Thursday, 28 November 2019

Meet the Croatian Rescue Dogs Saving Albanian Earthquake Victims

Search and rescue teams from Croatia have headed down south to Albania to aid in the recovery of people in the damage left by the earthquake that recently rocked the country. Among the team are experienced Croatian rescue dogs.

As Index writes on the 27th of November, 2019, Croatian rescue dogs have gone to seek out, track and rescue the victims of the tragic earthquake in nearby Albania, they left Croatia and will remain in Albania until further notice.

HUOOP's Bojana Šantić gave Index some information about the association itself and their work, as well as the names of search teams helping out down in Albania.

"HUOPP has fifteen active search teams - the search team is made up of a guide and his search dog. As members of the International Search Dogs Organisation (IRO), all of our teams take one of the toughest exams on the International Mission Readiness Test to be licensed to go to international missions. In addition, another specificity of our association is that we specialise in searching in urban areas (large scale disasters, earthquakes). - through various training and exercises, and simulations of real situations and actions.

The Croatian search teams currently in Albania all have Croatian rescue dogs with them. Their names are Tanda, Gizmo, Inu, Dharma and Farhana.

All of the Croatian rescue dogs are between three and eight years old and have been being trained for this type of work since they were puppies.

The Croatian teams responded to a call for mobilisation by the Directorate of Civil Protection of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Croatia, which arrived in the morning, and within just a few hours, the teams and their dogs were in helicopters and en route to Albania.

''We think it's important to note that, with their high level of training, HUOPP teams are always on standby, which the general public is not sufficiently familiar with,'' added Šantić.

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Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Albanian Earthquake: Croatia Sends Rescue Team, Dogs and Helicopters

As Morski writes on the 26th of November, 2019, a search and rescue team in the rubble consisting of fifteen members of the Civil Protection Directorate of Croatia's MUP. as well as eight rescue dogs will be deployed with two MOD military helicopters following the recent Albanian earthquake.

A devastating earthquake with its epicenter located near Durrës, Albania, was recorded in the Republic of Croatia on November the 26th at 03:54. The magnitude of the earthquake was 6.3 according to the Richter scale, and the intensity at the epicenter was level IX on the MCS scale. The earthquake woke citizens all over Dalmatia and was felt all over Croatia and in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina. Several dozen reports from citizens about them having felt the earthquake were received from Dubrovnik, Split and Zagreb.

The Government of the Republic of Albania has applied for international assistance through the Emergency Response Coordination Center (ERCC) of the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism and has so far accepted the assistance of Italy, Greece and Romania.

Through the Croatian Embassy in Tirana, contact with the Albanian Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs was established and acceptance of Croatia's bilateral assistance was as such confirmed. As stated, a Croatian search and rescue team in the rubble consisting of fifteen members of the Civil Protection Directorate of MUP and eight rescue dogs will be deployed to Albania, along with two MOD military helicopters.

Croatia is still in contact with the ERCC for the possible deployment of additional search and rescue teams and experts should that be required.

In addition to the devastating Albanian earthquake, the Croatian Seismological Service also recorded a very strong earthquake with its epicenter even closer to home, more precisely in Blagaj in Bosnia and Herzegovina today at 10:19. The magnitude of the earthquake was 5.4 according to the Richter scale, and that earthquake was also felt throughout Dalmatia.

No county centres in Croatia have received any reports of material damage caused by these earthquakes so far.

Make sure to follow our dedicated lifestyle page for much more.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Tusk and Plenković Want to Restore EU's Unity Regarding Macedonia and Albania

ZAGREB, November 19, 2019 - The European Union needs to once again restore unity regarding the topic of enlargement after the disappointing decision not to okay the start of accession negotiations for North Macedonia and Albania, the President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk and Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in Zagreb on Tuesday.

Failing to decide about North Macedonia and Albania is a great disappointment, however, I remain an optimist, Tusk told reporters.

It is necessary to restore EU unity on enlargement, he added.

Plenković underscored that Croatia wanted the situation regarding North Macedonia and Albania to be unblocked.

"Those countries have Croatia's support and we will seek a solution over the next few months," said Plenković, the premier of Croatia that will preside over the EU in the first half of 2020.

Six European Union countries have addressed a letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker saying they are ready to work on improving the enlargement process on the understanding that it will lead to consensus on opening accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia in March next year.

"We are therefore ready to engage constructively in an effort to improve this process. We will do so on the understanding that such an exercise be conducted in an effective and result-oriented fashion and that it enables the EU to reach consensus on opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia in March 2020," says the letter, seen by Hina on Tuesday.

The letter was signed by the foreign ministers of Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Croatia, although not a signatory, shares these views, according to diplomatic sources.

The signatories called on the European Commission "to elaborate by January 2020 concrete proposals for ways to enhance the effectiveness of the accession process as an instrument to support reform and integration efforts in the region."

The letter also said that "there is no viable alternative to full-fledged membership of the Western Balkan countries in the EU if we want to safeguard our interests in the region effectively" and that the process "must continue without unnecessary delay."

The letter was made public ahead of Tuesday's meeting of the General Affairs Council which is due to discuss enlargement. It followed a document that France had addressed to the member states proposing reform of the present EU accession process. According to the French proposal, the process would be carried out gradually, in seven steps.

Speaking to a small group of correspondents from Brussels, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said that the EU should not leave the entire Western Balkans region in the lurch and leave it to "other actors."

The Finnish presidency is of the view that if we lose the Western Balkans and do not take the integration of this region seriously, we may end up in new trouble, even in a new conflict, Haavisto said.

More news about Croatia and the EU can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Albanian President Meta Continues Visit to Croatia

ZAGREB, October 30, 2019 - Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on Wednesday received Albanian President Ilir Meta and they talked about the priorities of Croatia's presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2020, including enlargement.

Meta underlined the importance of the Croatian presidency for all of Southeast Europe, while Plenković reiterated that preparations for a Zagreb summit between EU member states and countries in Southeast Europe were among the priorities of the presidency, the government said in a press release.

The European Council has refused to greenlight the beginning of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. Members of the European Parliament and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn called on the Council last week to correct the "historic error" before the Zagreb summit in May.

Plenković and Meta said they were pleased with the friendly and close political relations between Croatia and Albania, and added that it was necessary to intensify economic cooperation and improve transport connectivity.

Meta is on a return visit and on Tuesday met President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković.

After the meeting, Grabar-Kitarović said Croatia would continue to strongly push for Albania's European integration and that the European Council made a "big mistake" by saying no to opening EU entry talks with Albania and North Macedonia.

More news about relations between Croatia and Albania can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Croatia Regrets Lack of Consensus on North Macedonia, Albania

ZAGREB, October 18, 2019 - Croatia regrets that EU leaders failed to agree on opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, which deserve it, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Friday.

"Croatia regrets that because we believed that this was the right time to open negotiations, given that both countries, in the European Commission's estimate, have achieved a sufficient degree of progress. Several countries didn't share that position. One should continue to insist on those two dossiers and we must send a message to our friends in North Macedonia and Albania that they should continue with reforms and that a huge majority of us will continue to support them on the European path," Plenković told Croatian reporters in Brussels ahead of the second day of an EU summit.

The heads of the member states did not agree on a proposal to launch entry talks with the two countries nor adopted any conclusions on enlargement.

Plenković said the arguments of those against launching the negotiations were "thin... The majority of us made convincing arguments in favour of a positive decision but, unfortunately, several member states last night couldn't accept that decision. We are sorry about that and believe that not adopting the decision is not in line with the EU's historic responsibility."

Given the situation, the enlargement summit Croatia plans to organise in Zagreb next May, during its Council of the EU presidency, "becomes even more important because it's the moment when we have to define what we want in the next decade, the method, the pace, the political and security messages we wish to send Southeast Europe," Plenković said.

"We should reach a consensus and it seems to me that some countries think too much about how a positive decision on enlargement would reflect on their internal circumstances. That's not good because one should be broader-minded, bolder and take into account that other global stakeholders have an influence in this region and that this region between member states has no future but as part of the EU. We will prepare in line with that, holding consultations, conducting talks, and I hope that in Zagreb we will come up with a good text on enlargement."

Plenković called "naive and unrealistic" the idea during last night's debate to task the Commission with proposing an enlargement reform in January. He said this was unrealistic because of the short time, given that the new Commission would take office later than it should have and the ensuing Christmas and New Year's holidays.

He reiterated how important it was that Croatia had wrapped up its EU entry talks in June 2011 given how much circumstances had changed in the meantime.

"That was a historic achievement and only a very small circle of people perceive and are aware of that fact. After that, some stakeholders came on the scene that haven't contributed to that one iota. They don't identify with the process, they don't understand what that means to us, they don't see the economic, political and security effects, and it would be good if we talked about that a bit more," Plenković said.

"Even then there were attempts at destabilisation... initiatives to topple the government, even from the then (Croatian) president. We endured all that and that's why the message to endure is more important than the message to topple something," he added.

More news about Croatia and the EU can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Croatia Against New Rules for EU Accession Negotiations

ZAGREB, October 18, 2019 - Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in Brussels on Thursday "the rules can't be changed while the game is on," commenting on demands to change the methodology of EU accession negotiations before approving their start with North Macedonia and Albania.

"The new, revised enlargement methodology suggested primarily by France will bring the negotiations being conducted by Serbia and Montenegro into a different position and also perhaps those conducted by North Macedonia and Albania, and we can only imagine what will happen with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. This should be discussed, but changing rules along the way isn't good," Plenković said ahead of an EU summit.

The meeting of heads of state or government will discuss a proposal to set a date for opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. This is an unusual occurrence as enlargement is usually dealt with at lower levels, ambassadorial or possibly ministerial.

EU foreign ministers met on Tuesday but were unable to agree due to opposition from France, which is asking that the decision be postponed until a new accession methodology is agreed on.

Every member state but France supports opening entry talks with North Macedonia, while several have certain reservations concerning Albania. At Tuesday's meeting, a proposal to separate the two countries so that at least North Macedonia could get the green light was turned down. The consensus of all member states is required for every step in the enlargement process.

"The European Commission very clearly recommended opening the negotiations and that the time is right. We believe this is a question of the credibility of the whole process," Plenković said, reiterating that Croatia supports opening entry talks with both countries.

"Now one can see how good it is that Croatia joined the EU, given that everything is changing," he said, adding that "from what I know, I'm not too optimistic" that a positive decision would be made for the two countries.

More news about Croatia and the European Union can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Albanian Foreign Minister Visits Croatia

ZAGREB, October 8, 2019 - The Albanian government cannot wait to cooperate with Kosovo's new government, acting Albanian Foreign Minister Gent Cakaj said in Zagreb on Monday given that Albin Kurti's Vetevendosje movement looks like the winner of Kosovo's Sunday election.

Cakaj was on an official visit to Croatia and met Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman. After the talks with Grlić Radman, he said the Kosovo polls were an example of how to behave in an election.

Asked to comment on the results, which show that the likeliest election winner is Kurti, who used to be an ardent advocate of Kosovo-Albania integration, Cakaj said Albania's government could not wait to cooperate with Kosovo's new government. The cooperation between the two states will only deepen, he added.

Preliminary election results, after 95.88% of the ballots have been counted, show that the Vetevendosje movement is most likely the winner with 25.76% of the vote, followed by the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo with 25.06%.

Albania immensely appreciates Croatia's support for opening Albania's EU accession negotiations this month, Cakaj said, adding that the support was both technical and political.

Croatia's advice was very helpful to our groups which worked on projects for opening the negotiations, and politically, Croatia not only advocates EU enlargement to Western Balkan countries but is also one of the biggest supporters of Albania's EU membership, Cakaj said.

He was hopeful that Albania would formally begin negotiations during Croatia's EU presidency in the first half of 2020, and welcomed an enlargement summit due in Zagreb in May.

Grlić Radman and Cakaj said energy and transport were areas in which the "traditionally good" cooperation could be improved. Cakaj underlined the need to establish direct flights.

Grlić Radman said Croatia-Albania relations were additionally reinforced by a strategic partnership statement signed this year by prime ministers Andrej Plenković and Edi Rama.

He added that Croatia would insist during its presidency that the enlargement policy remain high on the EU's agenda.

He said a delegation of three Albanian ministries would visit Croatia next week to work with Croatian colleagues on two EU accession chapters: Energy; Justice, Freedom and Security; and Judiciary and Fundamental Rights.

Earlier in the day, Cakaj met with Prime Minister Plenković whom he informed about Albania's compliance with the criteria for opening EU entry talks, the government said in a press release. They talked about the situation in the region and Sunday's Kosovo election.

More news about relations between Croatia and Albania can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Croatia Regrets Lack of Support for Opening EU Talks with North Macedonia, Albania

ZAGREB, June 19, 2019 - Croatian Foreign Minister Marija Pejčinović Burić regretted on Tuesday that there was no agreement among EU member states about recognising the progress of North Macedonia and Albania and opening accession negotiations, with a decision postponed for October.

Member states' foreign ministers made the postponement in Luxembourg without clearly indicating whether they will approve opening the negotiations in October.

"Croatia's position hasn't changed. We wanted it also a year ago at the General Affairs Council meeting, when the majority of the member states advocated giving a deadline of one year and beginning negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania this June, if they met the set demands," Pejčinović Burić said.

"However, for certain reasons, there were member states that could not agree to such a text so we agreed to consider it again at this General Affairs Council meeting. Unfortunately, we didn't get far. Now the number of states with certain reservations has even increased," she added.

"We advocated opening those negotiations both with Albania and with North Macedonia because we think each has made such progress that it should be recognised in the right way," the minister said.

Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Austria, Poland, Malta, Italy, Slovakia and Slovenia have forwarded a joint request for opening accession negotiations with the two countries.

France and the Netherlands are particularly against opening the negotiations.

Pejčinović Burić said she was the only one at today's meeting to talk about the European perspective of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"We believe it's very important to raise awareness in European institutions of BiH's European perspective because we think it's very important not to lose sight of that. There's a lot of work ahead for BiH, but it's important to repeat every time that it's a country with a European perspective and that the European journey is the best option for the stabilisation and prosperity of BiH as well as the entire region," she added.

More news about Croatia and the European Union can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Croatia and Albania to Cooperate in Defence Issues

ZAGREB, March 12 (Hina) – Defence ministers of Croatia and Albania, Damir Krstičević and Olta Xhacka, in Zagreb on Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding which is expected to provide fresh impetus to defence cooperation between the two countries.

The two ministers discussed current security challenges in Southeastern Europe and reaffirmed the traditionally good bilateral relations based on their long-standing friendship and partnership.

With reference to cooperation between the two navies, Krstičević spoke of the Naval Studies programme in Split, developed in cooperation between the Tuđman Military Academy and the University of Split. He said that it would be possible for an Albanian cadet to enrol in the programme in the school year 2021/22.

Krstičević recalled that this year Croatia and Albania were marking ten years of their membership in NATO, adding that their membership had contributed to stability and security in the two countries and the entire region.

Krstičević thanked Albania for confirming its participation in the international military exercise "Immediate Response 19", which Croatia is organising to mark the 10th anniversary of NATO membership.

The talks also focused on security in Southeastern Europe and current challenges faced by Croatia and Albania. Krstičević said that cooperation and the exchange of information in that regard were crucial.

Xhacka said that relations between the two countries were excellent and that their membership of NATO was a guarantee of security for both countries. She thanked Croatia for the support it was extending to Albania on its path to European Union membership and called for intensifying cooperation between the two countries' defence industries. She also thanked Croatia for its support to Kosovo.

Xhacka said that political stability, security and economic prosperity in Southeastern Europe were very important and that Croatia and Albania would continue making their contributions in that regard.

More news on the relations between Croatia and Albania can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Croatia Discusses Illegal Migration with Albania and Montenegro

ZAGREB, January 23, 2019 - Croatian Interior Minister Davor Božinović met with his Albanian and Montenegrin counterparts, Sander Lleshaj and Mevludin Nuhodžić, in Zagreb on Tuesday, discussing cooperation in preventing illegal migration.

Speaking to the press after the meeting, Božinović said that they had agreed on "more or less everything" and that now they needed to "implement what will raise our cooperation to a higher level and increase our resilience to challenges."

The meeting was the continuation of dialogue that was stepped up last year, particularly about migration which has intensified on the Eastern Mediterranean or Western Balkans route since the end of 2017.

Božinović said that Croatia, as an EU member, had also stepped up dialogue with European institutions to draw attention to the importance of the southeast of Europe when it came to illegal migration.

Until last year, European institutions had mostly been focused on the Central Mediterranean migration route towards Italy and the Western Mediterranean route towards Spain, Božinović said, adding that they had realised then that they should also concentrate on the Western Balkans as the only land route and its potential to be used by the largest number of migrants.

The three ministers exchanged information on migration, saying that all three countries had recorded increases in the number of illegal migrants. In Croatia, their number is nearly 70 percent higher than in 2017. Lleshaj said that Albania had recorded six times more migrants than in 2017, and Nuhodžić said that Montenegro had also recorded an increase.

"Albania and Montenegro are very important to us because the illegal migrants who reach these countries soon turn up on the Croatian border, either with Serbia or more often and in greater numbers on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina," Božinović said.

Last year Croatia recorded 619 cases of human trafficking, an increase of 71 percent over 2017.

Božinović said that they also discussed the change in the structure of migrants, adding that most of the migrants who had reached the three countries came from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq. He said this meant that in most cases these people could not be described as refugees because they were mostly economic migrants trying to reach their destinations in Western Europe.

"On the one hand this is legitimate, but on the other, given the policy of the EU which wants to stop illegal migration and which is increasingly investing in the protection of its external borders, it's something that we have to cope with," Božinović said. "These are the issues we will have to cope with in the decades to come. No country can deal with this alone and that's why cooperation is needed on a regional and wider level, either European or global," he added.

Božinović said that the countries of Southeastern Europe, which are candidates for EU membership, should not be ignored in discussions on these issues. He said that some of the initiatives had produced concrete results, adding that Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro had for the first time been granted funding from the EU to increase their border control capacity.

Recalling that earlier this month the European Commission had approved a 100-million-euro fund for operational cooperation in fighting human smuggling, Božinović said that one of the criteria for receiving funding was a joint application by member states and third countries.

The three ministers also discussed the possibility of Albania and Montenegro using funding from pre-accession funds.

Lleshaj said it was most important to concentrate on the scale of illegal migration in Albania to reduce the flow of migrants to the EU. "We know that if we close the land border the flow will be diverted across the sea border. If we take all these facts into account, we are ready to strengthen trilateral cooperation. With Croatia's mentorship, we could have better access to EU funding," the Albanian minister said.

Nuhodžić said that migration challenges continued to have a global dimension and that no country could effectively combat illegal migration without cooperating with other countries. "All three countries, being NATO members, share security risks and have an obligation to coordinate their activities in tackling these challenges," the Montenegrin interior minister said.

More news on the migrant crisis in the region can be found in the Politics section.

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