It happened sooner than I expected. Less than a month ago, I wrote that the issue of the proclamation of an exclusive economic zone in the Adriatic Sea would be an important topic of discussion of the new Croatian government. However, I also estimated that they would postpone it for several months. In the first place, at least until the decision and the ruling of the court engaged by the Republic of Croatia, together with Slovenia, for adopting the final solution for outstanding border issues between the two countries. The unilateral proclamation of the exclusive economic zone in the Adriatic Sea means prejudging the decision on the border. And exactly here I overlooked that things are quite different from what they appear to be or from what someone wants them to be represented. First of all, that they are much more important and binding.
Precisely this was the reason why the Croatian government did not postpone the discussion on this, but instead decided on the subject at its first session already, on Thursday 27 October.
Discussion on the sea was the first point of the first session of the new Croatian government. Ministerial discussion on the economic zone in the Adriatic Sea was, due to consequential preliminary determination of the sea border, on first place a promise of the new Croatian government on the rejection of signed and in the parliament adopted arbitration agreement with Slovenia.
President of the Croatian government, liberal Andrej Plenković, instructed the minister of foreign and European affairs, at the introductory meeting of his office, to enter into consultations with colleagues in the governments of the European Union states and European government in Brussels on the protection of Croatian interests in the Adriatic Sea. And precisely because of its importance, he put this point on the agenda right behind his report on the session of the European Council, as well as announcement that the president of the state, Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, would attend a memorial service and an honourable funeral of violently murdered victims of Huda Jama. Immediately afterwards, the government has instructed the minister of foreign affairs to conduct all the necessary diplomatic activities related to the Adriatic Sea. The new minister of foreign affairs, Davor Ivo Stier, should check with his European colleagues and the European Commission whether there is a possibility of proclamation and the full use of the exclusive economic zone in the Adriatic Sea. Although the information on the further course of the discussion was scarce, it was evident, more or less, that this was a key political agreement of the first session of the new Croatian government.
According to the content, it was a repetition of similar discussion of the Croatian government from thirteen years ago. But with one difference. In 2003, the then president of the Croatian government, Dr. Ivica Račan, said that it was necessary to previously agree on all actions and measures in sensitive Adriatic Sea with the neighbouring countries. Now, on 27 October 2016, exactly that part is forgotten. The new Croatian minister of foreign affairs, also a negotiator on the agreement on arbitration with Slovenia during the government of Jadranka Kosor, only noted that at the time of preparation of the new maritime policy in the Mediterranean Sea, it is also the time for new dialogues. And nothing else.
The reason for rushing with this sensitive subject can be only one. Expectation or even news received by the official Zagreb of the upcoming and binding decision of the International Court of Arbitration, invited by both the Slovenian and Croatian state to issue a final ruling on the border between the two countries. Well, the sea border on first place.
At the aforementioned first session, Plenković’s government did set a deadline of one year during which the ministry of foreign affairs, with the necessary cooperation of the entire government apparatus, should prepare the necessary decisions for the decision making. Yet all the necessary decisions on the proclamation of exclusive economic zone have already been prepared, at least from 2003. Now, they are just waiting for the right moment for a new political confirmation. Most likely, the day before or the day after the announcement of the ruling of the arbitration court. Among other things, this was the reason why the president of the Croatian government has stated in one of his first public appearances that Croatia is not and will not be in any way “bound by the decision of the definitely compromised arbitration process.” And he added that they “are looking for other ways for the solution of border issues.”
The old baron d’Estournelles de Constant wrote in 1914 an introduction to the report requested from him by the Foundation for International Peace Carnegie. The commission of distinguished people, representatives of the United States, France, Russia, Great Britain, Germany and Austria – Hungary prepared a report on the reasons for the constant problems and disputes between countries of the Balkan Peninsula. De Constant wrote that the solution of international disputes was possible with the application of arbitration agreements on the issues that they could not solve amicably. And added right after that they would have to insist for these countries to then comply with these solutions.
The Republic of Croatia is afraid of not only the arbitration agreement with Slovenia entered as a result of cooperation between the European Union and the United States, but of a principle of such resolving of border disputes with practically all its neighbouring countries. Also, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. With the former due to the large deposits of gas in the sea bed of Bay of Kotor, and with latter due to two small islets near the town of Neum. Therefore, Montenegro could declare its maritime zone due to gas deposits of the sea bed belt, which is extending to the island of Lastovo. Similary, Bosnia and Herzegovina could request the exercising of the right of access to the open sea. Croatia has suspended initiated negotiations on the possibility of arbitration with Montenegro, and it has also never ratified the agreement on the border reached and signed by the presidents Franjo Tuđman and Alija Izetbegović. Open border with Serbia is a specific problem, partly because of the border on the Danube River. More precisely, before the arbitral tribunal that decides on the boundary line on the river Mura towards Slovenia, Croatia advocates exactly the principle of reasoning which it explicitly rejects in the border dispute with Serbia.
At its first session, the last days of October this year, the Croatian government essentially determined what the president Plenković named other method of solving border disputes. It would like to declare an exclusive economic zone in the Adriatic Sea at an appropriate time and thus prejudge the borders without negotiation or arbitration proceedings. Even with Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. And above all, to have a tool of rejection of the upcoming decisions of the arbitral tribunal on the border with Slovenia.
Of course, it is necessary to support and actively participate in all initiatives aimed at protecting the environment in the Adriatic Sea and careful management of the marine treasure. However, this can be achieved only through mutual agreement of the countries next to the Adriatic Sea.
But first of all, this is possible only and only when the decision of the Arbitral Tribunal which will finally determine sea and other borders between the two countries, Slovenia and Croatia, is known. In 2003, the then Slovenian prime minister Anton Rop said to Račan that, before any Croatian decision to proclaim the exclusive economic zone in the Adriatic Sea, they should ratify the Agreement on Joint State Border confirmed in 2001 by the governments of Dr Janez Drnovšek and Ivica Račan, the famous Agreement Drnovšek – Račan, negotiated over many years. It is similar today as well. Croatia may, in accordance with EU standards and previous agreements and approvals, negotiate with Slovenia on intention to declare the economic zone in the Adriatic Sea, but only after the decision and the final determination of the boundary line which will be declared by the abovementioned arbitral tribunal, from which it was requested to decide on the issue.
Before that, Slovenia can do nothing else but reject all the activities that would affect the space of the Adriatic Sea under its sovereignty or jurisdiction. And notify the new Croatian government on this. Only in this way will we be able to avoid new complications and problems.