Slovenia border dispute referendum 2010
A binding referendum on approving an agreement which will bring a border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia to an international arbitration tribunal was held in Slovenia on June 6. Slovenia and Croatia have fought a diplomatic war since 1991 concerning land and water control in the small Bay of Piran, which is Slovenia’s only access to the sea. Slovenia’s current territorial waters are surrounded on all sides by other national waters – to the north, those of Italy and to the south, those of Croatia. Slovenian ships and fishermen thus have no access to the high seas through neutral international waters. Slovenia would like to expand its territorial waters to provide it a link to the high seas, something which Croatia opposes. Slovenia, an EU member since 2004, has used the dispute to veto Croatia’s bid to join the EU as the 28th member.
Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor, a Social Democrat, signed an agreement with Croatia in 2009 which would hand arbitration in the issue over to international arbitrators while Slovenia would stop blocking Croatia’s bid to enter the EU by 2012. The deal was ratified by both national parliaments but the right-wing opposition in Slovenia was able to force a binding referendum on the issue. The Slovenian right denounced the agreement as a pro-Croatian capitulation. As in most referendums, voters also tended to answer the person who asked the question rather than the question itself. The Slovenian government isn’t extremely popular right now, so it explains the relative closeness of this referendum which some would assume would be a slam-dunk for the YES side.
Do you support the implementation of the Law on the Ratification of the Arbitration Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the Government of the Republic of Croatia, which was adopted by the Slovenian Parliament at its session of 19 April 2010, becoming valid?
Support for the agreement was greatest in the area directly concerned, that is, the Bay of Piran and Slovenia’s sole major harbour in Koper. One would assume that these voters, directly concerned by this issue, are supportive of a rapid arbitration of this issue and the development of better business relations with Croatia, which remains a major business partner. However, voters in the more mountainous and rural areas of eastern Slovenia voted against the agreement by a large margin. Nationalist rhetoric and distance from the issue likely explains part of their opposition, as does the area’s conservatism (it voted for the right in 2008 while the area which includes the Bay voted for the left). Full results are available here.
The resolution of this issue comes as a relief for both Slovenia’s government – which has prevented an embarrassing defeat of its efforts of resolving bilateral disputes in the Balkans through compromise; and of Croatia’s government – which will now have a much easier road to EU membership which is likely to come as early as 2012. Slovenia seeks to make this agreement an example of conflict resolution in the historically tumultuous Balkans through peaceful compromise and agreement. Their optimistic hope is that it will influence relations between Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia.