The sunny corner of the Adriatic that is casting dark clouds over Europe

Border dispute with Slovenia over Bay of Piran threatens Croatia's EU bid

It is a sliver of coastline between two of the smallest states in Europe, boasting breathtaking views across the Bay of Piran and towns full of winding cobbled streets and Venetian Gothic architecture, but this picturesque corner of the Adriatic is casting a shadow over EU expansion plans.

Slovenia and Croatia are at loggerheads over their border and the diplomatic stand-off is threatening to derail Croatia's hopes of joining the EU.

The dispute dates to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, when both countries laid claim to the Bay of Piran, a seven-square-mile expanse of the Adriatic sea.

Croatia wants the border to be drawn down the middle of the bay but Slovenia – which is almost landlocked –says this would impede its ships from gaining direct access to the high seas.

In one tavern perched on the disputed border, customers can knock back pear brandy and roast pork dinners in one country and then use the bathroom in the other. Its owner, Sasha Kalin has even gone so far as to paint a fluorescent yellow line along the floor, marking the frontier between Croatia and Slovenia. Visitors may chuckle at the stunt, but the border issue is a row that has risen to the top echelons of European politics.

Yesterday, the EU's foreign ministers took up the baton, trying to get a deal to solve the festering dispute and warning that it was weighing down the entire EU enlargement process. Slovenia was the first former Yugoslav country to join the EU, in 2004. Late last year it thwarted Croatia's plans to join the group by turning the border issue into a key bargaining chip.

"There is pressure on both of them [to solve this]," said the Czech Foreign Minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, who chaired yesterday's meeting. "They know the conditions, they have to accept the mediation offer."

The plan on the table now would see the dispute arbitrated by five judges, including one Slovene and one Croat. This would avoid lengthy legal proceedings at International Court of Justice at The Hague and is considered to be Croatia's only hope of joining the EU by 2010 as planned.

"It has now reached a crucial moment for both countries and the EU," said the European commissioner for enlargement, Olli Rehn.

"We have done 26 miles of the marathon and have reached the stadium. It's important that we don't give up and keep the momentum going.

"I expect positive responses shortly from the two countries to my proposal," Mr Rehn said.

But the prospects of a swift breakthrough are not encouraging. According to diplomats, the Slovenian Foreign Minister, Samuel Zbogar, appeared deaf to calls to resolve the issue by early next week, despite growing accusations that his country was unfairly holding Croatia to ransom and discrediting the neutrality of the EU's accession process. "The Slovenians are clearly in no mood to be pushed around," said one EU official.

And the plan is unlikely to receive much backing from other EU member states, many of which have little or no appetite for newcomers, because of the recession that is battering the continent and the fiasco over the premature entry of Romania and Bulgaria two years ago.

The Dutch, who are famously cautious when it comes to expanding the EU towards the Balkans, said they were concerned that the issue was overshadowing more serious concerns about Croatia's membership. One EU diplomat said: "We are more worried about things like corruption and lack of press freedom. That is what we should be looking into, not a border row."

Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has also warned against further EU enlargement. Her Christian Democrats party states in its manifesto for upcoming European Parliament elections that it "has required great efforts" from the EU to add the most recent members, a reference to the desperate economic woes afflicting countries such as Latvia and Hungary, which joined during the large major round of enlargement in 2004.

The party has called for "a phase ... during which a consolidation of the EU's values and institutions should take priority over further EU enlargement".

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments