Solving Border Disputes Precondition for EU Membership of Croatia’s Neighbours

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After the experience with Slovenia and Croatia, the EU does not want to deal with another border dispute.

Macedonia is the only country in the former Yugoslavia which has no open border issues with its neighbours. That does not mean that Macedonia has no problems in relations with its neighbours, but they are not related to the determination of the state borders, reports Jutarnji List on January 6, 2018.

If we exclude Macedonia, all other former Yugoslavia republics have open border issues with their neighbours, but only with those who were once also an integral part of the former state. Starting from Slovenia, which has border issues with Croatia, to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Montenegro and Serbia, and all the way to Kosovo, there are numerous disputes, and they are not easy to solve. On the other hand, no state from the territory of the former Yugoslavia has any border issues with the countries which were neighbours of the former Yugoslavia. The reason is that former Yugoslavia had solved all its border disputes, so now only formerly internal issues remain.

No republic of the former Yugoslavia should be criticised for creating border problems. These issues have remained as the legacy of the former state, and it is not easy for anyone to agree to the position of their neighbours. Populists and nationalists often resort to these issues in order to accuse the governments of selling or giving away territory, and these problems are always difficult to solve.

Why would then the European Union demand that border issues have to be resolved as a precondition for joining the Union? The answer is obvious if we look at the EU experience with Slovenia, which has blocked accession negotiations of Croatia for years. Although the EU did not agree with the Slovenian blockade and said the EU membership should not be abused as a means of resolving bilateral disputes, the EU did not have a real answer to the Slovenian blockade, which was lifted only after Croatia and Slovenia had reached an agreement to settle the dispute via international arbitration.

And just when the EU began to sell this agreement to the Western Balkan countries as a good example of solving the most difficult disputes, it was discovered that Slovenian diplomats had illegally attempted to influence arbitrators, and Croatia then used that fact as an excuse to leave the arbitration proceedings. The result is a new problem – Slovenia and Croatia are now in dispute whether to accept and implement the arbitration judgment.

Under the EU pressure, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo and Montenegro came to a demarcation agreement. But, this created an additional problem for the citizens of Kosovo, who have become hostages in Europe, since they are the only ones who still need visas to enter the EU. The ratification of the border agreement in the Kosovo parliament is a condition without which the EU will not abolish the visas. And, many experts and the opposition parties warn that, according to their interpretation, Kosovo would lose more than 8,000 hectares of land, which is why the parliament never had sufficient majority to ratify the treaty.

Since the solution of border disputes has not been a precondition for other countries to have visas lifted, Kosovo rightly considers itself to be discriminated against. But the EU says that they have “learned the lesson” and now know that it is necessary to resolve all border disputes as soon as possible. If Slovenia and Croatia, former allies in Austro-Hungary and communist Yugoslavia, are in such strong dispute over the border, what will happen between Croatia and Serbia, or Serbia and Kosovo, if these issues are not resolved in time? The Croatian-Slovenian example is a warning that disputes need to be solved in time. That is why the European Union now insists that, before the end of the negotiations, aspirants for EU membership must solve such problems because “the EU does not want and will not import such bilateral disputes.”

“There are still important bilateral disputes between the countries of the region which need to be resolved. The European Union will not import such disputes. A permanent solution needs to be found before a country enters the EU. All states have to unambiguously commit themselves to overcoming the legacies of the past in order to achieve reconciliation and solve open issues much before EU accession,” says a draft of the European Commission’s strategy on a credible prospect of enlargement to the Western Balkans.

The schedule, which foresees the membership of Montenegro and Serbia in the Union by 2025, states that all border disputes have to be resolved before the conclusion of the accession negotiations. There is also an alternative that the decision can be made by international bodies, such as the International Court of Justice or arbitration, but only with a clear commitment that the final decision will be accepted.

Croatia has adopted a political declaration in the parliament that it will help its neighbours on their way to the European Union and not use its membership to put up barriers due to bilateral disputes. The Union wants each country in the region to be firmly committed to assisting neighbours and not to set obstacles. And states have enough time to resolve all the problems, at least five years for Montenegro and Serbia, and much more for other countries. Also, in order to join the European Union, these countries have to meet even more difficult conditions, so border disputes might ultimately prove to be the easiest part of the job.

Translated from Jutarnji List.


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