Croatia is not inclined to allow a third party to interfere in the resolution of a bilateral issue, unless it is impossible the issue to be solved between the interested parties, while Belgium does not object the creation of an arbitration mechanism to solve bilateral issues but only if it is in line with the EU legislation. This emerged from the responses of the ministers of foreign affairs of the two countries, Ms Vesna Pusic and Mr Didier Reynders, who met in Zagreb on April 11th. The topic about bilateral issues between enlargement countries and EU member states has turned into a central problem in the enlargement policy. Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule has been reiterating that the EU does not want unsolved bilateral issues to be imported into the EU.
Unresolved bilateral issues are the second out of three elements in the enlargement policy which he outlined on a number of occasions in the beginning of the year. Open bilateral issues are a challenge and that is why the EU does not want them to be imported into the EU and does not want bilateral "mines" to explode in the middle of the accession process because this could stop it or derail it. And there are plenty of examples in the EU - the accession of Cyprus in 2004 when the initial idea was the Mediterranean island to join united after an agreement was concluded with the mediation of the UN. This did not happen and Cyprus joined the EU divided - the Turkish part remained outside, recognised only by Turkey.
Not one or two countries from the "big bang" enlargement had problems, but the freshest example was the latest dispute between Slovenia and Croatia about the old savings in today's non-existent Ljubljanska banka from the time of former Yugoslavia. Both countries wanted to solve the problem on their own, but in previous attempts they resorted to international arbitration. The lack of a solution threatened the timely accession of Croatia to the EU, planned for July 1st this year. Instead of an agreement, however, the two countries agreed to postpone resolving it for a later stage, thus "importing" it into the EU.
Currently, the EU participates as a mediator (facilitator) in the resolution of the bilateral issue between Serbia and Kosovo, two countries that have a long way ahead before joining the EU. Another bilateral issue is hampering the beginning of accession talks with Macedonia - the name issue with Greece for which a solution is also being sought under the auspices of the UN. It was the Macedonian issue that inspired Richard Howitt (S&D, UK), a member of the European Parliament and rapporteur on the former Yugoslav republic, to call in his proposal for a resolution of the Europarliament on the Council and the Commission to develop a special joint arbitration mechanism to resolve bilateral issues between enlargement countries and EU member states.
The idea is not yet fully developed and ministers Pusic and Reynders were not aware of that. To the euinside question whether they accept such an idea and whether they believe it would solve some specific problems, both responded in a different way. Belgium's top diplomat said that first he wanted to see the proposal on paper and only then he could comment, while Ms Pusic noted that she was a strong proponent of the bilateral approach in solving bilateral issues. If two countries fail to solve a problem together, then it is possible to resort to arbitration. She mentioned explicitly the Kosovo case pointing out that it was about two parties which are not EU members and therefore the Union's mediation could be regarded as a foreign policy topic. You can see the full answers of both ministers in the video file.
Didier Reynders arrived in Zagreb after a visit in Belgrade and Pristina. According to him, currently there is an open window of opportunity for an agreement to be reached between the two sides. The Belgian diplomat called on the EU to undertake the initiative in the coming days and try to reach an agreement because, in his words, it is very important the participation of the countries form the region to continue in the European process. He supported Vesna Pusic's initiative for an excellence centre through which Croatia provides its negotiating and reforms experience to its neighbour countries. Mr Reynders also stated Belgium's readiness to take part in whatever possible way in assisting the centre.
Correction: In the video file it is incorrectly stated that the idea of an arbitration mechanism of the EU is Stefan Fule's. It is Richard Howitt's.