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Border mediation with Slovenia could help Croatia join European Union

Slovenia and Croatia have agreed to independent mediation over their disputed border. Analysts say the agreement should remove a major obstacle in Croatia's quest to join the European Union.

A woman casts her vote during a national referendum in Bovec June 6. Slovenia once again takes center stage in neighboring Croatia's European Union membership bid on Sunday, with a national referendum on whether to accept a border arbitration deal reached with Zagreb last year.

Srdjan Zivulovic/Reuters

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A tiny spat over a sliver of sea that has been a major irritant between Slovenia and Croatia since the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 now looks set to be arbitrated by international jurists, unblocking Croatia’s stalled bid to join the European Union.

Slovenes, who already belong to the EU, voted Sunday to allow mediators to determine the status of four disputed villages and a 25-mile maritime border and that has fueled a poisonous cloud over the upper Balkans.

The border dispute caused Slovenia to block Croatia’s EU bid in 2008, angering Zagreb, whose economy and political future seemed permanently on hold. The block also irritated other EU members over what some said was Slovene intransigence.

EU leaders applauded Sunday’s outcome in Slovenia as furthering European values of comity and cooperation. It is “an important step forward” for Slovenia and Croatia and “an important signal for the region,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement Sunday.

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