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President Not Worried by Differences on Arbitration Accord (interview)

Ljubljana, 04 June (STA) - President Danilo Tuerk has said that differences in opinions on the arbitration treaty were something normal given that Slovenia is a democracy. The referendum on Sunday will provide an answer as to the true nature of these divisions, Tuerk told the STA ahead of the ballot.

"Slovenia is a democratic society, which is why varying opinions, including those on the arbitration agreement, are something normal," Tuerk told an interview with the STA.

"It is clear that parties have diverging views on this issue, as they have always had, which is why I see nothing new in this respect," the president said.

He pointed out that the parties managed to at least come to a consensus on the referendum. "This was the lowest common denominator on which all parties agreed."

Tuerk rejected the view that, by endorsing the agreement, he was not acting as the president of all Slovenians. "I am on the side of common sense and the rule of law. Common sense says we should accept a beneficial agreement that enables us to resolve a dispute, whereas the rule of law says that we should not fear the law."

"If we are right and we have a case - and we have a case - there is no reason that we should not believe in ourselves and go forth in achieving as much as we can in arbitration - a fair border that would reflect the state on 25 June 1991 in full."

"As far as propaganda regarding whether the president is the president of all Slovenians, all I can say is that he is, because he was elected in an election...But this does not mean that the president must please all people. There are times when he must have clear views."

Asked about Slovenia's strategic interest, Tuerk said that a fair solution that would end the border dispute and give Slovenia access to high seas while also promoting bilateral relations with Croatia was vital for Slovenia.

He added that the agreement may actually bring more to Slovenia than the 2001 Drnovsek-Racan agreement in terms of disputed parts on land.

"Most of the land border is not disputed, there are some points where a solution must be determined. For these points the agreement determines the state as on 25 June 1991. The compromises made in the Drnovsek-Racan agreement are no longer required."

The president also rejected fears that Slovenia would not get direct access to the high seas through arbitration that applies international law. He said such fears were baseless and caused by a lack of knowledge and fear.

"In practice international arbitration always seeks to avoid cutting off a country from the high seas. Such fears are baseless not only due to the provisions [in the treaty] but also due to the general nature of international law."

According to Tuerk, the agreement with Croatia was achieved in a time when Croatia was very interested in pushing ahead with EU integration and thereby in reaching an agreement with Slovenia on a way to resolve the border dispute.

"This change in Croatia's interest enabled a situation whereby Croatia accepted a solution that it had been rejecting," said Tuerk, who said that it was now only logical that Croatia's bid to join the EU should be treated separately from the border issue.

Touching on the role of the international community in helping to bring about agreement, Tuerk said that the European Commission and former Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn played a very important role.

"Rehn had prepared a number of proposals from January to June 2009 and oversaw the process in a very sensible manner which took into consideration Slovenia's arguments and proposals in full."

According to him, other countries played a limited role by expressing support for the agreement. "We sometimes have an almost paranoid impression that this was a game played by the major powers. I followed this process fairly closely, so I can say there were no such games."

Tuerk said that Slovenia would face both political and legal consequences if the treaty is rejected in Sunday's referendum. "Nobody in Europe will understand why Slovenia rejected an agreement that was very much in its favour and why it handed Croatia a kind of gift. This will surely affect Slovenia's image abroad."

As for the legal consequences, Tuerk said it was not ideal that international treaties can be put to a subsequent legislative referendum.

"I think it would make sense to change the referendum system by excluding treaties from the range of questions that can be decided on in a referendum. A number of countries have in place such a solution."

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