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The maritime border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia

Tensions have been unfortunately  increasing again in last days between Slovenia and Croatia. Below you can find an excerpt from The Conundrum of the Piran Bay, co-authored by Matej Avbelj and myself, which it is once again extremely actual. Let us hope somebody learns some lessons from our conclusion and also from past mistakes. Full article is available at:

“In the light of the conclusion that no clear answer can be given to the Piran Bay conundrum, a useful a solution might be not drawing a border at all. Since there has never been one, it may never need one. The disputes about the borders should be seen as anachronistic in a contemporary Europe that strives for an ever-closer Union between its peoples. Borders are becoming more symbolic than functional. The law and the facts are that the maritime biological conservation is under exclusive competence of the EU. Within the fisheries sector, Member States are almost entirely pre-empted.60 It follows from this that Member States have lost or in other words delegated their sovereign rights in these fields to a supranational body for their better exercise. If this is so, Slovenia and Croatia are quarrelling about something that Slovenia has already given up and Croatia has acquiesced, since it strives for as early accession to EU as possible.

The core of the dispute between the countries is thus hollow and empty. In other words there is nothing to dispute. To clarify, if the Slovenian interests are in keeping the direct contact with the high seas for the unhampered functioning of its ports, preservation of the sea for the general well-being of the local inhabitants, and the development of tourism, these objectives can be achieved by not drawing a border. The same is true for Croatia, which also wants to preserve the environment and the well-being of its local inhabitants. Above all, it wants to have a direct contact with Italy which it can have since this border undisputedly exists from the time of ex-Yugoslavia. Without drawing a border and replacing and complementing the regulatory regime in this area by the EU legal regime, which will soon bind both Slovenia and Croatia, both states will get what they want and actually what EU law dictates. The problems of the local fishermen will be solved by the EU four fundamental freedoms, and the problems of the inhabitants in the four disputed villages will be solved in the same way and additionally by the provision of the EU citizenship.

With respect to EU citizenship, the decision to award the disputed people in these four villages with a dual citizenship, as it was agreed in Drnovšek-Racan agreement, amounts to contradictio in adiecto. Under EU law it suffices to have only one citizenship of one Member State to enjoy the national and EU benefits.  In essence, the solution of the Piran bay conundrum lies in the abandonment of the old statist approach by facing the new reality that is brought about by the European Union as an ideal worth following. We claim that the border disputes within the EU of today are anachronistic, since they belong to the Westphalian understanding of the world, which is being incrementally, but for sure, transcended and rendered obsolete. Slovenia and Croatia should, by having in mind their common destiny in the EU of tomorrow, rely on the agreements already reached and should just declare the waters ranging from Vrsar (Croatia) to Debeli Rtic (Slovenia) as their common waters, where common police control will be exercised, where EU exclusive policy will be implemented, and where it will not matter whether a boat is under Croatian or Slovenian flag. This kind of step forward would ease the tensions between the two nations. These tensions are completely artificial and have been used as a scapegoat for concealing problems internal to the political and economic situation of the both states. The local population, which has lived in peace since time immemorial should not be thrust in the middle of strategic political disputes, rather the culture of co-operation and mutual trust in the spirit of Europe without borders should be promoted.”


  1. Osama Osama 19 December 2008

    Great Post.

  2. James Harrison James Harrison 19 December 2008

    You state: “The law and the facts are that the maritime biological conservation is under exclusive competence of the EU…” Is this true? The Declaration concerning the Competence of the EC with regard to the Law of the Sea Convention states that “with regard to the provisions on … the prevention of marine pollution …, the Community has exclusive competence only to the extent that such provisions of the Convention or legal instruments adopted in implementation thereof affect common rules established by the Community. When Community rules exist but are not affected, in particular in cases of Community provisions establishing only minimum standards, the Member States have competence, without prejudice to the competence of the Community to act in this field…” Would rules on maritime biological diversity not fall in the latter category where the EC sets a minimum standard? If that is so, then the drawing of a border is still potentially important as it is necessary to know which state can set higher standards. Is it also potentially important for law enforcement purposes?

  3. Blaz Strukelj Blaz Strukelj 5 February 2009

    You stated:
    (Sloveia and Croatia) should just declare the waters ranging from Vrsar (Croatia) to Debeli Rtic (Slovenia) as their common waters, where common police control will be exercised.
    Well sounds great but what happens if, for example, a drunk Slovenian fishermen kills a drunk Croatian fisherman in common waters? What court are you going to take him to? What national laws are you going to apply to common teritory?
    As you know, EU legislations are applied trough national legal systems, not directly. If EU had a directly applied legal sistem (like federal laws in USA) , then your idea might work.
    So perhaps another idea would be to extend international waters right to the middle of Piran bay, so you can at least enforce international maritime laws. (similar to Račan Drnovšek agreement but with downwards extended chimney, so that Slo and Cro only keep smaller, (but equal in size) portion of Piran bay. But then again: whatever solution is found, it will only be temporary: in 20-30 years, Piran bay will, just as other nice European bays, most likely be defacto European sea, governed by EU laws and protected by EU navy. And people of Piran bay (from both sides) will live happily ever after, working their asses of on a huge gas decompressing terminal, that will finally overtake Piran bay.

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