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Two years after the entry into force of the arbitral award on the border with Croatia: Slovenia knows that its position is correct and will stand firm

Two years after the entry into force of the arbitral award, the Slovenian government’s position remains unchanged. Pursuant to Article 7 of the Arbitration Agreement, the award of the Arbitral Tribunal (29 June 2017) is binding on both countries and constitutes a definitive settlement of the border dispute.

Salt pans in Piran Bay

Two years after the entry into force of the arbitral award Slovenia's position remains unchanged. – Author Getty Images

The Slovenian authorities are exercising their authority up to the border defined by the Arbitral Tribunal. At sea it is defined precisely, while on land, the apportionment of all of the large formerly disputed areas has been clear since the arbitral award was handed down. Despite this, Croatia continues to commit violations of Slovenian territorial waters, such as e.g. imposing fines on Slovenian fishermen, patrolling by the Croatian police and monitoring the catch of Croatian fishermen, thereby preventing the Slovenian authorities from carrying out their duties.

Therefore, on 13 July 2018, Slovenia filed a complaint against Croatia with the European Court of Justice pursuant to Article 259 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) due to failure to fulfil obligations. The filing of the complaint with the EU Court of Justice is just one of the steps Slovenia has taken with the objective of fully implementing the arbitral award. It is an action that is necessary to ensure the effective implementation of EU directives as well as to protect Slovenia’s interests.

Croatia filed an objection of inadmissibility in December 2018. In the objection, Croatia maintains that there is still a dispute over the border and that this issue has to be resolved according to international law, for which the CJEU does not have jurisdiction. On 12 February 2019, Slovenia issued a written response to Croatia’s objection. An oral discussion of the objection and its permissibility is scheduled for 8 July 2019, at a hearing of a large panel (15 judges, with Priit Pikmäe of Estonia as advocate general).

The course and outcome of the proceedings before the EU court does not affect the legal nature of the arbitral award, which is in force pursuant to international law, independently of EU law.

The proceedings before the court also do not mean that it is not possible to seek an agreement with Croatia on the manner of enforcing the arbitral award while the proceedings are ongoing. On the expiry of the six-month deadline for the enforcement of the arbitral award, on 29 December 2017 Slovenia proposed to Croatia the establishment of joint bodies for the implementation of the arbitral award, through which the demarcation of the border could be achieved. In November 2018, Slovenia repeated its proposal through diplomatic channels, but Croatia has not responded to it to date.

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Even at the time of the promulgation of the arbitral award, the government undertook to pay particular attention to its implementation, especially for the people living along the border who are directly impacted by the ruling.

This was also the primary objective of the Act Regulating Certain Issues regarding the Final Award of the Arbitral Tribunal (ZUVRAS), in which the government created a special budgetary fund to protect the rights of Slovenian citizens living in the area.

Financial assistance for the purchase of new real estate:

By 31 December 2018, the Ministry of Public Administration had received a total of 38 applications for financial assistance for the selection of a residence.

A total of 36 decisions have been issued, of which:

  • 8 applications were refused in full (the reason is the status of the property, 1 Ljutomer Administrative Unit and 2 Metlika Administrative Unit, or failure to fulfil obligations regarding residence, 5 Piran Administrative Unit),
  • 2 applications were withdrawn (Piran AU),
  • 19 applications were approved in full (2 Metlika AU, 3 Ljutomer AU and 14 Piran AU),
  • 7 applications were partially approved (refused in the part relating to a person who is a Croatian citizen, or withdrawal of application with respect to the number of people in the household, 2 Ljutomer AU, 3 Metlika AU and 2 Piran AU).

Budgetary funds amounting to EUR 2,002,450.00 were allocated for this purpose in 2018.

Of the decisions issued, 35 are final, and payments have been issued on the basis of 26 decisions. The total amount of payments in 2018 was EUR 1,940,350.00.

Another two applications are awaiting decisions, as they are being checked as to whether they meet the statutory conditions for the granting of financial assistance in the selection of a residence.

Four administrative disputes have been lodged against the issued decisions, which have not yet been resolved.

Farming and fishing rights:

The National Farm Land and Forest Fund has received 32 applications for land in the municipality of Lendava with a total area of slightly more than 100 ha. The costs of providing the land for the beneficiaries have been estimated at EUR 200,000.

An application from the Municipality of Metlika for the relocation of a farm was approved. The Republic of Slovenia has approved the reimbursement of funds to the municipality amounting to EUR 13,908.

 One-time de minimis aid for compensation due to emergency circumstances in connection with the ruling of the Arbitral Tribunal on the border between Slovenia and Croatia:

Pursuant to the ZUVRAS, the Agency of the Republic of Slovenia for Agricultural Markets and Rural Development prepared graphical presentations of the agricultural land, on the basis of which it established the area of that land that was formerly on the Slovenian side of the border, and which farmers had claimed in a joint application for 2017, which is now on the Croatian side and which the farmers can no longer claim.

It involved agricultural land belonging to 83 agricultural holdings. At the end of March 2018, the Agency sent those 83 farms pre-completed applications for compensation and for claiming emergency circumstances. Completed applications were returned to the Agency by 81 of the agricultural holdings. The amount of restitution received by the beneficiaries is five times the value of payments made for 2017 for the part of the land that is now in Croatia.

Compensation due to emergency circumstances was paid to the aforementioned 81 beneficiaries in November 2018 in a total amount of EUR 237,897.34.

Pursuant to the ZUVRAS, Slovenian fishermen are entitled to the following compensation:

Article 15 of the ZUVRAS stipulates that the holder of a commercial fishing licence is entitled to compensation for loss of income due to obstruction of commercial fishing in the Slovenian territorial sea in the period of two years after the entry into force of that law (if a total of at least 46 ships’ logs were issued for fishing vessels in 2014, 2015 and 2016). The compensation can be claimed in one application for a period of six months and is granted according to the rules for de minimis State aid in fisheries. (The compensation is paid for each full metre of vessel length, multiplied by EUR 250, for a period of six months.)

Article 14 of the ZUVRAS stipulates that if the holder of a commercial fishing licence incurs material damage to fishing equipment or a fishing vessel due to a foreign vessel while fishing in the Slovenian territorial sea, it shall be entitled to compensation in the amount of the damages incurred that were caused within two years of the entry into force of that law.

We began paying this compensation after the first six-month period after the entry into force of the ZUVRAS (entry into force: end of 2017), in two parts. The first part was paid in two tranches: On 21 September 2018 and 26 September 2018 in a total amount of EUR 88,566.02. The second part was paid on 27 December 2018 in a total amount of EUR 95,500.02. A total of EUR 184,066.04 were paid for this purpose in 2018.

Fishermen can expect the payment for the next (third) period in August 2019. The final (fourth) payment is planned for the beginning of next year.

The government has adopted the Decree on the provision and financing of legal aid for fishermen, on the basis of which Slovenian fishermen are reimbursed the costs of legal aid, security deposits, fines and monetary penalties in proceedings before minor offence, judicial and other authorities of the Republic of Croatia due to the conducting of their activities pursuant to the arbitral award.

At least 494 proceedings have already been initiated under the Decree. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food has paid EUR 93,551.38 in legal costs to date.

Reimbursement of excise duties:

On the basis of data from the Financial Administration of the Republic of Slovenia, by the end of 2018, 29 applications had been received for compensation due to the reduced level of reimbursement of excise duties, all of which have been discussed, with 28 applications being approved and one being refused. The total amount of compensation approved amounts to EUR 27,403.12. Requests for one-time compensation due to the reduced level of reimbursement of excise duties could only be filed until the end of 2018.

Other breaches of fisheries legislation:

After the entry into force of the award, the Fisheries Inspection Service of the Inspectorate of the Republic of Slovenia for Agriculture, Forestry, Hunting and Fisheries discussed 781 cases of breaches in 2018, and 399 cases in 2019, i.e. fishing by Croatian fishermen in the Slovenian territorial sea. The Republic of Croatia and the European Commission were notified of each case.

During this period, 945 cases were closed due to inability to identify the fishermen who conducted illegal fishing in the Slovenian territorial sea.

In the two years, the Fisheries Inspection Service issued 104 payment orders for fines and 71 offence decisions with fine, i.e. a total of 175 fines. Of these, three are final, while a request for judicial protection has been filed at the court of jurisdiction for the remainder of the fines imposed. The court has ruled on 31 cases and has upheld the decision of the Fisheries Inspection Service. Croatian fishermen have been served with 19 court rulings that are already final. The others haven not been served, as they are undergoing the procedure of official translation.

All of the fines imposed against Croatian fishermen in connection with the enforcement of the arbitral award amount to EUR 148,680.00.

Maritime events:

From 30 December 2017 to 31 December 2018, 1,646 maritime events were discussed, in which a total of 2,470 vessels entered the Slovenian territorial sea, 1,130 of which were vessels belonging to Croatian security authorities.

From 31 December 2018 to 2 June 2019 we discussed 502 events, which
included a total of 808 Croatian vessels, of which 393 were vessels belonging to Croatian security authorities.

298 payment orders for offences were issued up to 30 May 2019.

Road reconstruction:

In 2018, the project “2431-18-0153 REKO Reconstruction of roads along the border with Croatia after the arbitration process” was added to the Development Projects Plan, under which work will be carried out on the existing state roads, or new road connections will be built in areas where the settlements are not served by the appropriately regulated state traffic infrastructure. The initial value of the project is EUR 4,456,083.

In October 2018, an agreement was concluded on the co-financing of the road network along the border with Croatia in the area of the Municipality of Razkrižje. After the Municipality of Razkrižje has drafted the terms of reference pursuant to the agreement, the Infrastructure Directorate of the Republic of Slovenia will continue with the proceedings.

An agreement was concluded with the Municipality of Metlika in January 2019 on co-financing the reconstruction of three municipal roads in Brezovica and the municipal road towards Kamenica, and an implementation plan for the latter has already been drafted.

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