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Croatia bank deal builds bridges with Slovenia and EU

Slovenia and Croatia have resolved a niggling bank dispute that has proved a sticking point in relations between the two countries. The settlement helps pave the way for Croatia to join the EU.

Slovenia's Prime Minister Borut Pahor, right, and his Croatian counterpart Jadranka Kosor

Slovenia and Croatia are growing closer as neighbors

Zagreb and Ljubijana have agreed on a resolution to a complex and long-running banking dispute, removing one of the final barriers for Croatia's entry into the EU.

"We have determined the way. Experts will work on details over the next three months," said Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor in the Slovenian lakeside resort of Bohinj.

Pahor met his Croatian opposite number Jadranka Kosor as the pair tried to reach a deal on the reimbursement of Croatian creditors who lost money to a now defunct Slovenian bank.

Piran Bay

Territorial disputes between the countries included a row over Piran Bay

Slovenia is the only former Yugoslav states to join the EU so far, and said in June that Croatia would not be able to conclude its membership talks until it opens its markets to Slovenia's largest bank, Nova Ljubljanska Banka (NLB).

Refusal to pay customers

So far, the bank has refused to return some 172 million euros ($224.4 million) deposited by Croatian citizens with its predecessor, the now-defunct Ljubljanska Banka (LB), before the 1991 break-up of Yugoslavia.

As a result, Croatia has refused to give NLB access to its markets or to allow it to buy a bank operating within the country.

More than 130,000 Croatians claim 160 million euros in savings that were deposited before the break-up.

A Croatian flag with EU stars in front

Croatia has closed 22 out of 35 chapters - steps on the way to EU membership

Meanwhile, Slovenia claims that Croatian companies owe the bank 480 million euros.

Lingering problems

Pahor and Kosor gave no exact details of how the dispute would be settled, but Pahor said the solution would be found "in line with the succession agreement."

The agreement is a 2001 accord between former Yugoslav states on how to solve lingering problems after the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Since proclaiming independence from the former Yugoslavia 19 years ago, Zagreb and Ljubijana had also been squabbling over 13 square kilometers (five square miles) of largely uninhabited land and a stretch of territorial water at Piran Bay off the Adriatic coast. That problem will now be solved by international arbitration after an agreement earlier this year.

Slovenia joined the European Union in 2004 while, so far, Croatia has closed 22 out of the 35 policy "chapters" which every candidate countries must negotiate to attain EU membership.

Author: Richard Connor (Reuters/AFP)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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