Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Von der Leyen to Visit Zagreb Thursday after European Commision Okays Croatia's Recovery Plan

ZAGREB, 6 July, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Monday that the European Commission's President Ursula Von der Leyen would arrive in Zagreb on Thursday after the European Commission approved Croatia's national recovery and resilience plan.

President von der Leyen has decided to personally deliver the national recovery and resilience plan to each of the 27 member states.

PM Plenković said that the green-light to Croatia's €6.3 billion recovery plan was an important encouragement.

"We are satisfied with the finalisation of the process before we expected," Plenković said on Monday evening.

In early June, Croatia and another four EU member-states -- Slovenia, Poland, Sweden and Romania -- asked the European Commission to extend a deadline for the assessment of their national recovery and resilience plans.

The EC had two months to assess these plans that set out the reforms and public investment projects that each Member State plans to implement with the support of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF).

The rules envisage that member-states can request a reasonable extension of time for the assessment of national recovery and resilience plans after the documents are submitted.

The Commission received Croatia's plan on 15 May, and Zagreb "has requested a total of almost €6.4 billion in grants under the RRF", the EC says on its website.

The Croatian plan is structured around five components: green and digital economy, public administration and judiciary, education, science and research, labour market and social protection, healthcare. It also encompasses one initiative on building renovation.

The plan includes measures to improve business environment, education, research and development, energy-efficiency in buildings, zero-emission transport and the development of renewable energy sources.

Projects in the plan cover the entire lifetime of the RRF until 2026. The plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas, the EC added.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Croatia Satisfied With CAP Reform, Says Agriculture Minister

ZAGREB, 29 June, 2021 - Croatia can be satisfied with the agreement on key issues from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform package because it takes into account its most important demands, Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković said in Luxembourg on Tuesday.

At a two-day meeting in Luxembourg, EU agriculture and fisheries ministers on Monday confirmed the agreement on the reform of the CAP, reached with the European Parliament last week.

Vučković said Croatia was glad its most important demands had been taken into account, concerning the treatment of areas with natural constraints, animal welfare and certain exemptions and flexibility regarding small farmers.

The new CAP rules, to be in force from 2023 to the end of 2027, oblige member states to respect the social and labour rights of agricultural workers, encourage farmers to apply greener farming practices, envisage incentives for smaller farms and young farmers and advocate making financial support to farms more conditional on their results and performance.

Now that political agreement has been reached on the new CAP, the path is clear for both legislative institutions, the Council and the Parliament, to formally vote the new rules in.

The ministers also reached agreement on a control regulation that refers to fisheries.

Vučković said that monitoring and control in the fisheries sector were very important and that Croatia had made significant progress in recent years, notably regarding the application of innovations and new technologies in control and monitoring.

She commended the Croatian fisheries sector for undergoing a very important and difficult transformation, underlining the need to preserve the country's fishing resources, fishing fleet, small fishermen and their traditional way of life.

Vučković also called at the Luxembourg meeting for the continuation of support to wine makers, beekeepers and fruit and vegetable farmers.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

IMF: Generous EU Funds Offer Croatia Historic Opportunity

ZAGREB, 23 June, 2021 - Despite the considerable setback dealt by the pandemic, Croatia has a rare opportunity in the next five years to restore its economy to health and to ramp up the public investments necessary for appreciably higher growth rates with the help of EU funds, an IMF mission says in a Concluding Statement.

"Following a painful contraction of 8 percent in 2020, the economy looks set for growth between 5 and 6 percent in 2021 driven by a rebound in the services sector and investment - provided the pandemic does not provide further unwelcome surprises," the mission says the statement published on Wednesday after visiting Croatia as part of regular consultations with member states.

"With sufficient luck regarding tourism outcomes, and a successful vaccination drive within the next months, growth could even exceed 6 percent this year. Assuming the pandemic fades by the end of this year, growth could remain high over the next few years, if the country makes full and timely use of the potentially sizable forthcoming inflow of EU funds," according to the statement.

"Since the first quarter, the recovery has picked up noticeably with areas like construction and manufacturing already reaching activity levels higher than in 2019. Overall, the number of registered unemployed persons has fallen by nearly 13 percent since a year ago. However, tourism and directly related sectors are yet to fully recover. This process is likely to take another year or two."

Swift measures by the authorities

"Between the pandemic and two large earthquakes, Croatia has been severely tested, and the country’s resilience has come through. The economic contraction in 2020 - painful as it has been -was not as severe as those experienced by many other economies with a strong tourism component. This is mainly due to the swift measures enacted by the authorities," the IMF staff said.

"Support measures must remain in place until the health of the population and the economy have been fully restored. As conditions improve, support measures need to rotate toward preparing the workforce for the post-pandemic world, and facilitating balance sheet repair of viable businesses. Thereafter, the challenge of once again reducing deficits and the public debt whilst shifting growth into a new high gear must be taken on. The generous funding from the EU represents a historic opportunity, to help meet these challenges successfully - an opportunity that must be fully utilized, in a timely fashion," the IMF mission said.

Not the right time to further cut taxes

Noting the government's support measures, the mission said, "Just as these support measures were essential during the worst of the crisis, they must now be better targeted to lagging sectors of the economy - and they must remain in place till the economy has more fully recovered."

"It is paramount that a vaccination drive be as successful and widespread as possible, that extra healthcare costs are fully met and arrears in the healthcare system are reduced to the maximum possible extent," according to the statement.

"Complementing the use of funds such as the European Social Fund, fiscal resources saved this year due to improving conditions can also be usefully redeployed to train more workers in sectors like greening and digitalization."

"In sum, in the view of IMF staff, the most important fiscal goal in 2021 is to focus on spending available resources wisely to restore the economy to health. If this is successfully accomplished this year, it will more firmly ground the efforts to reduce the deficit and debt over the next few years," said staff said in the Concluding Statement.

"Regarding revenues, the authorities need to conserve all available resources to meet any unexpected expenditures into 2022, and well beyond. This is one clear lesson from this completely unforeseen shock the world has suffered. We hold that this is not the right time for any further tax cuts or weakening of the tax base. Current conditions are still far too fragile for the country to afford them," they said. 

Recovery and Resilience Fund provides unique opportunity for economic development

They said that there were few doubts that a post-pandemic "will be more digitalized in the most basic aspects of our lives, and that it should be greener. In these two areas, Croatia has great strides to take, from which there will be a sizable return on investment, for decades to come."

The IMF reiterated that "our most important recommendation was to raise public investment, for the sake of future growth. Now, that conviction has only deepened, as it is important to acknowledge a singular aspect in which Croatia is actually better off than it was before the pandemic."

That is "the generous allocation of EU Funds, including from the Recovery and Resilience Fund (RRF). The RRF resources amount to 10.6 percent of GDP in grants to be utilized by 2026."

"These funds reflect a truly unique opportunity along the path of economic development, which many countries in the world are not fortunate enough to have. It is important for all stakeholders in Croatia to fully understand the significance of this opportunity. These funds are available, but they need to be absorbed efficiently, and in a timely manner. They must also be accompanied by needed reforms," the IMF said.

"Thanks to the influx of these EU funds beginning towards the end of this year, Croatia can significantly upgrade its public capital stock, decarbonize its economy, catch up with digitalization, and improve its maritime and rail transport systems. If the projected investments go according to plan, we currently assess that the funds from the RRF alone could add as much as 2.9 percentage points to real GDP over the next twenty years."

Opportunity to reduce income gap in relation to EU

"When the effects of the planned reforms, as well as the other EU structural funds are put together, Croatia now has its best chance since independence to significantly narrow the current 35% gap in per capita income with respect to the EU average," the mission said.

It added that "the prospect of living in a vibrant society with prosperity rapidly converging to EU levels could cause the young to fundamentally re-evaluate their future, thereby further stemming the tide of outward migration. That, in turn, would have the positive effect of reducing risks to the sustainability of the healthcare and pensions systems. It is very much possible now, and unlike ever before, to start a virtuous cycle - and to definitively escape past vicious circles."

The authorities have requested a Public Investment Management Assessment from the IMF, to take place in August 2021, the statement noted. "This assessment will help prepare an action plan to help make sure investment spending is effective, is sensitive to climate change related considerations and supports sustainable long-term growth."

The authorities’ National Recovery and Resilience Plan "has laid out major complementary reform commitments across five components: green and digital economy, public administration and judiciary, education, science and research, labor market and social protection, and healthcare. These are essential for the flexibility Croatia needs to operate its economy smoothly, once inside the eurozone."

Reforms needed for stronger public finance

Within the reform areas where the strength of public finances is the focus, IMF staff re-emphasizes the importance of support, from all stakeholders, for civil service and administrative reforms, "including a modernization of the public salary system, as well as improving the territorial organization of sub-national governments."

Support is also called for ending "stop-gap measures to take care of healthcare arrears, through an overhaul of its cost structure" and "exploring a more sustainable revenue base, to preserve healthcare quality standards."

The IMF also recommends the development and implementation of a full-fledged strategy for state-owned enterprises (SOEs), "including the separation of core from non-core businesses, and a strengthened oversight system for the former to ensure that they contribute their fair share to the budget by remaining financially durable after their public service obligations are met. The authorities’ commitments to sell some non-core SOEs over the next few years is a promising start." 

Also recommended is ensuring the long-term sustainability of the pension system, given population aging.

In addition to these areas, constantly improving the competitiveness of the Croatian economy through active dialogue with the private sector, remains essential.

"For the forthcoming increase in public investment to have maximum effect on the economy’s growth rate, it must be complemented by increases in private investment, as well. Reforms to the framework of debt restructuring, insolvency, and efforts to further improve predictability and efficiency in legal procedures remain central to unlocking more resources from investors, as it allows them to invest with greater confidence."

Banking system liquid and sufficiently capitalized

"Monetary policy remains highly expansionary, within the exchange rate anchor in place since 1993. This stance is appropriate given the need to nurse the economy fully back to health," the IMF staff said.

The recent pick-up in inflation is more likely than not to be transitory in nature, but should inflationary pressures prove more persistent than in the euro area, the central bank "may consider reducing excess liquidity in the banking system, while maintaining exchange rate stability."

"The banking system has remained liquid and is on average well capitalized," the mission said, adding that there was more than enough money to meet the demand for corporate loans.

Housing lending remains strong, while uninsured household cash loans have decreased, which the IMF said was positive.

Although the ratio of non-performing loans to total loans has remained stable, the so-called stage II loans, a forward-looking indicator of future asset quality problems, has risen - particularly for non-financial corporations. This development warrants continued close monitoring."

"The pandemic has not affected the upward trend in house prices in Zagreb and coastal areas. To the extent that housing purchases are not driven by excessive household borrowing, they do not constitute an immediate financial stability risk," the IMF said.

However, this also requires continued monitoring by the central bank, If circumstances require it, the central bank "might wish to consider putting in place more formal macro-prudential measures (than the current implicit debt-service-to-income ratio included in the Foreclosure Act)."

"Despite the considerable setback dealt by the pandemic, Croatia has a rare opportunity, over the next five years, to restore its people and economy to health. It can ramp up the public investments necessary for appreciably higher growth rates, with the help of EU funds. Such opportunities should not be taken for granted. The onus of efforts is not exclusively on the authorities. All stakeholders in society must offer them the support for vital reforms, while doing their parts to re-energize private investment, and innovation. Adopting the euro will help remove some existing economic frictions by removing exchange rate risk. Yet, reaping the full benefits of the currency union requires strong focus and preparation. A brighter future is very much within reach. The time to act is now," according to the Concluding Statement.

For more about business in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.


Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Foreign Minister Grlić Radman For Opening EU Entry Talks With N. Macedonia, Albania as Soon as Possible

ZAGREB, 22 June, 2021 - North Macedonia and Albania have met all the criteria to open EU accession negotiations as soon as possible and Kosovo deserves visa liberalisation, Croatia's Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Tuesday in Luxembourg.

"Albania and North Macedonia have met all the criteria and we believe that accession negotiations should be opened with them as soon as possible," said Grlić Radman upo arriving in Luxembourg for a General Affairs Council meeting.

The General Affairs Council is composed of foreign or European affairs ministers of the member states. They convened today to discuss preparations for an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday on migration, enlargement and the stabilisation and association process.  Furthermore, the Portuguese presidency will inform the EU ministers about the work of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

One of the more important topics to be debated within Article 7 is the rule of law in Hungary and Poland.

Accession intergovernmental conferences with Serbia and Montenegro will be held on the margins of today's meeting, but without opening or closing any policy chapters. So-called political intergovernmental conferences are a new approach in the accession process.

Agreement still has not been reached to open negotiations with North Macedonia due to objections by Bulgaria and no progress is expected before elections in Bulgaria scheduled for next month.

There are no blockades regarding Albania, however some countries do not wish to separate the issue of opening negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.

Grlić Radman that Croatia supports the motion for liberalising the visa regime for Kosovo as soon as possible.

Croatia would like talks on candidate status for Bosnia and Herzegovina to be launched as soon as possible too, said Grlić Radman and once again underscored the need for the election law in that country to be changed so that it ensures the equality of all three constitutent peoples.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Foreign Minister Grlić Radman Calls on Remaining EU Countries to Recognise Kosovo

ZAGREB, 16 June, 2021 - Croatia encourages the remaining EU countries who have not done so to recognise Kosovo's independence, Croatia's Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Wednesday, which is a move that Serbia certainly will not be pleased with as it does not recognise the sovereignty of its former southern province.

Kosovo declared its independence in 2008 and it has been recognised by about one hundred countries, including all EU member states with the exception of Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Spain and Slovakia.

"Croatia encourages the remaining five EU member states to recognise Kosovo because that would contribute to stabilising the region and Kosovo itself," Grlić Radman told reporters.

Today Grlić Radman is participating at the international GLOBSEC conference in Bratislava, convened to discuss also the situation in the western Balkans.

Croatia's foreign minister said that three things were key to the region's stability: respecting countries' territorial integrity, equal constitutional rights of Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the establishment of mutual trust after the 1990s wars.

"The territorial integrity of Balkan countries needs to be preserved and respected, hence without changing borders like we heard over the past few months in some much-vaunted non-papers that were heading in that direction," said Grlić Radman.

He believes that trust can be achieved through sincere talks, by resolving the issue of the war missing, processing war crimes and providing justice for the victims.

Speaking about BiH, he said the country is trapped between two political tendencies - centralism, or rather unitarism, and separatism.

"That undermines the foundations of a stable BiH and negatively reflects on the status of the Croat people in BiH," he underscored.

He reiterated Croatia's stance that the multi-ethnic BiH needs to reforms the election law to eliminate any form of discrimination and violation of equal rights.

Grlić Radman said that Croatia is a "sincere advocate" of BiH's Euro-Atlantic pathway and that at all international forums it keeps that country in the limelight because it is in its interest to have a stable, functioning and prosperous country in its neighbourhood.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Interior Minister Davor Božinović: Clear Link Between Croatia's Schengen Membership And EU Security

ZAGREB, 8 June, 2021 - The Strategy for the Schengen Area for the first time clearly articulates the link between Croatia's membership of the Schengen Area and the EU's security, Interior Minister Davor Božinović said in Luxembourg on Tuesday.

“The debate today on the Strategy for the Schengen Area is especially significant for us because for the first time it has identified a clear link between Croatia's membership of the Schengen Area and security for the EU as a whole," Božinović said ahead of a meeting of the EU's Home Affairs Council.

The interior ministers of EU member states met in Luxembourg on Tuesday for an initial discussion on the Schengen strategy that was presented by the European Commission last week. The agenda also includes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the fight against organised crime, the internal security outlook in terms of artificial intelligence, cooperation in the fight against terrorism and exchanging opinions on the current status in the discussion on the new migration and asylum pact.

Last week the Commission presented the strategy towards a "stronger and more resilient" Schengen Area, which includes enlargement to EU member states that are still not part of the area, and called for Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania to be admitted into the Schengen Area as they had met the technical criteria for the application of the Schengen acquis. 

Božinović said that it was becoming more and more clear that Europe's security was not the sum of security capacities of member states but that it was cooperation, interoperability and solidarity.

"These are the principles that Croatia has insisted upon in European forums for years," said Božinović.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO): 7% of Croatians Misled Into Buying Counterfeits

ZAGREB, 8 June, 2021 - Nine percent of Europeans and seven percent of Croatians have been misled into buying counterfeit products, according to a survey released by the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) on Tuesday.

The study, entitled "European Citizens and Intellectual Property", shows that consumers find it difficult to distinguish between genuine and fake products.

Nearly one in ten Europeans claimed that they were misled into buying counterfeits, but there were considerable differences between EU member states. 19% of Bulgarians, 16% of Romanians and 15% of Hungarians said they were deceived, compared to 2% of Swedes and 3% of Danes.

Croatia was below the EU average, with 7% of its citizens saying they were misled into buying counterfeit products.

According to Eurostat, over 70% of Europeans shopped online in 2020, and uncertainty regarding counterfeit products has become a growing concern for consumer protection, the study showed.

Counterfeit products represent 6.8 % of EU imports worth €121 billion and impact every sector, from cosmetics and toys, wine and beverages, electronics and clothing to pesticides and pharmaceutical products. They pose serious risks to the health and safety of citizens as they usually do not comply with quality and safety standards.

The study says that the worldwide trade in counterfeit pharmaceutical products has been estimated at €4 billion. Digital piracy also represents a highly lucrative market for infringers. Just in the area of internet protocol television (IPTV), €1 billion of unlawful revenue is generated every year by the
supply and consumption of copyright-infringing digital content in the EU, harming creators and
legitimate businesses.

Counterfeiting affects not only consumers, but it also causes considerable damage to the EU
economy, notably small and medium enterprises (SMEs). One in four SMEs and 21.7% of SMEs in Croatia said they suffered damage on account of intellectual property rights infringement, according to the study.

For more about business in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Interior Minister Davor Božinović : Croatia's Schengen membership in interest of EU

ZAGREB, 2 June, 2021 - Interior Minister Davor Božinović said on Wednesday that Croatia's entry to the passport-free Schengen Area was in the national interest as well as in the interest of the European Union.

Earlier on Wednesday the European Commission called for the enlargement of the Schengen area to include Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, which have met all technical criteria for membership.

"Schengen's future must be marked by the expansion to those EU Member States that are not yet part of the Schengen area," the EC said while presenting the strategy for making the Schengen area stronger and more resilient.

Božinović recalled that Croatia had met 281 requirements in eight different segments concerning the membership criteria.

The minister is confident that Croatia will be admitted to the Schengen area in the next 12 months.

He said that he was glad to see that in Europe awareness was being raised about the importance of accession of Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria.

40,000 EU Digital COVID certificates issued in Croatia since first day of issuance

Since yesterday, when the issuance of EU Digital COVID certificates started in Croatia, as many as 40,000 such travel passes have been issued.

Božinović said that Croatia was among the first EU countries to make this system operational.

The minister, who visited the Bregana border crossing to get acquainted with the functioning of the system of checking those certificates, said that it took only 10 seconds to check those certificates.

One million kuna has been invested in this project, which included IT solutions, the necessary equipment of border crossings to be able to read the codes from the certificates, and other equipment for the Croatian Health Insurance Agency (HZZO), he said.

Croatia tapped EU funds for this purpose, Božinović said at Bregana.

ENTER Croatia application available to people travelling to Croatia

The minister said that people traveling to Croatia can fill in the ENTER Croatia application which will also facilitate passage across the border.

New, relaxed rules for arrivals in Croatia

As of today, some relaxed rules go into force for arrivals in Croatia, including a negative PCR test for coronavirus not older than 72 hours, while travellers who have received at least one vaccine dose at least 22 days before their arrival do not need to self-isolate.

For more about diplomacy in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 12 February 2021

Croatian Emigration Rate Second Highest in European Union

February the 12th, 2021 - The fact that certain parts of Croatia, particularly Eastern Croatia, have been gradually emptying for years as the economic situation grows worse and job opportunities become more scarce, isn't something new. That trend only got worse as Croatia entered the EU in July 2013, and the Croatian emigration rate is now the second worst in the entire EU.

As Novac/Kristina Turcin writes, in the period from 2015 to 2019, the population of Croatia, according to official Eurostat data, decreased by 4.26 inhabitants per 1,000 citizens only due to the concerning Croatian emigration rate, which is the second largest decline in population through migration in the European Union: only Lithuania, which is worse, lost 5.04 inhabitants for every 1000 inhabitants in the same period.

This worrisome data unequivocally indicates that the economic prosperity of one country within the EU has a key impact on the decisions of residents to leave one country or move to another. For this reason, the territory of the European Union is one of the most attractive for immigrants from all over the world, but within the Union itself, despite all efforts, the differences between nations and their people are still vast and people from poorer countries continue to migrate with very little barriers placed in front of them to richer ones.

Economic crisis

Such a trend was particularly present in post-socialist countries in the first years after joining the EU, particularly in the early 2000s. In the last observed five-year period, only five EU countries had a negative migration rate, ie the number of emigrants was higher than the number of immigrants. These are Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Croatia and Lithuania. All other member states had a higher number of immigrants than the number of emigrants, and at the top of the scale are of course the countries with the best economic indicators, such as Luxembourg, whose net migration rate was 17, which means that for every 1,000 citizens it had 17 more immigrants than it did emigrants.

That very same pattern, which was shown by the calculations of Dr. Ivan Cipin and Dr. Petra Medjimurec from the Department of Demography at the Faculty of Economics in Zagreb, is present within Croatia and in the Croatian emigration rate: the correlation between economic prosperity, measured through GDP per capita, and net migration rates for each county is indisputable, it was, as stated, also particularly strong in the first years after Croatia's initial accession to the EU in the summer of 2013.

''There's no doubt that the economic development of a particular area is one of the most important, if not the most important, factor of emigration,'' explained Dr. Cipin.

According to the analysis they made, in the years of the strongest economic crisis in Croatia, the stronger the Croatian emigration rate grew. As expected, this primarily involved those from poorer counties. For example, back in 2012, the most negative net migration rate was in Pozega-Slavonia County, which, in that year, lost 11 inhabitants per 1,000 inhabitants exclusively due to emigration, either abroad or to other Croatian counties. At the same time, it was one of the three counties with the lowest GDP per capita - the GDP of that county was, for comparison, more than three times lower than the GDP of the City of Zagreb. That year, however, the six (richest) counties had a positive net migration rate, ie the number of immigrants was higher than the number of emigrants.

However, the explosion of emigration started in 2013 - the year in which Croatia finally joined the European Union, and peaked in 2017 when, for example, the net migration rate for Vukovar-Srijem County, whose GDP per capita was also among the lowest, was 35, and only two counties, Istria and the City of Zagreb, had a positive rate. Virovitica-Podravina and Pozega-Slavonia counties, which a year earlier had the lowest GDP per capita, had net migration rates of -20 and -25, respectively.

Regional inequalities

''When the borders opened up to Croatia following July 2013's accession to the EU, the differences in economic development reached special levels in terms of migration statistics. Slavonia and the area around Sisak faced the worst situation. These parts of the country, ie the surplus of emigration, have been a big issue for Croatia for some time now, which, due to the departure of the younger and more active part of the population, leads to a further reduction of GDP per capita and inequalities therefore only increase. I'm afraid that without targeted EU intervention, it will no longer be possible to reverse the trend: we have counties where, partly due to emigration, the average age of the general population is already approaching 50, and they still have negative net migration, which is an unpromising indicator,'' explained Dr. Cipin.

Combating poverty and regional disparities is one of the main goals of the European Union, but the set goal of reducing the number of people at risk of poverty by 20 million by 2020 has unfortunately not been achieved. On the contrary, inequalities between and within member states have only further increased, and the concerning Croatian emigration rate is just one aspect which speaks volumes about it.

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Thursday, 7 November 2019

Responsible Member State? Emotional Abuse by MUP Towards EU National

November the 7th, 2019 - Croatia has been a member state of the European Union since July 2013. Some growing pains were expected throughout the following year, maybe two. The new system which allows ease of access to life and work in Croatia for other EU nationals of course takes a little time to implement, MUP's administrative staff need to be updated, and so on. 

Mistakes happen, and misunderstandings occur. EU law, however, is not complicated, and if you're employed in a position which demands you know it, and keep up to date with it, it's quite unexpected to be told, as an EU national (Netherlands), who was a former Croatian national on top of that, that you have ''no rights''. Amazing, no? Welcome to Croatia, the country set to preside over the EU at the beginning of 2020.

We at TCN do our best to help out foreign nationals (be they from the EU or outside of it) when it comes to residence and citizenship matters, and it's always amazing how many comments and emails we get from various people stating how their experience was very different to what both EU and Croatian law prescribe. We've read tales of nothing less than abuse, and while all such stories are utterly unacceptable, one such example among the thousands (literally), was from a former Croatian national, who is now a Dutch national, who had recently moved back to Zagreb - and it stood out from the crowd for all the wrong reasons.

The Dutch citizen in question wanted to get her Croatian citizenship back, but of course, she first sought legal residence, and as a Dutch national, she had every right to do so and have it all done and dusted without much fuss. However, she was instead belittled, demeaned, shouted at like a child, reduced to tears, told she had no family and also that she has no rights. We're keeping this woman's identity anonymous as per her perfectly understandable request after such an inexcusable experience at the hands of the Croatian authorities, but thanks to her unwillingness to just conform, SOLVIT, an EU body which helps mistreated EU nationals got involved, and not long after, so did the European Commission.

Here is her story of psychological abuse and public shaming by MUP. The disgraceful treatment she received at the hands of administrative clerks at the foreigners' department at Petrinjska police station, in the very heart of Zagreb has attracted the attention of the EC.

''I’m a foreign Croatian national who migrated to the Netherlands 13 years ago. After completing my masters and PhD in Amsterdam, I moved to the UK to do my postdoc at the University of Oxford, and went on to work for the London office of a large multinational company. I’ve recently returned to Croatia with the intention of staying permanently.

On the day after my arrival, I went to the Ministry of Interior Affairs (MUP) in Petrinjska to inquire on how to apply for temporary residence. As a Dutch citizen, I am technically not obliged to do this for the first 3 months of my stay, but it’s necessary for a whole host of practical reasons, e.g. I can’t register or drive my car without it. Because I’m well familiar with the fact that the documents required by the clerks can (and often do) differ from what is stated on the website, I went to Petrinjska in person to obtain a list of documents needed to apply. After an hour and a half long wait, I obtained the following list (which differs from what is on the website indeed, and I’m copying in its entirety in case it’s helpful to anyone):

- Form 1b
- Copy of a passport
- Proof of funds or a work contract
- Proof of health insurance
- Rental contract certified by a notary, or a landlord’s declaration signed at PUZ (can also be certificate of ownership)

I later found out only three of the above documents are required by law (passport, proof of funding, and proof of health insurance). Also, it struck me as bizarre that I had to wait 1.5 hours to obtain information that should so evidently be provided on MUP’s website. It made me wonder how much of the (enormous) queue was caused by the fact that zero of the process is digitised at the moment (my bet is almost all of it). But I went home and prepared all the documents listed above.

The following day I came back at 9:30 and waited for two hours, in which the line moved only by 10 numbers (I was 60 numbers away). Realising that I would not be up before the end of the working day, I left and decided to get up at 6 the following day so I can come back to Petrinjska at 7:45 to take my place in the queue. There were 50 people in the line before me when I got there, but thankfully they were not all waiting in the same counter and I did not have to wait too long. I handed over all the documents required above.

The clerk inquired why I needed the residence card. Assuming the meant what my immediate need for the card was, I replied that I needed to register my car. She said that was not a valid reason to reside in Croatia. Realising her original question was why I was in Croatia, not why I needed a card, I briefly stated why I was here (not expecting to be asked as it’s not on the above list, and not really knowing what aspects of my stay were relevant – is it relevant that I’m getting medical treatment in a private clinic, is it relevant that I’m following some courses, is it relevant that I’m planning to stay permanently?).

I inquired for a list of valid reasons to apply. The lady at the counter raised her voice and demanded that I left. I wasn’t really inclined to do that after having spent 7 hours on this up to that point, especially while knowing that information provided on websites often differs from what the clerks actually ask for. Several pieces of information I managed to gather from the clerk’s yelling that ensued were, for example, that some of the valid reasons to apply included family reunification, studying, or selling a property. Since the latter two reasons didn’t apply to me, I asked whether family reunification could somehow be applicable to me.

They asked what family I had here. With dozens of other people within hearing distance, I shared with her that I lost both my parents and my brother, and that I have a cousin whose family I am very close with. The clerk replied that I cannot reunite with family, since I don’t have one.

Throughout the whole process, I found it very odd that I was being asked for a reason of stay, since a) it was not told to me upfront (despite me making a dedicated trip the day before for that very purpose), b) I’m an EU citizen and I’d never had that problem with any other EU country. I found it especially odd that the rules communicated to me by the clerks seemed a lot like regulations for third (non-EU) country citizens. After repeatedly asking for a list of valid reasons to stay (at this point we’d already spent 15 minutes on this, with dozens of other people waiting in line), the only advice I managed to get was to read the Croatian Law for Foreign Nationals.

This is what I did; as initially expected, the law was very clear: I should be able to apply for temporary residence very easily and with minimum red tape. I spotted the following five inconsistencies between the law and the information communicated to be at MUP:

MUP: I was already once granted residence under ‘other purposes’, and I cannot reapply.

Law: I can apply under ‘other purposes’ multiple times.

MUP: If I had a valid reason to apply (which according to them I do not), I could only apply to reside in Croatia for a year.

Law: I can apply for a 5-year temporary stay, after which I can apply for permanent residence,

MUP: If I had a valid reason to apply, I could in theory apply on the basis of undergoing medical treatment, family reunification, or study.

Law: there are 4 valid categories of reasons to apply: work, other purposes, study, or reunification with an EU family member residing in Croatia (note: this is different to reunification with Croatian family members that the clerks listed).

MUP: I need to provide the five documents listed above.

Law: I only need to produce a copy of my passport, proof of funds, proof of medical insurance, and a filled-out form.

MUP: I was obliged to register a tourist stay on the day I landed in Croatia. Law: This fundamentally does not apply to EU nationals.

After this initial interaction with the clerks (and before reading the Law on Foreign Nationals) I left the counter really shaken; I’m not used to being yelled at and found the whole experience really distressing, especially as I remained polite throughout the interaction despite the clerk’s attitude. I started to think about things more calmly and realised that perhaps my ongoing medical treatment could be a valid reason to apply; I went back to verify and got confirmation. After contacting the clinic I am being treated in and getting a nurse, a doctor, and a lawyer involved in producing a document for me, I found out I was mis-informed by MUP and that medical treatment is not on the list of reasons to apply for EU nationals.

The highlight of the day occurred after I had read the Law and returned to the counter with correct information at my disposal (this was already 6 hours into that day’s visit to MUP).

I told the clerks I had read the Law as advised, and tried to tell them that the information I was given by them was inconsistent with the Law on several points, and that according to EU regulations I appeared to be entitled to submitting a residence application. What followed can only be described as verbal abuse. The clerks did not let me finish; instead, one of them suggested I wrote a complaint, which would then be rejected (“you can put all this in a complaint, and we will reject it”).

The other pointed out to people in the queue behind me that I was returning for the fifth time that day, and taking up time that should be theirs. They referred me to their superior (which witnessed our first exchange and was unfortunately unfamiliar with the law as well; he supported the clerk throughout our conversation). I waited for this gentleman for 45 minutes, and he then informed me that I was wrong and am not entitled to apply. I pulled out my mobile phone and showed him the relevant section in the Law on Foreign Nationals.

He was still not convinced, but luckily two of his co-workers had entered his office at that point, and he asked them to stay while I present my case to them. I did, and both of them immediately said I was right and am entitled to submitting a residence application.

At this point I started to cry; I was overwhelmed by everything that had happened that day and in the two days before. I told them I was not sure how to actually submit my application, as they would not accept it at the counter. One of them walked me to the counter and explained to the clerks that they needed to accept my application. After a 12-hour process spread across three days, I had finally managed to submit my application. The waiting time for resolution is 5-6 weeks (during which I cannot drive, and living on a hill without public transport this practically means being trapped at home).

While waiting at MUP, I reported the whole case to European Commision’s SOLVIT system (and I strongly encourage other EU nationals to report similar violations; the system was designed to address exactly these type of situations: 'Unfair rules or decisions and discriminatory red tape can make it hard for you to live, work or do business in another EU country.' https://ec.europa.eu/solvit/).

I also inquired with the clerks about who oversees their work, but the only response I got from them was ‘Madam, we’re the Ministry of Internal Affairs’, implying that they don’t report to anyone. I believe there is a large-scale problem in Croatia with adherence to EU laws (I was persistent enough and spoke the language so was ultimately able to get the application accepted, but many are not lucky enough). This is a systemic problem and is highly prevent in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as evidence by the fact that even the senior supervisor on the floor denied me the right to submit a residence application.

The clerks’ abusive attitude is a separate problem and I believe it needs to be thoroughly addressed as well. Sadly, the vast majority of Croats are accustomed to this kind of treatment and consider it standard; I think it is very important that they understand it is not, and that they are entitled to fair treatment and correct information. I would encourage anyone who has experienced a similar treatment to come forward, whether to the media or to relevant EU institutions.

Update: SOLVIT quickly responded with the following:

''Dear ___,
Thank you for your message. My apologies for all the distress you have experienced. Indeed it sounds like they have treated you unfairly. Unfortunately since you have managed to submit your residence application and have it accepted, you do not have a concrete problem anymore. This means that we are unable to intervene, because we can only help when there is a concrete problem for the applicant. Since we believe it is important that you notify the treatment you have experienced, we would like to suggest to hand in a complaint through the European Commission. You can find out more information through (a link they provided).
They are able to look into complaints concerning situations that have already occurred and have already been resolved.''

As per their advice, I forwarded my complaint to European Commission, who is now looking into it. In the meantime, after nearly a 5-week wait and having to submit another document not formally required by law (proof of ownership of my apartment, which under Article 161 of the Law on Foreign Nationals is not required), I got my temporary residence approved. I now need to wait an additional three weeks to get my residence card. After noting to a clerk at MUP that this seems quite long, he informed me I was “very lucky”, as “people often wait 2 months”.

I sighed and noted that Croatian bureaucracy is quite bad, adding that this was not his fault personally. He responded that after I got my citizenship (which I have no intention of applying for, but I guess he assumed this was something I wanted to pursue) I would be able to complain. I replied saying that EU nationals have rights, too. His response was: “No, you don’t”.

Can you believe that, just think about it for a second. A public servant in an EU country tells an EU citizen that they have no rights in Croatia.

I will quote here Article 153 of the Law on Foreigners: ''(1) A national of an EEA Member State and members of his or her family, whether or not they are nationals of an EEA Member State and who have the right of residence in the Republic of Croatia, shall be equal to the citizens of the Republic of Croatia under the provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.''

I did not explain the law to the gentleman, because given his position he should have known it (at least the basics; this is the first article of the section on EU nationals in Croatia); I just told him that we still have rights, despite what the MUP's staff think.''

If you are an EU national and you have experienced similar issues or feel you have been mistreated, given the incorrect information by MUP, publicly, verbally abused or shouted at, we at TCN urge you most strongly to report the issue to SOLVIT and to the European Commission.

SOLVIT deals with unresolved cases and you can click here to report your issue.

The European Commission investigates such issues which have already been resolved, and you can report your issue here.

If you'd like us to tell your story, email us at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We have been collecting experiences across various expat groups and beyond, and we intend to write an article including all of them. The response was overwhelming, and the stories of abuse, misinformation and mistreatment are rife. As stated, we intend to publish them all and forward the article to the European Commission, who is now investigating the case described in this article.

For more information and help on residence and citizenship, follow our dedicated lifestyle page.

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