On Sunday, citizens in Slovenia narrowly approved a border arbitration deal with Croatia on Sunday in a referendum, clearing a major obstacle to Croatia’s European Union membership bid.
of votes counted, preliminary results showed 51.5%
of Slovenes supported the deal, the state electoral commission has said. Turnout was around 50%, and opinion polls prior to the polling stations opening suggested that the referendum might go either way.
The result should boost Croatia's chances of joining the EU in 2012 if it succeeds in completing accession negotiations in the next year.
Under the agreed deal on the border dispute, an international team will now step in to help settle a dispute over the land and sea border that dates from the 1991 break-up of Yugoslavia. The ruling would be binding for both countries.
In the past, Croatia has called for the border in the Bay of Piran
in the Adriatic Sea, pictured left, to be drawn down the middle of the bay. But Slovenia, which has a much shorter coastline than its neighbour, feared this border definition would deny its ships direct passage to the high seas hampering its trade potential.
Slovenia, unsatisfied with their neighbours providing maps and documents in negotiations that failed to take account of Slovenia's position, exercised their veto over the latter’s application to begin accession talks to enter the 27-state bloc.
Prime Minister Borut Pahor
, whose centre-left government made ending the border dispute with Croatia its main foreign policy goal, was understandably delighted with the result and told national TV Slovenia "this is a historic decision ... This is a big success for Slovenia
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso
too welcomed the referendum result, declaring it an “important step forward.
“We now look forward to a final settlement of the dispute. Resolving this bilateral issue is an important signal for the region and the relations between Slovenia and Croatia
," he said in a statement.David Lidington
, the new British Minister for Europe, equally welcomed the preliminary result saying “we applaud the determination of the Slovenian and Croatian Governments to move beyond historical disagreements by negotiating an amicable resolution outside EU accession negotiations.
“As William Hague said in Sarajevo, Britain will be a committed and reliable partner in a sustained effort to put the countries of this region irreversibly on the path to joining the EU,
” he said in a statement
Slovenia joined the European Union in 2004 and is currently the only former Yugoslav state so far to have done so. With this result, Croatia will now hope to shortly begin accession negotiations and become the second former Yugoslav state to join the EU.
A small number of postal votes remain to be counted in Slovenia's referendum and final results are due on 29th June