Politics Enlargement

Croatia-Slovenia: Bridging an irreconcilable divide

6 February 2013
Tportal Zagreb

Croatia's accession to the EU, scheduled for July 1, remains suspended until a border dispute and banking row with neighbouring Slovenia are cleared up. The impasse exposes the gap in perceptions of national sovereignty between the EU and the continent’s new independent states.

A little more than 20 years ago Slovenia and Croatia were founded as independent states based on the idea that the only solution to their endless quarrels was to create separate independent states.

The European Union emerged in the 1950s on a diametrically opposed basis. Given the historical experience, which was terrifying to say the least, and the determination to never again fall into the horrors of war, the Union was founded on the idea that surrendering some national sovereignty and integrating with the other states of Europe – not disintegrating, as Yugoslavia did – was the best way to prevent new conflicts.

It was therefore necessary to strip away the ability, the rationale and the power of European countries to generate conflicts, and to create mechanisms to solve them peacefully and by consensus.

The difference between the genesis of the Croat-Slovene argument and that of the European Union, ie between two political philosophies, can be summed up as the difference between the idea of absolute sovereignty and the imperative that all quarrels must be settled rationally and, if necessary, at the cost of some dents to national sovereignty.

Struggling with obstinacy

This contradiction lies at the heart of the Croat-Slovene litigation and the inability (or lack of will, perhaps?) of Zagreb and Ljubljana to resolve it. Slovenia and Croatia are struggling with great obstinacy about matters (the border dispute and the banking row that are preventing the enlargement of the Union and threatening its ability to resolve conflicts.

Paradoxically, Croatia and Slovenia are standing fast on their sovereign rights in their disputes, and this in a political community whose principle is to leave conflicts behind them, though doing so costs its members some of their sovereignty.

The situation is almost comical, considering that the Slovenian and Croat political elites perceive the Union as the embodiment of the racist illusion of European civilisation and its cultural superiority. They imagine it to be something like Vienna's New Year's ball, a showcase for the petty bourgeois and his taste for kitsch. Their own values, which they brought with them into the political arena, are modern values, and diametrically opposed. The sovereignty of their own states they viewed as something sacred, and on that altar they were willing to sacrifice human rights and even lives. Suddenly they feel a little bewildered. Europe, it turns out, is not the Radetzky March, but more like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with a little of John Lennon's Imagine thrown in.

Risking a betrayal of ideals

A solution of the Croat-Slovene dispute will be positive and beneficial for all concerned. It is highly likely that Brussels will force Ljubljana and Zagreb to a compromise that will trigger the ratification by Slovenia of the Accession Treaty of Croatia.

The Union will demonstrate that it is capable of carrying out its basic function: namely, to force its members to act constructively and rationally, and to cooperate. If the European Union should, unfortunately, fail to discipline the bad-tempered sovereignty of its members, it would betray its own ideals and lose all claim to any higher dignity.

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