President Pahor Says Arbitration Tribunal Continuing Work Key

Ljubljana, 19. 8. 2015 | interview

It is crucial for Slovenia that the border arbitration tribunal continue its work and end it with a ruling, President Borut Pahor told the STA in an interview. The arbitration agreement is considered an international treaty and remains valid despite Croatia's decision to withdraw from it.

"The most important thing for Slovenia is that the arbitration tribunal determine the border between the two countries. I thought this was also important for Croatia," Pahor said in his first interview after the outbreak of the arbitration scandal.

The decision by the Croatian government and parliament to initiate a rescission of the agreement "poses the legitimate question whether Croatia signed and ratified the arbitration agreement also to resolve the border issue or primarily to become an EU member," he said.

Asked about Slovenia's decisions in the aftermath of the resignation of its arbiter and Croatia's decision to abandon the deal, Pahor said Slovenia was taking "all the necessary decisions to make sure the arbitration tribunal can independently and impartially adopt a judgement."

"What is essential at this point, for me and for the country, is that the arbitration tribunal continue its work and complete it with a judgement. It is important now that we have a clear priority list of strategic goals and that we achieve them step by step."

Asked whether the cooling of bilateral relations would affect ties at the presidential level, Pahor said that he was expecting to hold talks with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović within the next fortnight.

"At least that was our plan. Personally I see no reason to change it, and I hope the Croatian counterpart does not see one either," said Pahor. "It's important that the dynamics of political contacts does not change significantly."

Pahor and Grabar-Kitarović are both expected to attend the Alpbach Forum in Austria, which starts this weekend, while Grabar-Kitarović is also listed among the guests of the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia, which starts on 31 August.

Pahor said that in the forthcoming meetings with his counterpart he expected "an honest and productive discussion." "We have to continue talking - about everything. After all, we are partners in NATO and the EU, and the two of us are the leaders of the informal Brdo Brijuni process."

Grabar-Kitarović recently told a Croatian paper that Slovenia and Croatia do not realistically have a border issue, as Slovenian ships can freely cross Croatian waters towards the open seas without anyone stopping it.

Pahor says he statement attracted his attention but he did not wish to immediately react to it as he refuses to engage in a daily exchange of opinions of the sort that existed between the two countries for 18 years.

"Nevertheless, such a statement, in particular coming from the president, may not be overheard," he said, noting that there is a border issue as the maritime border has never been set. Consequently, such a position "needs to be rejected in its entirety, for it prejudges the border yet again."

Asked whether Slovenia should have reacted more forcefully and defended its position, Pahor said "of course I personally or Slovenia could have responded to other statements as well."

Instead, the decision was to "hold back" and react to only the key statements. "Let's stick to what is essential," he said.

As for the future of bilateral relations now that they reached a low point, Pahor said: "We'll always be neighbours. I think it is important that we resolve all essential issues, among which the determination of the border is indisputably the most important one."

"When we started bilateral negotiations in mid-2009 that led to the conclusion of the arbitration agreement, it was not only about Croatia's membership of the EU and settling the border, generally speaking it was about sorting out strategic issues that, left unresolved, could significantly worsen the political and security situation in the region."

"This has to be borne in mind today, even if things are much more favourable. But you know how it is: you have to try very hard to improve relations, and do very little for them to deteriorate. All things considered, I wish to be a moderate optimist."

As prime minister, Pahor led the efforts for the conclusion of the arbitration agreement along with his then counterpart Jadranka Kosor.

Asked about the circumstances of the EU-brokered deal, Pahor said there a "many wrong interpretations that Croatia and Slovenia reached the arbitration agreement under pressure. To hell they did."

"There was no pressure at all. There was painful and utterly worrisome silence. We were left alone - and we reached the framework agreement alone," he said.

Pahor highlighted the talks on the crucial Article 3 of the arbitration agreement, which determines the tasks of the arbitration tribunal.

He noted that the first proposal by then European Commissioner Olli Rehn determined the tribunal must determine Slovenia's "contact" to the High Sea, which the Croatian parliament rushed to confirm knowing that a second proposal was being prepared.

The second proposal changed the wording to "junction", a phrasing that was not acceptable for Croatia, which consequently left the talks.

"A week later Rehn admitted to have given up on the negotiating process and called on both sides to resolve the issue themselves."

"Trust was essential to reaching the agreement: Slovenia consented to lifting the blockage on Croatia's [EU membership] talks even if the agreement was not formally signed, while Croatia consented to the wording of the second Rehn proposal, meaning that both sides made a step towards signing the agreement."