BRUSSELS, April 29 (UPI) -- Croatia's accession process with the European Union will likely be delayed because of a border conflict with Slovenia.
Officials from an increasing number of the 27 member states don't expect that accession negotiations between Croatia and the EU can be finalized this year, as was previously planned, the Berliner Zeitung reports.
The main stumbling block is Slovenia, which has impeded negotiations since last December because of an unresolved sea-border conflict with its neighbor Croatia.
The conflict is a remnant of the messy breakup of former Yugoslavia, which has many border issues still unsolved. In this particular case, Slovenia, an EU member since 2004, is fighting with Croatia over a territory that would hand Slovenia direct access to the Adriatic Sea.
Croatia is eagerly awaiting EU membership to stimulate its economy. It was previously scheduled for 2011, but the Slovenian opposition has dealt a blow to Croatia's hopes for swift EU accession.
European diplomats said Slovenia would have to give up its blocking attitude very soon to enable a finalization of accession negotiations by the end of this year.
The European Commission has recently tried to mediate between the two parties but did not have much success.
An increasing number of observers are irritated by the Slovenian position.
"Slovenia needs to let the negotiations with Croatia move forward," Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his role in the Kosovo conflict, said recently in Berlin. "Blocking an EU negotiations process for political reasons -- I don't see any point in that."