Croatia’s Prime Minister Ivo Sanader is preparing to take his country on two historic leaps forward: joining NATO next month…and becoming the 28th member of the European Union. But not everyone in the Balkans is happy, especially Slovenia. The two neighbours are in a border dispute. They both claim Piran Bay on the Adriatic Coast. And the row also involves other boundary claims left unresolved since the break up of Yugoslavia in 1991. Last December Slovenia accused Croatia of not playing fair, saying it was wrong to bring maps and boundary documents to the EU negotiating table. Slovenia meanwhile blocked several stages of Croatia’s EU talks. With tensions on both sides rising, Sanader met with his Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor last week. But no solution was found and now there’s a question mark over Croatia being ready to join the EU in 2011. euronews recently met with Prime Minister Sanader in Zagreb.
Time to get down to fine detail about the border dispute and Croatia’s membership of NATO and the European Union.
euronews: ‘The border dispute between your country and Slovenia. It’s over a small part of the Adriatic Sea and yet it has become such a big issue between you and Slovenia. But now Slovenia, as an EU member has threatened to veto your country’s membership. How did it get to this point?’
Ivo Sanader: ‘First I think, and I agree with you, this is a relatively small issue but it is becoming big because it’s becoming a political tool in our negotiations with the European Union which should not be the case.’
euronews: ‘But this is really the first time where we have, in the Balkans, an EU member and a non-EU member and there is concern that this could set a precedent. What for you is the solution?’
Ivo Sanader: ‘For me the solution is to first, draw the line of separation between the accession talks and the border dispute. And second, to go before the international court of justice which is the UN body, which has dealt so far, with more than fifty cases in its history and the last case which they resolved has been the border dispute on the sea between Romania and Ukraine and it was very successful.’
euronews: ‘From what I understand, your government’s position is that it is a legal issue whereas Slovenia’s position is that it’s a political issue so they’re asking for EU mediation. Would you be against this?’
Ivo Sanader: ‘No, we are not against any involvement of the European Commission. In this case, what we are against, is the fact that it has been brought up to the table of our negotiations. ‘To put it as an obstacle for Croatia, for our negotiations talks, and even what you mentioned in your first question, to veto Croatia’s accession because of a bilateral border issue, it’s not European, it’s not fair, it’s not correct.’
euronews: ‘When you talk about veto, another question of veto has been regarding NATO membership. Next month in Strasbourg, the 60th anniversary, you are set to become a member of NATO but there have been some Slovenian nationalist parties which are trying to get enough signatures to have a referendum on your membership. How do you react to this?’
Ivo Sanader: ‘This is not the right way to do it. Croatia is already participating in many peacekeeping missions, among others in Afghanistan. And I discussed this with (Slovenian) Prime Minister Pahor during our last meeting in Slovenia and he told me he is against this referendum, he is against this nationalistic forces which push for a referendum, which would mean in a way a veto for Croatia’s accession.’
euronews:‘And he has said that he is not worried?’
Ivo Sanader: ‘He has said that he is against this. So let’s see what will happen. I hope that everything will be okay and that Croatia will celebrate with other allies the 60th anniversary of this great alliance.’
euronews: ‘Another big subject for Croatia’s membership to the European Union has been corruption and organized crime. Last fall there were a series of killings of journalists and lawyers, and you said you did not want Croatia to become another Beirut.’
Ivo Sanader: ‘That was my first reaction after those killings and as you know, as the Europan public knows very well, we reshuffled the government after those killings and I appointed two new ministers, the minister for justice and the minister for interior and they resolved all those issues. the killers are in prison and we would like now to continue with these strong measures in fighting corruption and organized crime.’
euronews: ‘I read recently that only 25 percent of Croatians are enthusiastic about joining the EU. How do you explain this?’
Ivo Sanader: ‘I explain it very easily. It’s very simple. Whenever Croatia has some problems on its way to the EU, the public support is reduced. So the last polls, I have the polls which say it’s 35 or 40 percent but even if it’s 25 percent, it’s due to this Slovenian blockade from December. You know that Slovenia has blocked (Croatia) because of this bilateral issue, 11 chapters. So the mood, it’s psychological. If there is blockage on our way, support falls down, but if there is a light at the end of the tunnel, if there is some light on the horizon, public support increases. Let’s see how it will develop in the coming weeks and months.’