Sunday, 1 January 2023

Schengen Croatia Welcomes 2023 by Lifting the EU Ramp One Last Time

January 1, 2023 - At midnight, Schengen Croatia marked its entry into the Schengen area with the symbolic removal of the plaque at the Bregana border crossing, the lifting of the ramp, and the green light for free passage at the site of the former border control, which is now going down in history. "We opened the door to a Europe without borders," said Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović in Bregana. "Tonight, he added, we celebrate a new day, a new year, a new Europe with Croatia in Schengen."

As Index writes, at the beginning of 2023, Croatia became a new member of the Schengen zone, the largest area of free movement of goods and people in the world, which includes all the members of the European Union, except for Bulgaria and Romania, Cyprus, the Republic of Ireland and four other non-EU countries: Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.

On this occasion, on New Year's Eve, special ceremonies were held at numerous border crossings with Slovenia and Hungary, including one of the largest crossings on the Croatian-Slovenian border, Bregana-Obrežje.

Borders have stood there for too long

Minister Božinović hosted Slovenian Minister Sanja Ajanović Hovnik, while Acting Chief Director of Slovenian Police Boštjan Lindav joined Chief Police Director Nikola Milina.

"There are no more borders that stood between our neighbors and us for too long, the natural environment to which we belong both as a people and as a country," Božinović said.

He assessed that last night's act is more than the abolition of border controls: It is the final affirmation of our European identity, for which generations of Croats fought and ultimately won. He thanked the Slovenian minister and delegation for sharing moments of joy and pride. "Happy new year in Schengen to all of you!"

The Slovenian minister considered it a historical event. "Just as we symbolically set borders about 30 years ago, we are removing them now. However, this does not mean that security will decrease since we have thoroughly prepared for this moment in both countries," said Ajanović Hovnik.

After a short meeting of the ministers, at midnight, a ramp was simultaneously lifted on both sides of the border, which enabled free passage between the neighbouring countries. The lifting of the ramp on the Slovenian side was followed via a video wall.

Five minutes before midnight, the police officers at Bregana carried out the last border control, along with an appropriate gift - a teddy bear dressed in the uniform of a Croatian policeman.

In addition to the ramp, the sign with the inscription "Bergana Border Police Station" was removed, but just before that, the last report of the station chief was recorded, in which he informed the police officers to stop implementing border controls and move on to the tasks of compensatory measures.

The two countries' delegations then headed to the Slovenian side, to the area of the former Obrežje border crossing, where the chiefs of police stations and police officers thanked each other for their cooperation so far, with the symbolic removal of plaques from the police building in Obrežje. In the first 15 minutes after midnight, a dozen cars entered Slovenia without control from Croatia, greeting the assembled police officers with the sound of their horns.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated Travel section.

Friday, 30 December 2022

A Week in Croatian Politics - A Schengen and Eurozone Special

December the 30th, 2022 - This week in Croatian politics, we've been dominated by memories of the earthquake which struck the Banovina (Central Croatia) area back at the very end of pandemic-dominated 2020, as well as Croatia's accession to the Eurozone and to Schengen, both of which are set to take place on the 1st of January, 2023.

Two years ago, the devastating Banovina earthquake struck the Sisak-Moslavina area of Central Croatia. How well has the state done in tackling the consequences? Horrifically poorly, according to many...

We're now just past the second anniversary of the awful earthquake, known as the Petrinja earthquake, struck the aforementioned part of the country. Not only is this region criminally overlooked by the powers that be at the best of times, its position on the list of priorities has well and truly shown itself after this natural disaster struck at the very end of an already terrible year (2020).

Not much has altered for those who had life as they knew it crumble in the space of just several minutes back on the 29th of December, 2020. Dissatisfaction reigns strong among the earthquake victims, but also among the participants in the reconstruction process, which Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic himself referred to as being "unbelievably slow". This comment among other things which have been building up over the past two years started speculations about the potential dismissal of the Minister Ivan Paladina, who has claimed that the comment made by the Prime Minister doesn't apply and wasn't in reference to him.

The residents of the houses which are still sitting in ruin, in some cases as if the earthquake happened yesterday, are dissatisfied because most of them are still waiting in containers to return to their should-have-been newly renovated homes, but the completion of the renovation process of these Banovina houses isn't yet in sight. Rather unsurprisingly for anyone who knows even the faintest thing about Croatia's masochistic love of red tape, there are still many bureaucratic windmills turning.

Local authorities in the affected areas are also dissatisfied because the desired structural renovation of the houses and the construction of replacement houses and residential buildings didn't achieve the expected momentum, despite the amendments to the Law on Reconstruction which were put into force back in October 2021, in which great hopes were placed on precisely that.

As touched on above, PM Plenkovic's recent statement that the reconstruction of the entire Banovina area "is going unbelievably slowly" fuelled speculations about the resignation of Minister Paladina, who took up his post in March, after the resignation of former Minister Darko Horvat, who ended up in jail for some time (enter your shocked Pikachu meme here).

However, Paladina claimed that Plenkovic's statement about the "unbelievably slow recovery" wasn't in reference to him at all and was misinterpreted. The statement refers, he clarified, to the fact that the structural renovation of houses and buildings and the construction of replacement houses are not progressing at a sufficiently quick pace, which he has been saying for months on end now.

"Only when we start doing 100 houses a month can we actually be satisfied. I've been saying this for more than three or four months now. The Prime Minister's statement refers to that part of the renovation that must be accelerated," he said.

Croatia's accession to the Eurozone is now just days away. Here's how that journey began five years ago

Croatia is set to become the 20th member state of the Eurozone, send the kuna to the history books and adopt the bloc's single currency as its official currency in just days. This moment has been being prepared for intensively for around a year now, but the real wheels were set in motion half a decade ago.

Back at the end of October 2017, a large conference was held where the Strategy proposal for the introduction of the euro as the official currency in Croatia was presented. This marked the beginning of a broad public debate on the introduction of the euro, when the government's goal was proclaimed that Croatia would take the first step towards the introduction of the euro, entry into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM II), in 2020, when it was due to hold the rotating EU presidency.

The strategy was drawn up by experts from the Croatian National Bank (CNB) and the government, emphasising that the benefits which come from the introduction of the euro are permanent and significant, while the costs are mostly low and one-off. The strategy was finally adopted at the government session on May the 10th, 2018, when the then Economy Minister Martina Dalic, stated that a period of five to seven years would be a realistic period in which the euro could be introduced as the country's currency.

Then, back in early July 2019, Croatia sent a letter of intent to join ERM II, which was signed on behalf of the nation by Finance Minister Zdravko Maric and CNB Governor Boris Vujcic. That letter was accompanied by an Action Plan, with which Croatia committed itself to the implementation of nineteen measures and reforms spanning six areas, including further strengthening the supervision of the banking system by establishing close cooperation between the CNB and the European Central Bank (ECB), strengthening the framework for the implementation of macroprudential policy by introducing explicit mandate for measures aimed at borrowers, strengthening the framework for preventing money laundering, improving the system of collecting, processing and publishing statistical data, improving management in the public sector and reducing the administrative and financial burdens on the economy.

Croatia was deemed to have successfully fulfilled the Action Plan for joining ERM II and the banking union on time and in full, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced at the government session in May 2020.

A couple of months later, in July 2020, entry into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM II) took place. On July the 10th, 2020, the ECB and the European Commission announced that Croatia had indeed entered ERM II, and that the CNB had established close cooperation with the ECB. Entry into ERM II followed less than a week after the victory of HDZ and its coalition partners in the then parliamentary elections. ERM II is also called the "waiting room for the euro", and candidate countries must spend at least two years in it, which meant the possibility that Croatia could introduce the euro as early as January the 1st, 2023. At the same time, the emphasis was placed on fulfilling the so-called criteria from Maastricht, that is, criteria of nominal convergence, which includes exchange rate stability, price stability, interest rate stability, along with two important indicators concerning public finances - budget deficit and public debt.

Croatia's entry into ERM II wasn't hindered by the coronavirus pandemic either, although its consequences represented a major challenge for public finances. On November the 11th, 2020, at the session of the National Council for the introduction of the euro, CNB Governor Boris Vujcic presented the National Plan for replacing the Croatian kuna with the euro, a document that described everything that needed to be done, including the activities of stakeholders from both the private and public sectors, in order to create the conditions for Croatia to introduce the euro on the first day of 2023, with consumer protection highlighted as its fundamental principle.

It meant, among other things, that the exchange of the kuna into the euro would be carried out at no cost to individuals, companies or the state, and that it would be done exclusively at a fixed conversion rate. The government adopted the plan on December the 23rd of that year, while on the last day of 2020, it appointed the management committee and the heads and heads of six coordination committees for the implementation of the plan. After a public consultation on the desired national motifs for the Croatian side of the new euro coins, which lasted from July the 1st to the 15th, 2021, the CNB's Money Commission determined the final proposal on July the 21st, and the proposed motifs were a checkerboard, a geographical map of Croatia, the kuna (a pine marten/mink type of animal), the Glagolitic script and of course - Nikola Tesla.

At the beginning of August 2021, the CNB announced a tender for the design of the national side of euro coins, and on February the 4th this year, the most successful designs were presented to the public, for which the authors received generous cash prizes.

Back in mid-January 2022, a proposal for a law on the euro was presented and submitted for public consultation, and the guidelines for adjusting the domestic economy in the process of replacing the Croatian kuna with the euro were also presented. At that time, among other things, it was announced that from September the 5th of this year, it would be mandatory for all business entities to display their sale prices in both kuna and euros, as one of the mechanisms to protect consumers from unjustified price increases. On May the 13th, the Croatian Parliament adopted the Law on the introduction of the euro as the official currency in Croatia. 117 MPs voted for the law, 13 were against it, and one abstained.

Finally, on June the 1st, 2022, the ECB and the Commission announced that Croatia had succeeded in meeting the convergence criteria, that its legislation was fully aligned with the requirements of the EU Treaty and the Statute of the European System of Central Banks/European Central Bank, and that it was ready to become the 20th member of the Eurozone from January the 1st, 2023.

Looking primarily at the Maastricht criteria, the biggest focus was placed on price stability, i.e. inflation, which began to rise across Europe and the rest of the world due to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, and later owing to Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

Over the last 12 months, Croatia has had an inflation rate of 4.7 percent, which was below the reference value of 4.9 percent. In order to meet this criterion, inflation couldn't have been allowed to spiral higher than 1.5 percent of the reference value, which is based on the average inflation in the three EU member states with the lowest inflation of all. In the past year, these were Finland, France and Greece, while Malta and Portugal were excluded from the calculation, where inflation deviated considerably from the European average due to much more specific reasons.

With the green light having been obtained from the Commission and the ECB, Croatia's path to full Eurozone membership was opened up.

In mid-June, the Eurogroup and the Council of the EU recommended that Croatia introduce the euro from January the 1st, 2023, followed by support for Croatian membership from the European Council and the European Parliament, and finally, on July the 12th, the Council for Economic and Financial Affairs of the EU (Ecofin) adopted three legal acts that were necessary for Croatia to become the latest member of the Eurozone, among other things, the decision on the conversion rate of kuna to euro according to the central parity of 1 euro = 7.53450 kuna.

On July the 5th, it was announced that the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Zdravko Maric was resigning from his duties, but he still had the opportunity to attend that Ecofin session, which he apostrophised as a kind of "dot on the i" of his entire (and rather long) mandate. The three leading credit rating agencies - Standard&Poor's, Fitch and Moody's - responded to Ecofin's decision by raising their ratings, which also gave Croatia its highest investment rating in its history, provided by all three agencies.

In the entire process of introducing the euro, 19 sessions of the National Council for the introduction of the euro as the official currency in the Republic of Croatia were held, in which, in addition to representatives of the government and the CNB, the representatives of banks, employers and trade unions also sat. On Wednesday, December the 28th, the last session of the Council before Croatia joins the Eurozone was held, and all key actors, from representatives of the CNB and the government, to the heads of Fina and Croatian Post and the largest banks operating in Croatia, reported that all the necessary preliminary work had successfully been done and that all systems are ready for the transition to the new currency.

Governor Boris Vujcic reported, among other things, that so far 400 million euro coins with Croatian national motifs had been minted, a process that began back in July at the Croatian Mint in Sveta Nedelja near Zagreb. The large logistical effort of currency exchange was accompanied by the withdrawal of the current kuna from circulation, which regards about 1.1 billion coins and 500 million banknotes.

The CNB started with the first pre-supply of euro coins and banknotes three months before January the 1st, which included banks, Fina and Croatian Post, while the distribution of packages of euro coins to individuals began on December the 1st. People have so far bought 682 thousand of these packages, individually worth 100 kuna.

Boris Vujcic also reported that all the planned amount of euro banknotes had been acquired, and the supply of business entities, which is carried out by banks, is now nearing its end.

In addition to the legal obligation of double reporting of prices (in kuna and euros), which came into effect on September the 5th, business entities were invited from August the 16th onwards to join the Code of Ethics, the goal of which is to enable a reliable and transparent exchange of the Croatian kuna with the euro. By December the 28th, 1,006 business entities had joined it. In addition, in order to acquaint the general population with all aspects of the introduction of the new currency, the government and the CNB conducted informative and educational campaigns in autumn which spanned all major Croatian cities.

When it comes to the legislative activities related to the introduction of the euro, Finance Minister Marko Primorac reported at a recent session of the Euro Council that 70 national laws were amended to reflect the introduction of the euro, and the harmonisation of Croatian legislation will continue throughout 2023.

Croatia is set to join Schengen on the same day as it introduces the euro as its tender. No country has joined both the Eurozone and the passport-free Schengen zone on the same day before

Along with accession to the Eurozone, which I truly believe I've covered enough now, Croatia is also set to enter Schengen, the border-free, passport-free zone which truly encompasses one of the EU's four primary pillars of function - freedom of movement. The zone is the globe's largest visa-free zone of all, currently encompassing 27 European nations (28 when Croatia joins), which have officially abolished all forms of border controls at their national borders. Named after a town in Luxembourg where the original agreement was signed by Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands back in 1985, Schengen has attracted controversy during various political crises, especially those which involve migrant crises. 

Controversy aside, the Schengen zone allows for the completely free movement of as many as 400 million people, and Croatia joining the zone will aid the tourist sector greatly, as the long lines at the land borders we've come to know each summer will be a thing of the past, and Croatia will also be in charge of protecting the EU's longest external border. It's worth noting that while land borders with other EU countries will be abolished with immediate effect on the 1st of January next year, the new Schengen rules for Croatian airports won't come into force until March.

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to check out our dedicated section and keep an eye out for our Week in Politics articles which are published each Friday.

Thursday, 8 December 2022

Decision on Schengen Expansion Passed, Croatia Gets the Green Light

December 8, 2022 - The key participants in today's EU Council meeting, where a decision was made on the expansion of the Schengen zone without borders, confirmed upon entering the meeting that they were sure that the decision on Croatia's entry would be adopted, regardless of the fact that the diplomatic battles over the second decision, regarding the expansion of Schengen to Bulgaria and Romania. 

As Večernji wrote during the meeting, their correspondent from Brussels, Tomislav Krasnec, reported with the latest information, saying that the meeting is still ongoing, and discussions were also being held in the corridors. The cases of Bulgaria and Romania were apparently the source debate when it looked like some complications have arisen. It seems that some countries tried to treat this issue as a package of three countries, and not as two separate decisions, and advocated that it be put to a vote as a package today. That would not have been a favourable situation for Croatia, which would have ended up a victim of such a political approach.

Not long after, 24Sata reported that today, at the meeting of the interior ministers of the EU member states, Croatia received unanimous support for entering the Schengen area, while there was no consensus for Bulgaria and Romania, according to diplomatic sources.

Croatia thus becomes the 27th member of the Schengen area and in less than a month, from January 1, 2023, border controls will be abolished at land and sea border crossings, and in the spring, on March 26, 2023, at airports.

Bulgaria and Romania apparently did not receive support because there was a lack of consensus.

Plenković: Citizens and the economy will benefit the most

"Croatia received the unanimous support of the Council for Internal Affairs and Justice - on January 1, 2023, we will become a member of Schengen! In the year of delivery, we achieved the Government's strategic goals, from which citizens and the economy will benefit the most!" - Plenković wrote on Twitter after the official announcement that Croatia is becoming a Schengen member.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated Politics section.

Saturday, 26 November 2022

Austria Won't Block Croatian Schengen Path, But Germany Might

November the 26th, 2022 - Despite claims to the opposite, Austria has recently cleared up the fact that it will not be standing in the way of the planned Croatian Schengen entry at the beginning of 2023, citing complaints with Schengen expansion in general, and not merely about Croatian accession. Germany, however, might throw a spanner in the works yet.

As Ines Sabalic/Poslovni Dnevnik writes, Austria will not prevent Croatian Schengen membership from going ahead, and neither will Sweden, which had also threatened to do so in the past. But Germany could.

There is a high chance that Croatian Schengen entry will go ahead without much fuss, but a last-minute issue is also possible. At the moment, in all the Schengen capitals that are being asked about Schengen, Zagreb, the responses are positive to Croatian entry. However, it's not over yet, because there can be unpleasant surprises where you least expect it, and some last minute problems, so we've heard, do indeed exist.

Schengen is much more than free border crossings and data exchanges, which, along with Eurozone entry in January 2023, is a question of confirming political identity for Croatia. For large member states and countries close to the center of the EU, identity is self-evident. For the Scandinavians, the EU is a rational choice. The British refused it for a multitude of reasons. It is crucial for Croatia and this confirmation would have a beneficial effect.

Over in Germany, a key part of the ruling coalition is the Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grunen), and their reaction to Croatian Schengen plans is unpredictable. If they decide to make a fuss at the last minute, Scholz's government and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser will not be able to support Croatia's entry. It's more than likely that everything will be fine, but it ain't over until the fat lady sings, as they say in Britain.

Previous negative indications from some countries to Croatian Schengen entry were motivated by internal political demands and disagreements. An example of that can be found in Sweden, where two completely different parties, the Swedish Democrats, and the Social Democrats, demanded all three countries (Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania) be stopped form enteting. The far-right Sweden Democrats are against it, and the Social Democrats ask "What benefit does Sweden have from the entry of Croatia into Schengen?". At the same time, Ylva Johansson, Commissioner of the European Commission (EC) for Internal Affairs, whose responsibility includes Schengen, is a Swedish socialist herself.

As things stand now, the problem with the Swedes has been solved, that is, Sweden confirmed once again in Brussels that it will give passage to Croatian Schengen entry without causing any issues along the way.

The same is true in nearby Austria, despite recent issues the media has cited. There, the party in power, the OVP, is nervous because the public's trust in the party's good handling of the migrant issue has long-since dried up, and nostalgia has grown (according to polls reported by Der Standard) for Sebastian Kurtz, who advocated a hard-line migration policy for Austria. The threats against Croatian Schengen entry were aimed at increasing and consolidating support among VP voters, but the main issue is, as stated, Schengen itself, and not merely Croatia entering it.

The main reason for the increased number of migrants in Austria is that people simply come, pass through Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Croatia, and are directed to the northwest, towards "real" Europe. Many member states, such as Austria in this case, probably imagine Croatia as a kind of European Union military frontier, a border area that was once defined by Maria Theresa as a defense zone against the expansion of Turkey, and which later grew into a Habsburg war province.

Quite simply, the Austrians want fewer migrants or at least effective control of who enters and when. Their issue is with Schengen simply ''not working'', to quote one Austrian minister. At the same time, in these same member states, coalition or opposition parties on the left demand respect for the human rights of migrants.

The parties of the left, and especially the Greens, also understand the border areas in a better way, and what they demand is an individualised approach to migrants, so that one of the fundamental values ​​on which civilisation rests, namely respect for human rights, is not compromised. Recently, the Greens in the European Parliament also voted in favour of admitting Croatia to Schengen, because the argument of the right to enter, and for equal rights for all, prevailed in the end.

At the same time, many MEPs, and especially the German Greens, continue to show great dissatisfaction with the violation of human rights at the borders. There, the petition "Europe, stop paying for pushback" was recently launched, in which, along with Croatia, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Spain and Slovenia are all criticised for being verbally and physically violent towards potential asylum seekers, and resorting to violent measures of rejection (pushbacks).

The Greens are a complex party, and the only one among the major parties in all of the European Union that has a deeply idealistic vision, which is largely channeled into mainstream politics, and a smaller but highly visible part into activist actions. 

The lens through which these two opposing political formations see the incidents at the European Union's external borders with migrants is different. The only thing in common is that both are dissatisfied with the European Commission. Some, like the OVP, and we've seen this from the remarks made by the Austrian Minister of the Interior Karner, criticise the too lenient approach of the Commission regarding the asylum policy and Schengen, while the German Greens criticize Frontex, the European agency that is at the external borders and helps the national border police in their work.

These members are dissatisfied, they want something from Greece, which they constantly criticise, and also from Croatia, which would like to enter Schengen, but what do they want exactly? What kind of border area should Croatia be? Should there be a military landscape at all? Nobody seems to have much of an idea. However, it will be necessary to have a long, hard think about what the Croatian borders, the EU's external ones, will look like following Schengen entry in 2023.

For more, make sure to keep up with our news and politics sections.

Friday, 25 November 2022

A Week in Croatian Politics - Politician Pay Rises, Schengen and Ukraine

November the 25th, 2022 - This week in Croatian politics, we've had everything from wage increases for politicians and state officials and saying an emphatic ''YES'' to training Ukrainian soldiers, to Austria changing its tune regarding Croatian Schengen accession and Milanovic claiming that it's actually America fighting with Russia through Ukraine.

The monthly wage earned by Plenkovic, his ministers and parliamentarians is set to go up

Much to the delight of every average Joe living and working in Croatia and struggling to make ends meet, Plenkovic and co are set to get a wage increase. 

You'll probably remember that last month, the government and the trade unions finally came to an agreement on a basic salary increase, meaning that the monthly salary will also increase for Plenkovic, Milanovic, Jandrokovic, government ministers and members of parliament, that is, for all officials. However, with the passing of this particular law, the President of the Constitutional Court will be taking home the highest official salary, and not President Zoran Milanovic.

With the amendments to the law that the government sent to the parliament recently, for which it is requesting adoption under an urgent procedure, the base rate for officials will be the same as that applied to civil servants, so all future increases, including this one now, will automatically apply to politicians as well.

One Ukrainian minister thanks Croatia for allowing Ukrainian soldiers to come and be trained to fight the Russians in Croatia

''Thanks, Plenkovic!'' tweets the minister...

You might recall the likes of President Zoran Milanovic among others being staunchly against the idea of training Ukrainian soldiers to fight against their invaders here in Croatia. Milanovic believed that Croatia's showcasing of unwavering support for Ukraine and providing help and safety for refugees was enough, and that anything else would be provocation of Putin and inviting the war to this country's doorstep. Many agreed with him. Many more found themselves surprised at agreeing with him.

Still, it seems that his case for disapproval fell on deaf ears as the Ukrainian Defence Minister, Oleksij Reznikov, thanked Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovi and Defense Minister Marij Banozic on Twitter after the government sent the decision on Croatia's participation in the military aid mission to Ukraine for approval by the parliament yesterday.

"The government of the Republic of Croatia approved the decision to train the Ukrainian army in Croatia. A modern, well-trained army with powerful partners will definitely defeat a pack of Russian murderers, robbers and rapists. Thank you Andrej Plenkovic and Mario Banozic for their support!" Reznikov tweeted.

Croatia's participation in the military aid mission to Ukraine includes the training of Ukrainian soldiers in Croatia, which isn't something many people are all too thrilled about. Banozic, however, seems to have allowed all logical opposition to this fly right over his head. ''What are they against? Are they against saving lives?'' he asked.

Zoran Milanovic claims that America is fighting a war against Russia... through Ukraine

If you're a follower of Croatian politics in any deeper capacity, you'll know that President Milanovic often comes out with some rather unusual things. He also never misses an opportunity to spit on HDZ, which for many makes him a popular character in at least one aspect. For others, his distasteful remarks cross the line a bit too often, and for others, well, they can't quite make head nor tail of him. He has recently come out with something quite strange.

The Day of the City of Zadar took place recently, which is celebrated at a formal session of the City Council, and Milanovic was there. As expected, he referred to the government's decision to train Ukrainian soldiers in Croatia which I mentioned above, and which he was firmly against. "This is personal terror and harassment by Plenkovic, it's just his desire to push some of his ideas," said Milanovic, as RTL reported at the time.

President Milanovic also said that he knows what is written in the Croatian Constitution because ''he wrote it''. He was referring to the statement of the government at that session that the training of Ukrainian soldiers is based on the Constitution and on the laws and international agreements according to which Ukraine is an allied country.

''Therefore,'' Milanovic added: "Ukraine, to its credit, is not an ally." "The Croatian Parliament is not responsible for making any decisions on the training of foreign soldiers in Croatia," he said. He called things as they were set up by the government a "Udbas sabotage", which, if you know who the ''Udbasi'' (the Yugoslav secret service) were and what they got up to, you'll realise is quite the statement.

"Now it will be seen who's Russia and who's for Ukraine. I'm not for anyone. I'm for Croatia,'' Milanovic said.

"There's a war going on there between America and Russia. Between Russia and Ukraine, I'm on the side of Ukraine, of course. But it's a war between America and Russia," he said. "We have to state that the Americans are waging a war against Russia through Ukrainian youths, we have to say that. When it comes to decisions that have a security and defense character, you have to consult with the president, and I say to the members of parliament: ''Don't be intimidated,'' he said.

New measures against inflation could come to be, and all hands are on deck for post-earthquake reconstruction (for the earthquake that occurred two years ago)

Plenkovic recently pointed out that the proposed state budget for next year will provide funds for the growth of both wages and pensions, increased funds for veterans and the army, and he also announced possible new measures to mitigate the impact of inflation, with the message that "there's power and space for that".

"We have the space and strength to do that, if there's a need, and considering the circumstances, our measures will be precise and comprehensive, and as we've done so far, we'll solve it and you'll be satisfied with what we do,'' said Plenkovic in response to Branko Grcic (SDP ) when asked what will happen at the end of March next year, when all previous measures are due to expire.

''We'll also reduce excise duties on heating oil and thereby provide additional assistance to people,'' announced the Prime Minister during the parliamentary debate on the 2023 budget, adding that ''the number of people at risk of poverty is continuously falling in Croatia and that figure is smaller than when we assumed responsibility.''

In his answers to the deputies, Plenković pointed out that the fight against corruption continues, that it is strong and brings results.

Regarding the post-earthquake reconstruction for the earthquakes which struck Zagreb in March 2020 and the Banovina area in December of that same year, which he was also asked about, Plenkovic said that the government is providing a lot of aid and that the reconstruction of houses is intensifying, that all departments are working on reconstruction and are in charge of spending the available funds.

Austria is now all for Croatia joining Schengen, or is it?

You may have read (or heard) about Austria taking a stance against Croatia joining the Schengen zone in January 2023, with talk of the country potentially going as far as to block entry. Now it seems that the tide has turned, or has it? Memories are short when it comes to Croatian politics.

Plenkovic recently received the Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria, Karl Nehammer, at Banski dvori. This is Nehammer's first official visit to Croatia as chancellor.

"In the last thirty years or so, relations with Austria have been among the most extensive of the numerous countries with which Croatia cooperates since it was internationally recognised. Since the 1990s, Austria has been the second biggest investor in Croatia. This year, Croatia was visited by one and a half million Austrian tourists,'' said Plenkovic at the beginning of the press conference.

"Today we also discussed the most important topic ahead of this visit, which is the final two weeks before the decision on Croatian membership of the Schengen area. This was an opportunity to once again explain to the chancellor what Croatia has done from 2016 until today," Plenkovic said.

"We're currently discussing the expansion of Schengen, and we can see that Austria in particular has insufficient protection of its external borders. At the same time, we have a reduction in border protection within the EU itself, in our opinion it can't continue like that, so some measures will have to be taken,'' he said.

"When we talk about Schengen's expansion, and at the same time we criticise the plan that the European Commission should present with regard to these problems that we've presented, it is important to say that this doesn't apply to Croatia. Special votes will be cast for Croatia, as they will for both Bulgaria and Romania. We'll support Croatia's accession to the Schengen area, but we're going to be critical of the efforts of Bulgaria and Romania," added the Austrian chancellor.

The Austrian chancellor also said that it is necessary to change the system and strengthen the EU's external borders in order to make free movement within Schengen possible.

It's worth noting that Austrian Minister of the Interior, Gerhard Karner, caused great concern reently after he said that he was against the expansion of the Schengen area to include Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. Over the past few days, he has repeatedly said that he is against any Schengen expansion, which he said is something that simply isn't working, which can be seen from the increased number of asylum seekers arriving in Austria. That country registered the entry of around 100,000 migrants this year alone, of which 75,000 were not previously registered in any EU country at all.

Nehammer warned that his minister wanted to signal that "Schengen is clearly not working and that new measures are needed." The Council for Justice and Internal Affairs meets on December the 8th and 9th, when it will make the final decision on Croatia's entry into the Schengen area. Croatia's accession was previously supported by the European Commission and the European Parliament, so all fingers (and likely toes) are crossed.

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to follow our dedicated section and keep your eyes peeled for our Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published every Friday.

Thursday, 7 July 2022

Czech PM Vows Maximum Efforts to Complete Process of Croatia's Schengen Entry

ZAGREB, 7 July 2022 - The Czech Republic will do its utmost to ensure that Croatia's accession to the Schengen zone is completed during the Czech presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2022, Prime Minister Petr Fiala said during his meeting with his Croatian counterpart Andrej Plenković in Prague on Thursday.

The meeting took place after the Czech Republic took over the rotating EU presidency on 1 July.

The Czech Republic has always supported and continues to support Croatia's admission to the Schengen zone. We are confident that Croatia meets all the criteria. We will do all we can to ensure that the accession process is completed during our presidency and that Croatia becomes a full member of the Schengen zone on 1 January 2023, Fiala said.

The Croatian prime minister praised the Czech presidency programme under the motto "Europe as a Task".

Europe as a Task: Rethink, Rebuild, Repower are the main priorities of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU.

Plenković said that these priorities fit the present time of challenges, such as the Covid pandemic, which still requires caution and vigilance, and Russia's terrible aggression against Ukraine and the fallout of the war, including increased prices and inflation pressure.

Plenković said that one of the highlights of the Czech presidency will be the adoption of the decision on Croatia's entry into the euro area on 1 January 2023.

"We believe that this autumn, under the Czech leadership of the EU, the final decision will be made on Croatia's entry into the Schengen zone on 1 January 2023," said Plenković, underscoring that this also meant deeper integration of his country into the EU.

Plenković said that Croatia appreciated the wish of Prague to put emphasis on southeastern European countries during its EU chairmanship.

For us this is particularly important because of Bosnia and Herzegovina, given that we together have advocated that it be granted the status of EU candidate. We expect BiH to implement the reforms, particularly those conducive to ensuring the equality of the Croats as soon as possible, said Plenković.

The Czech and Croatian premiers expressed their satisfaction with bilateral relations and with the activities of the respective minorities in their countries.

Commenting on the well-developed and diversified economic cooperation, Plenković said that the trade between the two countries was close to reaching €1 billion.

The Czech Republic is among the top 15 investors in Croatia, and the Czechs are the second most numerous foreign visitors to Croatia.

For more, check out our politics section.

Thursday, 30 June 2022

2023 Croatia Summer Flight Schedule to Kick Off with New Schengen Rules

June 30, 2022 - Border controls should be lifted at Croatian airports from March 26, 2023, as Croatia becomes part of the single Schengen area. This means that the 2023 Croatia summer flight schedule will kick off with new rules. 

When the Republic of Croatia becomes part of the single Schengen area on January 1 next year, travel from or to Croatian airports will be significantly easier, writes Croatian Aviation

On Wednesday, the EU Council proposed that border controls at Croatia's land and sea borders with Schengen countries be abolished from January 1, 2023, and at airports from March 26 next year. Thus, at the beginning of the new year, Croatia should become a member of the Schengen area, which will simplify travel to and from Croatian airports.

If all goes well, border controls will be lifted on January 1 at seaports and road border crossings, while the same should take effect on March 26 at all Croatian airports.

Namely, with the stated date, the summer flight schedule comes into force, so it is logistically easier to make the change just then, and at the same time the airports are given enough time to prepare.

At Croatian airports, it is necessary to change the existing passenger flows, given that currently there are fewer departures at airports for flights within the Republic of Croatia, while now flights to and from all Schengen member states will be treated as "domestic".

This means that passengers traveling from Croatia on direct flights to destinations in the member states of this area (26 European countries), after checking in for the flight and security control, will go to the exit for their flight without crossing the border or police control.

All Croatian airports must have the infrastructural possibility of separating passengers arriving or departing to destinations in the Schengen area, as well as to destinations outside it.

This means that, for example, when traveling from Zagreb to Split, Osijek, Vienna, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, or any other destination located in a Schengen member country, the exit to the aircraft will go without checking your identity document, but the border control still exists when traveling to Istanbul, London, Doha, Dubai, Sarajevo, Belgrade or other destinations outside Schengen. The same, of course, applies to all other Croatian airports.

Croatian airports have enough time to prepare and change passenger flows until the spring of 2023 when Croatia finally feels another advantage of membership in the European Union, and preparations have been underway for months.

For more on flights to Croatia and other travel announcements, make sure to check out our dedicated travel section.

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

EC Again Calls for Admitting Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen

ZAGREB, 24 May 2022 - The European Commission on Tuesday reiterated its recommendation that three EU member states -- Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania -- should be admitted to the Schengen Area after they met the membership criteria.

Today the EC presented its State of Schengen Report 2022. This is the first time the Commission is presenting such a report, following last year's Schengen Strategy.

The report also "reminds of the importance of completing the Schengen area and calls upon the Council to adopt the decisions to allow Croatia, as well as Romania and Bulgaria, to formally become a part of it, in view of the fact that all criteria have been fulfilled. The same will apply to Cyprus once it has successfully completed the Schengen evaluation process."

The State of Schengen report will serve as the basis for discussions of Members of the European Parliament and Home Affairs Ministers in the Schengen Forum on 2 June, and in the upcoming Schengen Council on 10 June.

The report sets a list of priority actions for 2022-2023 that are to be addressed at both national and European levels such as implementing the new IT architecture and interoperability for border management, making full use of cross-border cooperation tools, ensuring systematic checks at the external borders of all travelers, ensuring that Frontex reaches the full potential of its mandate, lifting all long-lasting internal border controls, and adopting the revised Schengen Borders Code.

For more, check out our politics section.

Saturday, 18 December 2021

PM Says Croatia Will Not Erect Fence on Border With BiH After Schengen Area Entry

ZAGREB, 18 Dec, 2021 - Once it enters the Schengen area of passport-free travel, Croatia will not erect a fence on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in an interview with the Večernji List daily Saturday issue.

Commenting on his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina earlier this week, Plenković said that Croatia supports BiH's sovereignty and integrity as well as its spirit as agreed in Dayton - one state, two entities and three equal constituent peoples, noting that Croatia will not allow the inequality of Croats in relation to the other two constituent peoples.

"My position is clear and I reiterated it once again in Sarajevo and Mostar - Croatia will not erect a fence or a wall on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. That border connects us and that will remain so after Croatia's accession to the Schengen area. But that makes cooperation between our police forces and other relevant services extremely important, so that we can prevent illegal migrations," he said.

Schengen entry is not only a major privilege, it is also a major obligation for Croatia. Our state border with BiH, Serbia and Montenegro will become the external Schengen border and that is why effective, responsible and thorough control of the border will be a permanent task of the Croatian border police, Plenković said.

He added that agreement was reached during his visit to Sarajevo on the continuation of talks on a possible change of the categories of individual border crossings and on facilitating the flow of people and goods in line with EU regulations.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

For more about Croatia, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, 11 December 2021

EU Announces That Croatia Meets Requirements for Schengen Entry, Finally

December the 11th, 2021 - The Republic of Croatia finally meets all of the many requirements for Schengen entry, and European Union member states agreed this on Thursday, paving the way for a final decision on the matter.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, the 27 EU member states agreed that Croatia meets all the conditions for implementing the Schengen acquis, paving the way for a final decision on Schengen entry which is without any control when crossing the European Union's internal borders.

The agreed text of the conclusions was formally adopted by EU member states' interior ministers on Thursday without further discussion.

Two other member states, the Netherlands and Sweden, had procedural reservations at a meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) on Wednesday as their representatives awaited consultation(s) with the relevant committees in their respective parliaments, and conclusions couldn't be reached without the consent of all member states. The green light finally arrived for Croatian Schengen entry on Thursday, in time for the interior ministers who gathered in Brussels to officially confirm it.

Representatives of both of the aforementioned countries said that in principle they had no substantive objections to the text of the conclusions, but that these are common procedures in their countries when a position to be represented by their representatives in Brussels has sought consultations with the relevant parliamentary committees.

"Croatia has met all of the necessary conditions for the implementation of all parts of the Schengen acquis," the text of the agreed conclusions reads. This created the preconditions for the Council to take a decision in accordance with Article 4 (2) of the Agreement on the Accession of Croatia, which allows for the abolition of internal border controls. "With a view to Croatia's accession to Schengen, Croatia is called upon to continue to consistently implement the Schengen acquis and the obligations related to the Schengen acquis," the conclusions said.

These conclusions are a procedurally necessary condition for making a decision on Croatian Schengen entry and removing border controls at the Croatian land border with Slovenia and Hungary, as well as at airports and seaports.

The final decision on Schengen entry could be made in about six months during the French EU presidency, and it requires the explicit consent of all Schengen member states. The Council should also seek the opinion of the European Parliament, which it may or may not follow.

The adopted conclusions don't mean that the decision for Croatia to join Schengen is guaranteed as it cannot be ruled out that some of member states might block the decision. Conclusions on Schengen readiness for Bulgaria and Romania were adopted way back in 2011, and the two countries are still outside Schengen.

The text itself states that the adopted conclusions meet the preconditions for the Council to be able to subsequently decide that all parts of the Schengen acquis apply in Croatia.

"The Council can begin work on the draft decision with a view to forwarding it to the European Parliament for consultation as soon as possible," the conclusions said.

Schengen entry requires thorough evaluations to assess whether the country can take responsibility for external border control on behalf of other Schengen countries, to cooperate effectively with the police authorities of other Schengen member states in order to maintain a high level of security after the abolition of border controls, to apply Schengen rules, such as the control of land, sea and air borders (airports), the issuance of Schengen visas, police cooperation and protection of personal data, and the connection with and use of the Schengen Information System.

Onthr 6th of March 2015, Croatia sent a letter stating that it was ready to start evaluations in all relevant areas of the Schengen acquis as of the 1st of July of the same year. The evaluation process began in June 2016 and was completed in May 2019, and the European Commission confirmed on the 22nd of October 2019 that Croatia meets all the technical requirements for Schengen entry.

The procedure was carried out by teams of experts from the European Commission and EU member states, who, after carrying out all of the inspections, wrote a series of reports and recommendations to correct all of Croatia's identified shortcomings. Following these recommendations, Croatia has developed action plans to address these shortcomings. The last action plan for the area of ​​external border management was concluded back in February this year.

Croatia has gone through the most comprehensive and detailed process of assessing its readiness for Schengen membership, which no EU member state has encountered so far. It fulfilled 281 recommendations in eight areas of the Schengen acquis, of which 145 recommendations related solely to the area of ​​external border control.

With the help of the EU, Croatia has invested significant funds in its border protection, which is guarded by six and a half thousand police officers. It has been under a lot of pressure from migrants trying to enter EU territory for a long time and border police have been accused by the media and NGOs of forcibly returning and inhumanely treating illegal migrants trying to cross.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

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