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News 29 Jun 17

Croatia Set to Ignore Ruling on Piran Gulf

While Slovenia is already hailing the expected ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration as 'historic', Croatia has made it clear it will not recognise the decision of a court that it calls 'compromised'.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Maritime boundary dispute between Croatia and Slovenia in the Piran Gulf. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/AnonMoos

Ahead of an announced decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on Thursday on the dispute over territorial waters between Croatia and Slovenia, Croatia has made it clear it will not accept the ruling.

Croatia's parliament in July 2015 backed a government decision to abandon the arbitration process over the dispute, after the media revealed that secret, unauthorised conversations had taken place between a judge at the Court and the Slovene representative to the court.

The arbitration process has since continued without the presence of Croatia.

Former Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, a professor of international law, said the decision of the Court on Thursday “won’t bring anything new”.

“We’re looking at the status quo, nothing will be resolved, since Croatia does not recognise any of the court’s decisions,” he told BIRN, calling the process “indeed compromised” and adding that Croatia did well to leave it.

“Although both governments will most likely continue to talk, it doesn’t seem likely that either of the two will back down from its position and seal a deal,” he added.

Josipovic said the only possible long-term solution was to open a case before the International Court of Justice, as the ICJ “has the jurisdiction to decide in inter-state disputes and passes decisions according to international law”.

In July 2015, Vecernji list published recordings of unauthorised phone conversations between Jernej Sekolec, the Slovenian judge on the court, and Simona Drenik, the representative of the Slovenian government.

During the conversations, which were not permitted, Sekolec revealed confidential conversations between the judges, predicting that the court would award Slovenia up to 75 per cent of the waters of the Piran Gulf, as Ljubljana has been demanding.

Croatia's government and parliament then called the entire process “compromised” and “contaminated”.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic repeated the same stance last week.

“The arbitration is compromised and contaminated and we came out of it by a unanimous decision of parliament,” he said.

“The decisions of international courts and arbitration [processes] should be respected but only when everything is clear and correct.

"When the activity of that court was absolutely contrary to international law, there was a violation of the procedure and an unlawful act,” he continued.

“Such a verdict that arises on the basis of an unlawful act can’t have any consequences for Croatia, and we clearly said that two years ago,” Plenkovic concluded.

However, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar on Wednesday said the Court’s decision would be “a historical event” for both states and “D-day” for Slovenia.

Milan Brglez, chair of the Slovenian parliament, on Wednesday said the court’s decision would be the third most important event in the country’s history, behind gaining independence in 1991 and joining EU and NATO in 2004.

The dispute between Croatia and Slovenia over the maritime waters on the Istrian peninsula dates back to the break-up of Yugoslavia. It resulted in Slovenia temporarily blocking Croatia’s EU accession talks in December 2008.

Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor signed an arbitration agreement in November 2009 and the process started in The Hague in June 2014.

The European Commission in 2015 said that there was “no sustainable alternative to the arbitration procedure” over the disputed waters.

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