Slovenia wins battle with Croatia over high seas access

Seawater adjoining the Slovenian coastal town of Piran (27 June 2917) Image copyright AFP
Image caption The court in its 300-pages ruling on Thursday said that Slovenia should be granted "a junction area" within international waters adjoining the Slovenian coastal town of Piran

An international arbitration court has handed Slovenia victory in a long-running maritime dispute with Croatia.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that Slovenia should have direct access to international waters in the north Adriatic Sea using a corridor crossing Croatian waters.

The ruling was hailed by Slovenia but Croatia said it would ignore it.

The dispute between the two members of the European Union goes back to the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Croatia and Slovenia are also embroiled in an equally longstanding land border dispute, which involves tiny stretches of territory.

The disagreements between them were an obstacle to Croatia's accession to the EU for years.

Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar described Thursday's ruling as "historic", arguing that the judgement was "definitive and must be applied on both countries".

Mr Cerar said he would be soon be contacting his Croatian counterpart to "begin dialogue on implementing the decision".

But Croatian Prime Minister Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said that the ruling was "not obliging" to his country "in any way" and there would be no intention to implement it.

Croatia withdrew from the arbitration proceedings in 2015, questioning the impartiality of the court after it transpired that a Slovenian official had been in communication with the Slovenian member of the tribunal.

The official concerned was sacked and the tribunal was reconstituted, with a Norwegian and a Swiss judge replacing the Slovenian and the Croatian members, the EUobserver website reported.

The ruling said that Slovenia should be granted "a junction area" within international waters adjoining the Slovenian town of Piran, allowing "freedom of communication" to civilian and military shipping travelling to Slovenia.

"The Tribunal determines that the junction between the Slovenian territorial sea and the 'High Sea' is an area in which ships and aircraft enjoy essentially the same rights of access to and from Slovenia as they enjoy on the high seas," it said in its ruling.

Croatia for its part has dismissed Slovenia's claims as an "entirely spurious resource grab under the guise of a maritime access corridor".