Following a ministerial meeting in Brussels on July 23, Slovenian foreign minister Karl Erjavec stated that the issue of the Ljubljanska Banka (LB) should be parcelled with Slovenia’s ratification of Croatia’s planned EU accession next July. Croatia accuses Slovenia of having transferred the equivalent of some EUR 172 million to Ljubljana during the breakup of Yugoslavia – an accusation vehemently rejected by Slovenian authorities.
The question of LB has plagued the countries’ relations for the past nineteen years and has been the subject of recent minister level meetings. These latest remarks have managed to cast some doubt on whether Croatia’s EU accession will proceed on time. Erjavec’s comments drew a consternated response from Croatian opposition leader, Tomislav Karamarko, who heads the country’s largest political party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). Karamarko countered by threatening to raise the disputed border at Sveta Gera, a former Yugoslav Army barracks on Croatian territory manned by Slovenian troops.
Croatia’s accession odyssey has already seen the two countries debate land and maritime demarcations, issues finally detached from the accession negotiations by an arbitration agreement signed in 2009. Having moved its decades long border dispute with Slovenia out of the way, Croatia’s accession bid had already been accepted by Brussels. Croatia’s July 2013 accession seemed all but certain; only the rather pro-forma procedure of ratification through the individual EU Member States’ parliaments is now required.
What then is behind this new round of brinkmanship? Following Croatia’s signing of its accession treaty Slovenian MEP Tanja Fajon described the accession negotiations as having been a “mixture of marathon and sprint”, with long drawn out issues being frantically resolved shortly before they came to a head. Croatian political analyst Davor Gjenero recently told the Financial Times’ BeyondBrics that this most recent hurdle in Croatia’s accession marathon would likely be hectically crossed in the autumn, allowing both sides to save face and Croatia to realise its European dream.
With 71% of Slovenians disapproving of the government’s performance and presidential elections coming up later in the year, the incumbents have their work cut out for them. In light of this, Erjavec’s comments and the subsequent heated exchanges should not be seen as a serious attempt to derail Croatia’s 2013 accession, but rather an international move catered to a domestic audience. While Erjavec works to bolster his image, Karamarko is able to respond from the safety of the opposition. In the end, this minor drama is likely to be resolved quickly and with no long-term repercussions.
Ágúst Már Ágústsson, Research Associate