Croatian MPs meet over Slovenia border row arbitration

Zoran MilanovicCroatian lawmakers met Wednesday to decide on withdrawing from arbitration on a border row with Slovenia after a scandal revealed that a Slovenian member of the tribunal tasked with solving it had breached its impartiality.

“The proceedings cannot be continued … There is nothing we could do but quit” the arbitration, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told the deputies who gathered at an extraordinary session over the issue.

The government forwarded to the parliament on Tuesday a draft conclusion that would oblige the government to start proceedings towards ending the arbitration.

The initiative must be backed by a two-thirds majority of the 151 deputies, which is an almost certain outcome as all parliamentary parties have already voiced their support for the idea. The vote is expected to take place later Wednesday or Thursday.

The scandal broke out last week over tapped phone conversations between the tribunal’s Slovenian judge Jernej Sekolec and a Ljubljana official.

In the recordings, the two openly discussed tactics for a ruling favourable to Slovenia. The pair have since resigned.

Zagreb had immediately threatened to quit the tribunal and has also appealed to the European Union over the affair.

But Slovenia announced Tuesday it has appointed the president of the International Court of Justice to replace Sekolec.

Prime Minster Miro Cerar said that with the appointment of French judge Ronny Abraham Ljubljana had fulfilled its “duty and removed all the obstacles for the tribunal to continue working undisturbed.”

In 2009, the two former Yugoslav republics signed an EU-backed deal to allow the arbitration tribunal to solve a long-standing dispute over 13 square kilometres (five square miles) of largely uninhabited land and Piran Bay in the northern Adriatic.

Each country was asked to propose a member of the five-member tribunal who would have to be impartial and, therefore, should not discuss the tribunal’s work with their government.

Slovenia, which has just 46 kilometres (29 miles) of coastline, believes its access to international waters is at stake because Croatia, whose coast stretches for 1,700 kilometres, wants the border to be drawn down the middle of the disputed bay.

Earlier this month, the arbitration tribunal announced it would decide on the dispute by December. That decision was to be binding for both countries.

In Brussels, an EU spokeswoman said Monday that the European Commission fully supported the work of the arbitration panel and voiced confidence that the two sides would respect rules they had accepted for its functioning.

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