Croatia's Adriatic zone a new source of friction with Slovenia

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As the New Year began Croatia began enforcing what it calls an ecological and fisheries zone in the Adriatic Sea. The goal of the zone is to protect Adriatic Sea fishing stocks which Croatia says are being depleted by Italy's larger fishing fleet. Croatia had agreed to allow exemptions for EU countries, especially its neighbours Italy and Slovenia, but its decision to enforce the zone of the has once again upset those ever-fragile relations between Croatia and Slovenia.

The first comment of Slovenia's Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel on the fact that Croatia started enforcing its ecological and fisheries zone for EU members was very mild as he said that Slovenia is ready, or even obliged to, wait for the Croatian parliament to be formed and to give Croatia another chance to do something.

Last weekend Croatia's new government of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was formed and he promised Croatia would do everything it could regarding reforms and negotiations to speed up its efforts to join the European Union by 2010. At the same time he stressed that Croatia would not renounce its right to declare the Zone:

“Croatia will not renounce its right to declare the zone as other countries within the EU have declared ecological fisheries zones in accordance with the convention on international maritime law.”

The Slovene side had hoped for more concrete suggestions of the new Croatian government and Slovenia stresses that the fisheries zone is not just a bilateral issue between the two countries but it is an issue between Croatia and the European Union. Foreign Minister Rupel said that it is necessary to wait for EU mechanisms to start working and he believes that they could have very negative consequences for Croatia. He also said that Slovenia is ready for talks with the European Commission, Italy and Croatia as soon as Croatia annuls its decision to enforce the fishing zone in the Adriatic for EU countries.

According to Dimitrij Rupel, the 2004 agreement can only be changed if a solution acceptable to the other sides involved is found:

«Until the zone is in place or until Croatia says so, such talks do not make sense unless Croatia comes up with a solution that suits Slovenia as well as Italy and the European Commission»

This week Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said that Slovenia expects Croatia to retract the declaration of the protective zone. Being asked whether Slovenia will block Croatia's EU accession talks, he said:

«Slovenia could do so but at the moment it is a problem between the EU and Croatia. If Croatia insists on the zone the EU has said it could suspend or substantially slow down membership talks».

In Slovenia patience is running out, Mr. Rupel admitted:

"It will be difficult to wait for more than a week, we are all tired."

Slovene Prime Minister Janez Jansa said that he expected the new Croatian government to get down to resolving the matter immediately.