Slovenia, Croatia Close to NLB Solution as EU Entry Nears

Slovenia and Croatia made progress toward resolving a dispute over Nova Ljubljanska Banka d.d., easing concern the Alpine nation would fail to approve its former Yugoslav partner’s entry into the European Union.

The two countries are “close to a solution” in the dispute over savings of NLB’s predecessor, Slovenian Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec and his Croatian counterpart, Vesna Pusic, said late yesterday after talks in Brussels. Both ministers will meet again on Feb. 6 in Slovenia, along with banking experts from the two nations to finalize an accord.

“After that meeting, I expect we will be able to start the approval process of Croatia’s European Union entry,” Erjavec told reporters.

“As we near the solution, Croatia will also withdraw lawsuits at Croatian courts over the dispute since it will become immaterial,” Pusic said.

The ministers gave no further details on the possible solution to the dispute, which has strained relations since both countries became independent in 1991.

Political Crisis

Slovenia, a member of the 27-nation EU since 2004, has said the issue must be resolved for the country to approve Croatia’s EU accession treaty. Analysts including Timothy Ash at Standard Bank Plc in London have said a political crisis in Slovenia, which may lead to early elections, could jeopardize Croatia’s July entry date.

“We hope this is a key step into the two sides finding a mutually acceptable solution which is - as Commissioner Stefan Fule stressed recently several times - urgently needed,” European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said today, according to an e-mailed statement from Brussels.

Slovenia was plunged into political turmoil with the risk of an early vote after a partner left the coalition government of Prime Minister Janez Jansa. Jansa, who is accused by the anti-corruption agency of failing to declare his private assets, has said he will push on with an economic overhaul even with a minority government.

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