The president of European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker simply could not understand why is there so much rage and anger in responses of Croatian politicians. He was even more surprised since the occasion for all the heavy words was just his statement that European countries have to respect certain rules and legal order. During the conversation last week, held in Ljubljana, Juncker simply mentioned that Croatia and Slovenia have concluded internationally valid agreement on resolving open border issues and that he is convinced that both sides will completely and unconditionally respect the decision of the arbitrary court. By doing so, he said neither anything new or disturbing.
Regarding the content, he simply restated what he already said by the end of October 2004 in Zagreb. To the President of the Government Dr. Ivo Santander, his host at the time, he said, without a diplomatic twist, that one of the main conditions for Croatia’s entrance in EU is respecting of international legal order and cooperation with international courts. Sanader realized and had enough state power not to allow any large-scale internal political discussion. The issue at the time was quite sensitive, regarding the full cooperation with International Criminal Court for war crimes committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, and placing general Ante Gotovina under arrest.
And also because of this Junker was surprised to read responses on his current reference to the necessity to respect the decision of the arbitrary court. First, the response of the Vice President and Minister for Foreign Affairs Davor Ivo Stier and immediately thereafter, the prime minister Andrej Plenković, who told him that his position is unnecessary as well as unacceptable because the allegedly compromised arbitrary procedure for Croatia is completed.
This is precisely where I have to stop. Namely, Plenković claim that the arbitrage procedure was compromised should be understood literally. But, of course, not because of the carefully prepared bugging operation of the Slovenian judge and lawyer, but because of a more detailed quest of the right moment for the public disclosure of their conversation, and then almost amateur placement of shots first in one of the Belgrade tabloid newspapers which allegedly exposed them all together. No, it was quite different.
Croatian decision on discrediting arbitration regarding the border with Slovenia was made much earlier. The prominent Croatian professor of International law, Dr. Vladimir Ibler, in his discussions prior to the publication of a book of memoirs, talked about long-term negotiations regarding the border. His assessment, published simultaneously with the disclosure of audio recordings of conversations between the judge and the lawyer, was that Slovenia and Croatia have never truly negotiated and that it was more like some kind of mandatory torture that resulted in experts withdrawing from the negotiation groups and being replaced by politically obedient members. Members who could not or did not want to understand that Croatian side has to never accept the arbitrage but to insist on the one and only possible solution regarding border issues, especially in Gulf of Piran, in front of the European Court in Hague. Because of this, by the end of 2009, he asked Croatian politicians whose fault would it be if the arbitrary court makes the decision damaging to the Republic of Croatia?
It was only the first step in the project aimed at the cancellation of arbitration. The decision about it was made almost simultaneously with the signing and ratification of the Arbitration Agreement, which, in the presence of the Chairman of the EU Council, Fredrik Reinfeldt, was signed by Prime Minister Borut Pahor and his Croatian counterpart Jadranka Kosor.
What followed was the operationalization of the plan. In the first days of October 2012 – a little less than three years before the publication of wiretapped telephone conversations of the judge and the lawyer -professor Davorin Rudolf, the former Croatian Minister of Maritime Affairs and Foreign Affairs, later ambassador, delivered a lecture with an attractive title, Contemporary Croatian borders. Then he repeated a general thesis that the border issue in the Gulf of Piran revolves, first of all, around territorial claims of Slovenia. Then he continued with the two decisions.
First, that there is a possibility that the decision of the arbitrary court regarding the sea border would be favorable for Slovenia. But, that precisely this can entail extremely dangerous issue of the sea border between Italy and Croatia, as well as demarcation of the sea to the islands of Palagruža. His second decision was more of a condemnation. That all the previous negotiations regarding the sea border that Croatia had with Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, were led by insufficiently prepared and superficial negotiators and by those Croatian politicians who are not true patriots.
Around that time, in late 2012 and early 2013, he started to materially prepare project cancellation of the arbitration agreement.
I cannot claim with certainty because I possess neither the necessary documents nor testimonies, however, there were two people designated to assume the fault. Completely in accordance with Iblerov and Rudolph’s assessment that Croatian negotiators show insufficient love for the homeland.
First, allegedly, was Croatian ambassador Joško Paro, the second Željko Dobranović, the head of the Cabinet of the President of the State Stipe Mesić. Moreover, the documents detailing the misuse of state money were prepared for both of them. Both took part in international negotiations. Paro was even an important operative in the Agreement on the border which was concluded by Dr. Janez Drnovšek and Dr. Ivica Račan, as well as in a similar agreement signed by the President Dr. Franjo Tuđman and the President of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegović, and also in the negotiations on a temporary point of demarcation with Montenegro.
With both Dobranović and Paro politically convicted, the process of cancellation of arbitration could start. The only issue remaining is just a question of whether to repeat the proposal on resolving the border dispute before the European Court of Justice in Hague immediately afterward.
Some advisers of Croatian political leadership who were in charge to make the decision were against it.
Because of two reasons.
First, because it was difficult to explain why the arbitrary court was not the appropriate institution, while the European Court was. And then because of the prevailing assessment stating that Croatian position before the court would be thwarted due to the initialed Drnovsek – Racan agreement and, even more, because of the internationally valid Agreement on arbitration, signed, ratified, and even confirmed on the national referendum in Slovenia.
What is now being proposed to Slovenia by Stier and Plenković existed as an idea since 2014. After the cancellation of the arbitration, a new round of bilateral negotiations would be initiated. Croatian proposal would be, as such is probably prepared, that counties form mixed committees of experts again in order to revise all previous negotiations, and, by doing so, definitely discard the prior, and then determine the actual situation and reinitiate the discussions on the middle line of demarcation in Gulf of Piran. A novelty in the proposal would be that it relied on the cooperation of two foreign international lawyers, specializing in the Admiralty law.
After everything, the only thing left to do was to wait for a suitable moment for the beginning of the operation. A performance by the Slovenian Foreign Minister on the local cable television followed, along with his reference to the arbitrary court. Croatian plan was partly changed. It is estimated that it is easier to obtain telephone interceptions of the Slovenian judge and the lawyer instead of launching the proceedings to prove Paro and Dobranović guilty.
The process of exiting from the Arbitration Agreement was prepared by Croatia at least from 2010 onwards.
In late August 2015, President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, simply reiterated that the border issue will have to be resolved by Slovenia and Croatia themselves.
Therefore, it is now the question of even greater significance whether the general Juncker statement regarding the respect for the court decisions really could have been the trigger for such undiplomatic reaction from both of the key executives of the Croatian government?
In the discussions with the President of the Slovenian government, Dr. Miro Cerar, the President of the European Commission made a surprising reference to his position regarding the arbitration agreement, and likewise, he unexpectedly opened another topic, and that, of the further development of the European Union. One that the Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble called the formation of European core, and Chancellor Angela Merkel – the establishment of two-speed Europe, during the first days of September 2011, in the conversation with the leadership of Germany’s ruling party. And a month later, the French President at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, called it a two-speed model Europe.
Saša Vidmajer wrote the key answer. That by the end of the month, at the big celebration in Rome, Merkel was going to present two or three EU plan. And the border of the two-speed Europe largely coincided with the old Western-Eastern historical section, caesura between the founding and other members.
The question that interests us today is almost fateful.
Will Slovenia, a member of the EU and NATO Alliance, a member of the Schengen states and the European Monetary Union, remain the part of the core group of the most developed European countries? According to my understanding of the Prime Minister, Dr. Cerar, whom I talked to on late Saturday afternoon, Juncker said the message was optimistic. I estimate that the recent visit of the President Borut Pahor in Berlin was also tremendously important, as well as an incentive score from the decisive Angela Merkel.
During these decisive times, Slovenia must have a political consensus of the decisive political parties, ruling party, and opposition, that we have to remain the part of the most connected, core part of continental Europe.
And precisely within that, it is necessary to understand the reactions of the Croatia on Juncker’s message regarding the respect of the arbitration agreement. Namely, these answers were not intended only for him but also, or even primarily, for Slovenia. In order to encourage similar responses and also, to demonstrate that Slovenia is in the other part of Europe, one which only wants to bring unresolved problems, disputes, and conflicts to the common European table. By doing so, the arbitration agreement would become just one of among numerous unsolvable disputes in the region.
Therefore, as it is stated in one of confidential analysis of key advisers of the Slovenian Foreign Affairs Ministry, and with regard to arbitration and disputes with neighboring Croatia, it would be recommended to withdraw from the public and to commit to a tiny, but hidden part of seeking out European allies, and seeking to resolve this dispute which has been continuing for decades. As part of the political effort that is required for the place among the most influential associations at the European table.