documents, including a document with an opinion of the Commission’s legal experts who reportedly established that Croatia violated EU laws by refusing to accept the 2017 border arbitration award.
“Article 259 does not create a legal obligation for the Commission to issue a report … I recall that in four out of the eight Article 259 cases the Commission did not produce its report,” the spokesman said at the EC midday press briefing in Brussels on Monday. “The college of commissioners did discuss the matter on 4 July following the presentation of the case by the director-general of the legal service of the Commission,” Schinas said.
“I also remember to have told you that we never comment on internal Commission documents, especially when there are many of them,” he said in response to Slovenian reporters’ questions as to why the Commission and its president Jean-Claude Juncker ignored the opinion of the Commission’s legal service and why that position had not been discussed at that college.
Asked by Slovenian reporters if there were any chances for the college of commissioners to reconsider the matter, as hinted by Commissioner Violeta Bulc of Slovenia, the Commission’s spokesman answered in the negative. “I have already said that the Commission did discuss this subject and I don’t see that there is a plan to discuss the matter again,” Schinas answered.
This March, Slovenia sent a letter to the EC about the border arbitration award, citing Article 259. Under that article, a Member State which believes that another Member State has failed to fulfil an obligation under the Treaties may bring the matter before the Court of Justice of the European Union. Before a Member State brings an action against another Member State for alleged infringement of an obligation under the Treaties, it shall bring the matter before the Commission.
The Commission can deliver a reasoned opinion after each of the States concerned has been given the opportunity to submit its own case and its observations on the other party’s case both orally and in writing. If the Commission has not delivered an opinion within three months of the date on which the matter was brought before it, the absence of such opinion shall not prevent the matter from being brought before the Court. In mid-July, the Commission stated that it decided to stay away from the Slovenia-Croatia border row.
On 29 June 2017, the Permanent Court of Arbitration delivered a ruling in connection with the two countries’ border row.
In late July 2015, the Croatian parliament adopted a decision to withdraw from the arbitration agreement that the two countries signed in 2009 and made a recommendation to Slovenia to commence negotiations on an alternative way to resolve the border dispute. Zagreb found the process contaminated after it was discovered that Slovenia’s agent Jernej Sekolec and an official in the Slovenian foreign ministry, Simona Drenik, had discussed Slovenia’s arguments in the process and lobbied with other arbiters. Sekolec and Drenik resigned from their posts as a result.
Croatia said that it had walked out of the arbitration processes due to contamination by Slovenia but that it was still open to talks on the dispute in a bilateral format or before an international legal institution.
The issue is back in the limelight, primarily in Slovenia, after the German Der Spiegel weekly published an article which says that EC President Juncker did not want to become involved in the sea border dispute between the two countries even though the EC’s legal experts believe that Slovenia is right.
The European Commission was right not to interfere in the Croatia-Slovenia border dispute, the Croatian government said on Saturday in its comment on the article.