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The Piran Bay Maritime Conflict: Historical Context

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Table of contents

  1. Sociopolitical Claims: Slovenia’s Policy Position
  2. The Historical important of the Piran Bay to Slovenia
    Population Density
  3. Looking Into The Future: Possible Solutions

The delegation of Slovenia recognizes that natural resources significantly undercurrent hostility between nations, particularly when their ownership is contested. Natural resources have historically acted as a catalyst for conflict, and unfortunately, continue to do so in the present day. This case study briefly outlines the maritime border dispute rising from the geopolitical significance of the Piran Bay, which fuels friction between the nations of Slovenia and Croatia. The land divisions between the nations, preceding their declarations of independence, existed. Albeit administrative in nature, they were eventually deemed to be definite state borders upon the establishment of two new nations, independent from the former Yugoslavia[1]. However, unlike the land borders, sea borders amongst the Yugoslav republics were not present historically, and thus the Piran Bay and its right of possession has been contested.

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Having recognized the complexity of the issue, then Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor signed an arbitration agreement [2] in November 2009 with the arbitration process starting in The Hague in June 2014. The Permanent Court of Arbitration’s verdict of the process, which is legally binding in nature, was made public in June 2017 and has been resisted by Croatia, which withdrew from the process entirely. This unduly causes pressure on Slovenia, both in terms of its people as well as in terms of foreign policy.

Sociopolitical Claims: Slovenia’s Policy Position

The disputed Piran Bay has two conflicting desired verdicts which both refer to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Article 15[3] that states:

‘Where the coasts of two States are opposite or adjacent to each other, neither of the two States is entitled, failing agreement between them to the contrary, to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas of each of the two States is measured. The above provision does not apply, however, where it is necessary by reason of historic title or other special circumstances to delimit the territorial seas of the two States in a way which is at variance therewith.’

In accordance to the first sentence of the UNCLOS, Croatia appeals (as outlined in the Position of the Republic of Croatia in the Delimitation of the Piran Bay and Connected Issues of the Dragonja River Area) for the maritime border to be mapped in correspondence to the principle of equidistance; this means that Croatia ideally favors for a border in the middle of the Piran Bay. However, Slovenia recognizes the latter section of the UNCLOS, stating that the equidistance proposition is simply not applicable in this case because the Slovenia-Croatia conflict is a ‘special circumstance’ [4][5]. Slovenia stands by its claim for the four following reason: Slovenia recognizes sovereignty over the whole of the Piran Bay.

Slovenia draws attention to the fact that it has historically practiced jurisdiction over the Piran Bay; its authority over the area has been in exercise since the Osimo Accords in 1975,[6] and as a result, it is evident that Slovenia has administrated the area in the former federation as well as after its independence. In addition to this, the legal evidence of its jurisdiction can be found in the ‘Instruction of the Police Directorate of the Republic of Slovenia’.[7[8] As a result, Slovenia recognizes that due to its economic and police control in the Bay area prior to and post its independence, it holds the right to continue exercising its jurisdiction.

Slovenia yields that the Croatia-Slovenia conflict is a special circumstance, which is why the former part of article 15 in the UNCLOS is not applicable. Slovenia reinforces that the conflict is a special circumstance because if the equidistant approach comes into force, then Slovenia will have no access to international waters, while Croatia’s key demand is to maintain maritime borders with Italy.[4][5] Slovenia proposes that both of these demands can be met by following the latter section of article 15 in UNCLOS and adopting the principle of equity instead.

Such a resolution did come in to play on 20th July 2001 through the Drnvosek Racan agreement between the prime ministers of Croatia and Slovenia. In the signed agreement, Croatia would get 1/3 of the gulf as well as maritime borders with Italy and Slovenia would get its corridor to international waters.[10] Despite the agreement being signed, the Croatian population contested it, causing the solution to never come into practice. However, Slovenia believes that the agreement was iron bond due to it being signed by both parties as per Article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which states that:

“[t]he consent of the state to be bound by a treaty may be expressed by signature, exchange of instruments constituting the treaty, ratification, acceptance, approval or accession, or by any other means if so agreed.”[9]

Therefore, it becomes evident that this is a ‘special circumstance; and hence an equidistant approach is not applicable.

The Historical important of the Piran Bay to Slovenia

The UNCLOS states that “reason of historic title” is justified to enact the principle of equity. Historical documents from the Catholic Church reveal that the Savudrija Peninsula always belonged to the bishopric of Koper which is presently within Slovenian territory. This confirms that the Piran Bay is a historical bay belonging to Slovenia.[11]

Population Density

The population density on the Slovenian side of the Piran Bay is heavily populated; around 800,000 people reside within that area. Thus, the Slovenian control over the whole Piran Bay is justified, in order for Slovenia to best serve its people.[11]

Looking Into The Future: Possible Solutions

Slovenia recognizes three possible verdicts to resolve the matter at hand:

Due to Croatia’s rejection of the arbitrary ruling in 2017, Slovenia recommends there to be open dialogue between both nations through meetings and conferences. Slovenia hopes that this will lead to favorable relations in which any underlying hostility is eliminated. This will enable negotiations that will hopefully refer back to the 2001 agreement of Drnvosek Racan; in which Slovenia keeps access to high seas and Croatia keeps its territorial contact with Italy.

Croatia rejected the ruling before viewing it, therefore, Slovenia would be willing to reject the arbitrary ruling as well in the case that Croatia forms a new ruling that functions as more favorable to Slovenia than the original one. In the new verdict Croatia formulates to bring to the table, Slovenia is willing to compromise on two grounds. Firstly, Slovenia is willing to compromise the disputed territory in the Dragonja River valley which is predominantly populated with Slovenians. Secondly, Slovenia is willing to give Croatia territorial contact with Italy. Both of these compromises are made in order to receive access to international waters in exchange. Furthermore, Slovenia suggests referring to the ‘Osimo border’ in the process of mapping the maritime border.

Suggests the adoption of a more complex approach where the maritime borders between Croatia and Slovenia are eliminated. The solution caters to a more globalized world in which borders are becoming more symbolic than functional. In terms of the conflict in the fishing sector, member states have almost delegated all their sovereign rights to bodies such as the EU which ensure the better exercise of such practices. As a result, the continuous conflict becomes hollow and empty.

Within this world, Slovenia has the ability to achieve its goals which include:

  • Unhampered functioning of its ports
  • Preservation of the sea for the general well being of the local inhabitants
  • The development of tourism

The same is true for Croatia which achieves:

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  • Preservation of its environment
  • High living standards for its local inhabitants
  • Direct contact with Italy

Furthermore, there will be an adoption of the EU’s four fundamental freedoms to solve the problems faced by local fishermen and the EU citizenship will be granted to individuals living within the disputed territory. Therefore, this happens to be a peaceful and affective solution.

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The Piran Bay Maritime Conflict: Historical Context. (2018, November 15). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 27, 2023, from
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