It would most probably seem at least to a random observer that it was one of the routine and appropriately boring meetings of the high representatives of the two countries. Perhaps only a tiny detail could show the confusion or discomfort – when the guest, at the end of the meeting, fixed the loose tie. And even that would not be anything unusual.
The meeting of the Croatian Minister of State Property Goran Marić and the Minister of Justice of Bosnia and Herzegovina Josip Grubeša was held in Zagreb on February 24 this year. It took part in the same room, at the same government table and with the same agenda as the meeting held by ministers last September. Almost quite the same was the conclusion of the conversation. That the states are obliged to regulate property relations, as well as to continue mutual negotiations on the issue.
However, the Zagreb meeting, even the September one and even less the February one, was neither accidental nor insignificant. These were two meetings where the political strategy of the Republic of Croatia towards its neighbouring countries could be understood. Policy of waiting, usurpation, and taking over. Therefore, the current Croatian expansion of mussel plant into the Slovenian sea is not a coincidental decision of seafood breeders, but a planned and predictable part of the state policy.
Anyway, let’s return to the February meeting of the two ministers. The guest, a member of the government of the neighbouring state, Josip Grubeša, has proposed and requested that the Republic of Croatia respects the interstate agreements. However, this was sentenced to failure in advance. On that day, the Croatian parliament initiated the consideration of the Bill on the Management of State Property. And it is precisely this legal text that is hiding the content that encroaches both the law and the property of neighbouring states. Primarily of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
To be more specific, the Law now allows management of property owned by the states created by the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, and on the territory of Croatia. The legislator simply forgot about the succession negotiations and the joint agreement of all the successor states that the mutual property issues should be addressed bilaterally.
And it decided differently. It simply usurped the ownership of other states protected by the Succession Agreement. Grubeša, at the February meeting, asked his Zagreb host, Marić, to continue and conclude the negotiations on the Property-Legal Agreement, which began in 1997. The only thing he got was a promise that the Croatian government would respect the adopted agreements and protect the interests of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Republic of Croatia.
But it was not so. At the end of this year, the Croatian Parliament confirmed and put into effect the Law on State Property Management and enabled the Croatian Government to freely dispose of and give different property to long-term lease, from the hotel to the part of the Ploče port, which is owned by enterprises, trade unions or cantons and Bosnia and Herzegovina Federation.
On Tuesday, July 3, 2018, the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina assessed that the adoption of the Croatian law threatens the rights of both legal entities and citizens of that state, as well as invited all the authorities to initiate the necessary court procedures for the protection of property and announced the possibility of an international lawsuit of Bosnia and Herzegovina against Croatia.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and President of the State, Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, have different views on the different issues of state governance. Nevertheless, they also have a high degree of mutual agreement on regulation of open issues with neighbouring countries and the international arbitration tribunal.
I am talking of three principles – waiting, power, and usurpation.
The waiting principle is simply accomplished. Croatia has not respected that principle for the last twenty years only twice. The first time in late 2001, when they wanted to independently regulate the border line with Serbia on the Danube and sent an armed unit to one of the disputed river islands. The Serbian border police quickly resolved the matter. Truth to be spoken, more with weapons than in diplomatic manner, but the Croatian unit withdrew. The second time, at the end of 2009, the failure to comply with the waiting principle was much more critical. Croatia first proposed, and then requested and finally signed with Slovenia the agreement on the settlement of open border issues before the international arbitration tribunal. The judgment of the court has become part of an international legal order, which cannot be, as already concluded and signed various state contracts, simply be ignored or the existence of that judgment overlooked.
That is why the last statement by the Croatian foreign minister, Marija Pejčinović Burić, who does not talk much, that she insists on the demarcation from 1991, should be understood as correcting the Croatian mistake with the international arbitration tribunal. Meaning, that the border at sea was determined long ago and that all subsequent events, including the Drnovšek – Račan Agreement and the arbitration agreement, are in fact only Slovenian extortion.
Croatia has suspended negotiations on open issues and all other issues with all neighbouring countries. Because of the power principle. It is obvious that they estimate that these issues will be solved more easily when Serbia and Montenegro, and later Bosnia and Herzegovina, will be in a situation just ahead of full European membership. And they will need the consent of Croatia.
The extension of Croatian mussel plants into the Slovenian sea was therefore expected. Perhaps they were a little premature due to the period when Slovenia still does not have a government with all the powers, but in any case it would happen.
Every occupied meter of land or the sea represents a new reality and becomes part of that demarcation, which Pejčinović Burić, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, calls the 1991 demarcation.
The system of three principles proved to be relatively successful. Until the moment which Croatian political architects could not have foreseen in advance.
Full protection of external European borders is becoming a priority not only of the Austrian presidency of the European Union, but also of key European foreign and security policies. When the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, speaks of the protection of borders, he directly speaks about the protection of the Schengen borders of the EU. It is precisely in this context that I understand the assessment of German Chancellor Angela Merkel about possible German assistance on the external Schengen border in Slovenia.
And Slovenia has a border at sea determined by the judgment of the international arbitration tribunal. And the complete protection of the Schengen European borders implies a consistent protection of the sea border.