Published in Nacional number 760, 2010-06-08

Autor: Robert Bajruši

Coastal Slovenians oppose Jansa’s policy

The arbitration agreement with Croatia won the highest level of support at Sunday's Slovenian referendum from people living in areas closest to the sea — this fact stands in stark contrast with the claims of Janez Jansa, the leader of the Slovenian political right

JANSA DANGEROUS TO CROATIA The leader of the Slovenian opposition was de facto defeated at the referendum, but has now announced that he will not ratify Croatian accession to the EUJANSA DANGEROUS TO CROATIA The leader of the Slovenian opposition was de facto defeated at the referendum, but has now announced that he will not ratify Croatian accession to the EUIf those with the greatest stake in good neighbourly relations were to decide on Croatian-Slovenian relations and arbitration in Piran Bay there would, by all accounts, be no problems. This conclusion arises from an analysis of the outcome of Sunday's referendum in Slovenia on the topic of the international arbitration in question, which just barely succeeded at the national level, winning the support of 51.5 percent of voters. But the situation is entirely different and much more optimistic if one looks at the results from the Slovenian coastal regions - in the three largest towns in the Slovenian part of the Istrian peninsula, those who voted in favour of the arbitration agreement at the referendum achieved a major and convincing victory.

In Izola, international arbitration was supported by 70 percent of the inhabitants, in Piran by over 67 percent, and in Kopar, which is divided into two voting districts, the outcome was 70 and 62 percent in favour. In other words, if the claims that have been made for months by Janez Jansa and the other right-wingers that Slovenia is abandoning its maritime claims by agreeing to the arbitration, logic says that the greatest threat would then be felt by the people that inhabit the parts of Slovenia closest to the sea. But instead more than two thirds of the people in the Piran Bay area who voted at the referendum supported the arbitration agreement and showed thereby what they think of the xenophobic rhetoric used by the Slovenian political right.

The inhabitants of Izola and Kopar, the chief rival to Rijeka for the position of the leading seaport in this part of the Adriatic, did likewise. In spite of the bilateral fishing quarrels, the debates on jurisdiction and the right to free passage, it has been demonstrated that in that part of Slovenia people do not see Croatia as a country with threatening territorial aspirations. The arbitration agreement was also supported by all of the other parts of Slovenia that border with Croatia, with the exception of the Prekmurje region. It is still difficult to forecast if this heralds the end of the political squabbles between Slovenia and Croatia. Because if Janez Jansa and the representatives of that country's opposition do not change their current positions, there is a real danger that Slovenia might in a year's time once again block Croatian accession to the European Union.

And that is precisely what Jansa has said he will do in the days ahead of the referendum, and confirmed Sunday evening when it became clear that the advocates of arbitration had won. In this regard it is, perhaps, better to reckon that the yes vote won with only 51.5 percent of the vote, with a 43 percent voter turnout. It is a slim majority that offers the local opposition arguments to push for a new blockade when Slovenian parliament decides on ratifying Croatian accession to the EU. Jansa has been supported in this by the representatives of two other right-wing parties in parliament - Radovan Zerjav of the Slovenian People's Party (SLS) and Zmago Jelincic of the Slovenian National Party (SNS) - who have said that all of their deputies in Slovenian parliament would vote against Croatia next year.

"If Europe is in a hurry to see Croatia join, then it will help the work of the arbitration and offer whatever is necessary to achieve a speedy decision. This is also an invitation to Croatia to do everything it can to see the arbitration tribunal make its decision as soon as possible," Janez Jansa said, and explicitly warned that his deputies would not vote in favour of ratifying Croatian accession to the EU before the decision of the arbitration tribunal is known.

If the Slovenian political right remains at its present position, it could lead to a new blockade of Croatia. Slovenian parliament has ninety members, 27 of which are from Jansa's SDS party, six from the Slovenian People's Party and five from Jelincic's SNS. That makes a total of 38 deputies. If Jansa does not back down within the coming year the outcome of Sunday's referendum will lose much of its significance.

And while the Slovenian referendum was formally about the issue of international arbitration, it was in fact a test of confidence in the government led by Borut Pahor, and had Jansa won, the opposition would have called for early elections. That would have also had repercussions in Croatia, because the right wing in Slovenia is strongly opposed to the arbitration it feels is a defeat in the dispute surrounding Piran Bay. The outcome of the Sunday referendum is very similar to the elections of September 2008. Then too the left-of-centre won a majority of about two percent of the vote, and had its chief strongholds in Ljubljana and Postojna, while the right is always stronger in Kranj, Ptuj and Celj. That does not mean that the right wing in Slovenia intends to back down from exacerbating relations with Croatia. Jansa's ultimatum is well planned, since the leader of the Slovenian political right knows that the international arbitration concerning Piran Bay cannot wind up by the spring of 2011 when it is expected that Croatia will close all of the negotiating chapters and when the ratification process will begin among the 27 members of the EU.

What follows now is an exchange of diplomatic notes between Croatia and Slovenia, in which the two countries will inform one another that they have completed everything necessary related to the arbitration agreement, and that they accept international arbitration. This will be followed by the registration of the arbitration agreement at the United Nations secretariat, and the countries then make their proposals of candidates for the arbitration tribunal. Jose Manuel Barroso and Stefan Fule then have fifteen days in which to appoint the president and two arbitrators, while Croatia and Slovenia will each propose one.

Once the arbitration tribunal has been established it has a month's time to determine the nature of the dispute, after which Croatia and Slovenia will have a one-year period in which to submit all of the evidence it feels will be important in the arbitration. Both countries have the right to submit objections to the memoranda submitted by the other side. The arbitration tribunal has to make its decision within a period of from three to five years, and that could be between mid 2014 and 2016. Its ruling will be binding for both Slovenia and Croatia, which will be obliged to execute its provisions within a period of six months.

If Jansa persists in blocking the ratification of Croatian accession to the European Union, it will cause numerous problems in Zagreb.

Jansa is the uncontested leader of the Slovenian opposition and its only relevant candidate to take the post of Prime Minister. From the outside his positions appear radical, but a great deal of the Slovenian public is not satisfied with the Pahor administration, whose reaction to the economic crisis was fumbled, and there are conflicts within the ruling coalition and rumours of possible departures from its ranks. The Sunday referendum was the first success the coalition led by Borut Pahor, Gregor Golobic and Katarina Kresal has had in the past year.

If Jansa refuses to ratify Croatian accession to the EU, he may improve his own standing among the opponents of the Pahor government, but Slovenia will find itself under very strong pressure from Brussels and Washington. The situation was similar in the spring of last year, when the Slovenians tried to prevent Croatian accession to NATO, and were forced to back down under pressure from the USA. America also did much to unblock the Croatian negotiations with the European Union, something Hillary Clinton was particularly active in. Slovenia has again these days been faced with numerous diplomatic warnings not to reject the arbitration tribunal.

By accepting arbitration Slovenia has made a step forward and allowed Croatia's negotiations with the European Union to move forward unhampered. Now it is all up to Croatian Government and it remains to be seen whether it will be capable of meeting European demands relating to the judiciary, shipbuilding and agriculture. Close aids of Prime Minister Kosor are convinced that Croatia will wind up the negotiation procedure by next spring and do its part of the job. That is when the 27 members of the EU will have to do theirs, as their parliaments have to ratify the accession of new member states. At this point in time it is a more or less technical issue for 26 of them, but there is still Slovenia. If Janez Jansa does not back down by then, Croatia could find itself under a new Slovenian blockade, and Slovenia find itself under blockade by the international community.

Related articles

SPECIAL GUESTS OF THE VILLA BRIJUNKA Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor will be on a private visit on the Brijuni islands to the end of the week, and was invited to the Villa Brijunka by Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor

Pahor on the Brijuni islands, Josipovic at his summer house in Baska Voda

After the recent visit of the family of Serbian President Boris Tadic, Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor has also decided to spend a part of his… Više