Following a meeting on July 30 between Croatian Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Vesna Pusić, and Bosnian-Herzegovinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Zlatko Lagumdžija, the issue of setting a final border between these two Balkan countries has been put back high on their bilateral agenda. After 20 years of independence and several attempts, the 932km of land and additional sea border have never been officially set. In 1999 an agreement was reached, although it has never been ratified by Croatia. Taking into account the border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia, the EU has expressed its willingness to support bilateral negotiations in order to prevent future problems.
For Croatia, setting its border with Bosnia-Herzegovina is an important issue; clearly, as a future EU (and Schengen) Member State it wishes to know where its borders are. In addition, the Croatian Adriatic coast is split at the Bosnian town of Neum, leaving Dubrovnik separated from the rest of the country. While not an insurmountable issue, overcoming this geographical problem would be preferable to Croatia, ensuring freedom of movement and trade without transiting Bosnia.
Attempts in the past to bypass Bosnia via a road bridge to the Pelješac Peninsula have previously fallen flat amid Bosnian objection and a critical lack of funding. A more recent idea has been a Croatian corridor linking the two through what is currently Bosnian territory. This project has been met with a much more receptive response from Bosnia, which expressed readiness to consider the scheme, but has asked Croatia to ratify the 1999 agreement on setting borders between the two countries, granting access to the Croatian sea port of Ploče.
According to this agreement Croatia would also recognise that two small islands and the peak of the Klek peninsula near Neum are part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This idea has provoked a reaction from the Croatian Democratic Union (now in opposition), who are opposed to ceding sovereignty and would prefer to press ahead with the bridge project.
Some independent analysts have proposed that Croatia should utilise its almost-EU position to push for a better deal. Croatian Prime Minister Milanović however has refused to try and use the pending accession to “harass other [States],” and will push ahead with current agreements, not least of all because he realises that potential EU States causing border squabbles is unlikely to play well in Brussels. Sufficed to say though that this issue is back on the agenda, and both sides seem to be ready for their own reasons to find compromise without mediation in spite of the attempts of opposition politicians to make domestic gains at their expense from the deal. Should this agreement be successfully struck, it will certainly mark another persistent but minor problem down pre-accession for Croatia and be a positive development for businesses in Dubrovnik, and for the continuing development of regional diplomacy as Croatia prepares for EU accession in 2013.
Adnan Ćerimagić, Research Associate