A court ruling in Slovenia has allowed arbitration with Croatia on a border dispute dating back to the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991. The decision brings Croatia one step closer to its goal of EU membership.
The Slovenian Constitutional Court on Tuesday ruled as constitutional a deal to negotiate an end to the nearly 19-year-old border dispute with Croatia, raising the likelihood of Zagreb's European Union accession by its goal of 2012.
The Slovenian parliament must still ratify the agreement, which Croatia did last November. Speaking to reporters after the decision, Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor said he was "very pleased."
He also suggested the ruling center-left coalition government may not seek a public referendum on the issue as it had previously planned.
"Personally, I'm ready to seek ratification in parliament even without a referendum and I plan to talk with parliamentary parties about that," he said.
Pahor and Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor agreed on the arbitration plan last September, but Pahor asked the court to rule on the agreement's constitutionality in light of criticism from opposition parties.
Threat of referendum
Recent polls suggest about 60 percent of Slovenians support the arbitration agreement, but analysts say a public referendum could turn into a vote of confidence on the government, which is declining in popularity.
Opposition parties in Slovenia have said arbitration with Croatia would harm their country's interests, and have vowed to push for a public vote.
The agreement would allow international arbitrators to help settle the dispute, which centers on the idyllic Piran Bay in the northern Adriatic Sea. Control of the land would give Slovenia direct access to international waters.
Slovenia was admitted to the EU in 2004 and is still the only former Yugoslavian state to have done so. It blocked a third of Croatia's negotiations on EU accession in December 2008 because of the border dispute, and kept them on hold until it reached the arbitration agreement with Zagreb last September.
World media monitoring