Croatia Wants to Pass on “Enlargement Torch” During Its EU Presidency

By 2 November 2019

ZAGREB, November 2, 2019 - The issue of EU reforms can proceed in parallel with enlargement and Croatia will try to show that enlargement is a credible process as it is one of the most successful European policies, Croatian ambassador Gordan Bakota has said, adding that Croatia has a special responsibility to pass on the torch of enlargement during its EU presidency.

"It is very complex to achieve EU unity on such topics, but we will do our best to show how important enlargement is for the transformation of countries, and we... regret that North Macedonia and Albania were not given a date for opening accession negotiations," he told Danas daily of Saturday on the occasion of Croatia's six-month EU presidency as of January 1, 2020.

Bakota said he regretted "perhaps a historic omission because the EU had the responsibility for enlargement to move on." He added, however, that "steps forward will be made" during Croatia's presidency, both regarding the opening of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania and the continuation of Serbia's EU integration.

He said Croatia also wanted to see Bosnia and Herzegovina "make progress on the Euro-Atlantic journey."

Bakota noted that Croatia would start its EU presidency "at a very interesting time" because the EU would have new institutions, because of Brexit which "will certainly be one of the main topics," and because of talks on the 2021-27 financial framework.

He also mentioned the protection of the EU's external borders, calling that very important for Schengen and for maintaining security. He recalled that the European Commission recently assessed that Croatia met the criteria for joining the Schengen Area of free travel.

"The enlargement policy, which is of special importance for Serbia, has outstanding importance for the European Union and its global role," Bakota said.

In the first half of May 2020, Croatia will organise a Western Balkans Summit "because we place enlargement very high on our presidency agenda," he said, adding that Croatia looks on enlargement "as a transforming power for every society."

He assessed Serbia-Croatia relations as "complex" and said it was very important that "there is uninterrupted dialogue." "It's impossible to expect Serbia and Croatia to resolve all outstanding issues overnight. We'd like Serbian-Croatian relations to always have a strong European context, which is why enlargement and the spirit of enlargement are significant."

He recalled the mixed groups and commissions in charge of dealing with outstanding issues, saying the "most sensitive issue" were the people gone missing in the 1990s war. It is time the families find out what happened to their dearest ones, he added.

Bakota said there was "certain progress" in dealing with the problems of the Serb minority in Croatia and the Croatian in Serbia, adding that it was very important the two minorities "exchange experiences and recommend to the governments what to do."

Ethnic minorities are "the best bridge between the two countries," he said, adding that his and Croatia's position was "that both minorities must feel very good and that this should be regulated in the European spirit, by meeting the commitments from the treaty on minority rights.

A key issue is to ensure political mandates for the Croat minority in Serbia's state and local governments, Bakota said.

"The Serb minority has three guaranteed seats in the Croatian parliament, it also has a score of representatives at local level as well as state secretaries in ministries. It's a very good solution and it should be applied in Serbia also," he said, recalling that in Croatia "the Serb minority is a government coalition partner, which is extremely important, while (in Serbia) that's not the case."

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