EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – A meeting scheduled to take place on Wednesday (1 April) between EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn and the foreign ministers of Slovenia and Croatia in order to discuss commissioner Rehn's latest mediation proposal aimed at solving the border dispute between the two former Yugoslav states has been indefinitely postponed.
Last week, Mr Rehn presented a new version of his plan to set up a high-level mediation group chaired by Former Finnish president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari in a bid to help the two neighbouring countries find common ground and unfreeze Croatia's EU talks – currently blocked by Slovenia over the border issue.
Ljubljana and Zagreb were expected to respond to Mr Rehn's proposal in the beginning of this week, but with the Croatian response "still pending," commissioner Rehn has taken the decision to postpone the meeting, a commission spokesperson said on Wednesday (1 April).
Slovenia and Croatia have been unable to agree on their common land and sea border since they both seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991, but a patch of the Adriatic Sea close to the Slovenian city of Piran is a particularly thorny issue.
Croatia argues the border should lie in the middle of the bay of Piran, but Slovenia says this would deny its ships direct access to international waters.
Today's meeting between the two countries' foreign ministers and commissioner Rehn was going to be the fifth in a row aiming to have them both agree on EU mediation in the dispute – seen by Mr Rehn as the only "viable way forward."
Slovenia has already backed the proposal, and also wants it to lead to a definitive solution of the border dispute. The country said it replied to Mr Rehn on Tuesday.
For its part, Croatia insists the row should be solved via the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
Zagreb has said it is surprised by the decision to postpone the meeting.
"Croatian minister for foreign Affairs and European Integration Gordan Jandrokovic was informed, on his way to Brussels, that the meeting which EU commissioner for enlargement Olli Rehn was to arrange today has been postponed," the foreign ministry said in a press release.
"At that meeting, as earlier announced, minister Jandrokovic was to present the Croatian proposal for solving the Croatian-Slovene border issue and for raising the Slovene blockade of Croatia's EU accession negotiations," it added.
EU candidate Croatia opened membership talks in 2005 and was hoping to finish them by the end of this year in order to become full member of the bloc in 2011.
But this option is becoming increasingly unlikely, with an intergovernmental EU – Croatia accession conference initially scheduled for 27 March also delayed until the end of April due to the border deadlock.
Ahtisaari ready to step in
Speaking to MEPs in Brussels on Wednesday morning, Mr Ahtisaari confirmed that commissioner Rehn could "count on [his] support" to help solve the border dispute if needed, but said it was "still totally open" whether he would play a role.
"I would always argue that my personal involvement is not the most important issue here," Mr Ahtisaari said.
"The most important issue is: can one find the sort of terms of reference [under which] anybody – whether me or anybody else – can actually help solve that issue, [so that] the present problems are not slowing down unnecessarily the enlargement processes that are taking place."
"Perhaps we should have learned earlier on that it would have been better to solve these problems before we go forward" with enlargement, he added.
Despite the deadlock, however, Mr Ahtisaari said that if chosen to mediate between Slovenia and Croatia, he did not expect the dispute to be among the most difficult ones he has had to deal with it.
"It doesn't look like it [is going to be the case]," he told reporters following his debate with MEPs.