Croatia, Slovenia in new diplomatic row over mussel farm

Croatia, Slovenia in new diplomatic row over mussel farm
By bne IntelliNews April 17, 2017

Slovenia is planning to lodge a formal diplomatic protest over the expansion of a Croatian mussel farm in Piran Bay on the border between the two countries. 

The planned mussel farm is in an area claimed by both countries, which is the subject of an acrimonious and long-standing border dispute. Slovenia claims ownership of the whole of Piran Bay, while Croatia says half the bay is part of its territory. 

The farm in question is one of a number being developed along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast where Dagnje na Buzaru - mussels in a white wine sauce - and other seafood dishes are a popular part of the local cuisine. 

After news broke that the mussel farm was being expanded, on April 14 Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Karl Erjavec announced plans to send the formal complaint, Slovenian Press Agency (STA) reported.

The mussel farm was set up off the Croatian coast in 1998 and has been expanded several times. The latest expansion has been authorised by the Croatian government, according to public broadcaster TV Slovenija. 

The Slovenian foreign ministry said that it had already sent a note of protest to Croatia in February over the expansion of what it said was an illegally built mussel farm. However, the Croatian foreign ministry told STA on April 14 that it had received no diplomatic note on the matter from Slovenia. 

Erjavec added on April 14 that the authorities in Slovenia have not yet reacted to the expansion of the mussel farm because with the border still undefined any reaction could constitute a violation of the arbitration agreement between the two sides. The agreement stipulates both sides should refrain from aggravating the situation. 

The decision to expand the farm "indicates the Croatian government still doesn't understand that the arbitration agreement is valid," Erjavec said, arguing that the event showed the border dispute must be resolved.

Until the border arbitration tribunal reaches its decision it remains unclear on which side of the border the mussel farm lies. Slovenia will act accordingly when the border is delineated, the minister added.

Land and sea borders between Slovenia and Croatia have been a contentious issue since 1991, when both broke away from Yugoslavia. 

The countries submitted their dispute to the International Court of Justice for arbitration in 2007 but the Croatian government announced in July 2015 that it was withdrawing from the arbitration after leaked transcripts revealed the Slovenian commissioner for arbitration Simona Drenik and a Slovenian arbiter for the case, Jernej Sekolec, discussing how to influence the outcome of the arbitration.

In December 2016, Piran Bay was the subject of another diplomatic incident between the two countries after the Croatian embassy in Ljubljana sent Slovenian officials a Christmas gift of chocolate boxes illustrated with a map showing half of the bay on the Croatian side of the border. The offending chocolates were promptly sent back to the embassy. 

The former Yugoslavian neighbours are also at odds over the Teran wine name, with Ljubljana claiming that Croatia forged documents in a bid to get the right to use the name. A draft delegated act published by the European Commission on March 17 would grant Croatian wineries the right to use the name Teran for their wine even though is currently protected by Slovenia.