If and when Croatia would join the EU's passport-free travel Schengen area will depend on the EU's evaluation commission and not on Slovenia, Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Sarec told state television on Monday.
Sarec added that regarding the border dispute with Croatia his government will maintain the same position of the previous cabinet led by Miro Cerar, who now serves as Foreign Minister.
Sarec said that Slovenian police were doing a good job of monitoring the EU’s external Schengen border towards Croatia, but that his government also called for a stronger role of EU’s external border protection agency Frontex on Croatia’s eastern borders towards Bosnia and Serbia, where a large number of potential migrants want to reach the Schengen area by travelling through Croatia and Slovenia.
The number of illegal migrants caught in Slovenia in 2018 has quadrupled from 2017, Sarec said, although their numbers are still far lower compared to the peak of the migrant crisis in 2015 when some 500,000 migrants passed through Slovenia on their way towards Austria and other western European countries.
However, Sarec said, unlike the 2015 wave which mainly consisted of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria, the migrants arriving to Slovenia’s border today are mainly illegal migrants from Afghanistan and African countries.
Asked to comment on bilateral relations with neighbouring Croatia, Sarec said that the two countries’ relations are burdened with the issue of the border arbitration ruling, which awarded Slovenia most of the Piran Bay in the northern Adriatic and a maritime corridor giving it access to international waters.
Slovenia recognises the 2017 international arbitration ruling as the final say on the matter, whereas Zagreb had earlier pulled out of the process in 2015 on account of leaked tapes proving improper contacts between the Slovenian representative and an arbitration judge. Although the judges were later replaced, Croatia’s officials insist that the arbitration and its ruling were irrevocably “contaminated” and therefore invalid.
Croatia now wants a fresh round of bilateral talks on the almost 30-year dispute, whereas Slovenia insists this is a matter of respecting EU rules and international law, and former prime minister Miro Cerar’s government had even filed a lawsuit against Croatia in July 2017 at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
The stalemate has led to a slight chill in the relations between the two otherwise friendly countries, with 2018 becoming the first year since both nations’ independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 in which there was not a single bilateral meeting of either prime ministers of foreign ministers.