Slovenia prepares to sue Croatia as border dispute escalates

Slovenia prepares to sue Croatia as border dispute escalates
Croatia and Slovenia sail into choppy waters as the dispute over Piran Bay rages on.
By bne IntelliNews February 25, 2018

Slovenia’s government plans to start procedures to sue its neighbour Croatia through the EU’s Court of Justice for its refusal to implement a 2017 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling on a border dispute, Slovenian PM Miro Cerar told journalists on February 23. 

Croatia refuses to accept the July 28 PCA ruling giving Slovenia access to the high seas through Piran Bay, claiming the process was corrupted. Zagreb’s stance is that it will not accept the ruling after a Slovenian official was discovered trying to influence the outcome back in 2015.

Ljubljana will now start proceedings by sending a letter to the European Commission in which it will explain that Croatia has failed to respect Article 259 of the Lisbon Treaty, Cerar said. 

"The government is preparing adequate bases for the text to be sent to the European Commission in cooperation with experts and a law firm as we speak… the Commission needed to be informed first that Croatia was responsible … We expect that the European Commission will take measures itself, otherwise we will do it on our own,” Cerar said, Slovenian Press Agency (STA) reported on February 23.

“Until Croatia changes its position regarding the arbitration, Slovenia has no choice but to implement its jurisdiction and prepare itself to use legal means,” Cerar added, according to STA.

Article 259 of the Lisbon Treaty states that: “A member state which considers 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 an alleged infringement of an obligation under the Treaties, it shall bring the matter before the Commission.”

Incidents at sea

The Slovenian police have dealt with a total of 61 incidents in the Slovenian sea since the border arbitration decision started to be implemented at the end of 2017. The incidents included a total of 110 Croatian vessels, including 69 police boats, the General Police Administration told STA. The police did not reveal the number of fines sent to Croatian fishermen.

If Slovenia can prove its case, Croatia could be forced to pay back between 5% and 50% of its €252mn allocation under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund as a penalty for illegal and unreported fishing, Politico reported.

Meanwhile, Slovenian fishermen have already received almost 50 fines from the Croatian authorities for crossing the extended median line in the Bay of Piran since the country started issuing fines as a countermeasure to Slovenia's fines, STA reported on February 23.

According to their lawyer Ivica Senjak, a total of 48 individual fines had been received by February 22, addressed to seven fishermen.

Fisherman Silvano Radin told STA that he had received his last fine from Croatia on February 19 but did not exclude the possibility of receiving more. He said the total value of the fines is just under €41,000.

On February 21, Politico quoted a spokesperson for the Croatian government saying “they are not Slovenian waters … Croatian police have been patrolling these Croatian waters as they have done in past decades.”

“This campaign against Croatian fishermen and the heightening of tensions is both unacceptable and counterproductive and goes against the basic common European values and principles,” the official added.

Drama between neighbours 

In an interview with Politico on February 16, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said that the problems in Piran Bay should be resolved bilaterally, not in Brussels.

“We hope that the solution can be found and the situation de-dramatised because it’s not a major issue and because that should never have never been moved from a state-to-state level … We should calm down the situation so that ordinary citizens don’t feel any negative consequences. This is key,” he said.

However, Cerar doesn’t seem optimistic about bilateral talks. He told journalists on February 23 in Brussels that he was not planning to meet with his Croatian counterpart on the fringes of an upcoming EU summit, Croatian radio The Voice of Croatia reported.

“Until late last year, I had been offering my hand to the Croatian prime minister so that we could agree on how to implement the arbitration award. While there is no will on the Croatian side, we have no choice but to enforce our jurisdiction, and prepare to take legal action,” Cerar said, according to the Voice of Croatia.