Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Borut Pahor.jpg
Photograph: HINA / Stanko GRUDEN / STA / mm

Croatia and Slovenia have good neighbourly and friendly relations, which are marked by many good things and opportunities for cooperation that outnumber outstanding issues that can be resolved if the two countries continue to strengthen mutual trust, and existing differences must not be allowed to harm those relations, the Croatian and Slovenian heads of state said after talks in Ljubljana on Thursday.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who arrived in Ljubljana for a two-day visit, was given a welcome ceremony with full military honours, after which she and Pahor held one-on-one talks and their respective delegations held consultations.

Addressing a news conference with Pahor after the talks, Grabar-Kitarovic said that relations between the two countries and peoples that had declared independence from the Yugoslav federation 25 years ago were friendly and that her relations with the Slovenian president were friendly as well, as evidenced by the fact that they had met 16 times, either bilaterally or on other occasions, since she took office a year and a half ago.

Croatians and Slovenians have been connected with friendship and good neighbourly relations for centuries, as evidenced by their declaring independence on the same day, and today they are aware how much effort and hard work was necessary for their countries' freedom and international recognition and integration with international organisations, Grabar-Kitarovic and Pahor said. 

Grabar-Kitarovic said that there were outstanding issues in relations between the two countries, that there had been periods when communication between them was not so good, but that the positive dimensions of their relations outnumbered the existing problems.

We will resolve outstanding issues in the spirit of friendship, the Croatian president said.

She pointed to a high level of the two countries' cooperation in the EU and NATO and as part of the Brdo-Brijuni initiative, which is aimed at stabilisation and strengthening of trust in the region, adding that both countries supported reforms in countries aspiring to join the EU.

President Pahor said that Grabar-Kitarovic's visit to Slovenia was an official and friendly visit and that he had invited the Croatian president to attend the central ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of Slovenia's independence, to be held on Friday. In attendance will also be the presidents of all neighbouring countries as well as German President Joackim Gauck.

Pahor recalled that the parliaments of Croatia and Slovenia passed the necessary documents to declare independence on the same day 25 years ago, after which they recognised one another.

He said that the two countries had made great progress in their relations and on the international front since then, having joined the EU, NATO and many other organisations, and that they supported the integration of aspiring Western Balkan countries with Euro-Atlantic associations.

Pahor said that a large number of Croatians vacationed in Slovenia and that a large number of Slovenian tourists spent their summer holidays on the Croatian Adriatic every year, noting that bilateral trade in 2015 totalled as much as EUR 3.4 billion, up 14% from the previous year.

He added that Croatia was very interesting to Slovenian investors who had made major investments in Croatia and wanted to continue investing.

The Slovenian president said that he supported President Grabar-Kitarovic's Baltic-Adriatic-Black Sea initiative aimed at strengthening cooperation among Central European countries in the sectors of energy, transport and economy in general.

Speaking of outstanding issues in Croatian-Slovenian relations, the two presidents said that they would be resolved by strengthening mutual trust.

President Grabar-Kitarovic cited in that context the issue of bank savings of Croatian depositors in the now defunct Ljubljanska Banka, the border dispute and some other issues, such as the status of the Croat minority in Slovenia, which is not recognised in the Slovenian constitution. She said that those issues could be resolved through talks.

She and Pahor reiterated their countries' unchanged positions on the border dispute which last year resulted in the discontinuation of arbitration proceedings by Croatia.

Pahor said that an arbitration scandal last year caused tensions and deterioration in communication, but he underlined that he did not want to prejudge the future actions of the arbitral tribunal. He was hopeful that the arbitration would continue, noting that the Croatian-Slovenian arbitration agreement was still a valid international document for Slovenia.

He said that the same was true for lawsuits launched before Croatian courts over transferred foreign currency deposits of Croatian citizens who had savings deposits at Ljubljanska Banka before the break-up of the former Yugoslav federation.

Pahor said the lawsuits should be suspended in line with an agreement signed in Mokrice three years ago, before Croatia joined the EU, by the then Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and then Slovenian PM Janez Jansa.

Grabar-Kitarovic said that Croatia had not changed its position on the arbitration agreement as it walked out of the arbitration proceedings because they had been "irrevocably compromised", but that it was willing to discuss new ways of dealing with the border dispute.

"I believe that we should solve it bilaterally," she said.

As for the savings deposits of the Croatian clients of Ljubljanska Banka, Grabar-Kitarovic said that she expected the matter to be resolved in line with the relevant ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and that Ljubljanska Banka would treat its Croatian clients the same way it had treated its Slovenian clients when it compensated them for their savings deposits.

Speaking of a barbed-wire fence erected by Slovenia along parts of its border with Croatia during a recent refugee crisis, Grabar-Kitarovic called for removing the fence, to which Pahor said that his government would remove the fence "within a reasonable period of time", hopefully "as soon as possible."

Grabar-Kitarovic will continue her visit to Slovenia on Friday by meeting with Prime Minister Miro Cerar, Parliament Speaker Milan Brglez, and Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Jankovic.

On Friday evening, together with her host and the presidents of Hungary, Italy, Austria and Germany she will attend a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of Slovenia's independence.

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