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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?