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.

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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.

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Following Macron's Visit, French-Croatian Economic Partnership Stoked

December the 1st, 2021 - The French-Croatian economic partnership is set to be ramped up even further and cover a variety of different fields following the French President's recent visit to Zagreb in which he stated Croatia's Schengen readiness.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Marija Brnic writes, last week, French President Emmanuel Macron and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the two countries, which is a political declaration with a broader scope in which the two countries will engage in deeper French-Croatian cooperation.

The focus of the public, due to the simultaneous signing of the contract on the purchase of twelve Rafale fighter jets, was the military aspect of future cooperation with the country that is now the largest European Union military power, as well as to open French support for Croatia's entry into the Eurozone and the Schengen area.

This French-Croatian strategic document also brings preferences in bilateral relations between the two economies, part of which refers to the engagement of Croatian companies in the implementation of contracts for the procurement of combat squadrons.

The details haven't been specified, but it is stated that "France is ready to increase the development of further high-value aeronautical support activities at the industrial level in Croatia in connection with the Rafale aircraft."

From this it can be concluded that the doors are well and truly open to industrial cooperation in the aviation industry between the two nations. Cooperation between small and medium-sized and large companies and universities, as well as the participation in industrial consortia financed from the EU budget is also envisaged.

French-Croatian foreign trade relations have only been growing from year to year and the Agreement states that greater importance is needed in increasing the recognition of each country's economies and their investments. In the long run, mutual cooperation in education and scholarships will contribute to this, and in the short term, the foundations for stronger networking will be the two countries' plans which are primarily based on going green and the digital transition, as well as the EU's multiannual financial framework.

In addition to connecting to specific projects, France is also offering its support for the development of technology parks and the ecosystem of start-ups in Croatia, and will share its best experiences in supporting startups and growing companies. With experience in infrastructure projects and the automotive industry, a special space is being opened up in waste management, water management, green energy and digitalisation.

The two countries intend to improve their cooperation in the field of tourism, primarily in the search for models on how to escape from the bings of problematic mass tourism. France is the world's number one tourist destination at the moment, it is visited by the most tourists annually, while Croatia is the European country that receives the most tourists per capita. Therefore, the issue of sustainable tourism is becoming more and more significant, and judging by the Partnership Agreement, the way out will be cultural tourism and joint archaeological research programmes..

There is also talk of cooperation through ITER (International Experimental Thermonuclear Reactor), the construction of an experimental nuclear reactor, the largest investment in science in which all countries of the world participate, and its "host" is France. Getting electricity from fusion energy in France is seen as a priority goal to ensure non-carbon energy sources and sustainable development. This agreement does not, therefore, bring individual projects with specific participants into the ''game'', but instead proposes a proper framework for future French-Croatian partnerships, from which three-year action plans will be adopted at a later stage.

This isn't the first strategic partnership between Croatia and France, as they signed a similar agreement back in 2010, but with the acquisition of the Rafale planes, and also with its 2013 status of an EU member state, Croatia is now receiving more attention.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Croatian Eurozone Accession: Changes to Begin as Early as Next Summer

September the 23rd, 2021 - Croatian Eurozone accession might still seem like a far away event on the domestic political stage, but it is edging ever closer and things are set to start being quite significantly different as of next summer.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, preparations for Croatian Eurozone accession have already started, and one of the measures is to ensure that prices don't increase significantly, which is something most people fear when asked what their worries surrounding the process of phasing out the Croatian kuna is.

Tihomir Mavricek pointed out that this will be among the very first things that will be tackled, and that the fixed exchange rate will be determined just before the decision of the EU Council on the introduction of the euro as Croatia's official currency.

"It will be around 7.53, but it will finally be determined in May or June next year and will become valid from January the 1st, 2023. Until December the 31st, 2022, the commercial exchange rate will be valid, it'll be as we have it now," he explained for HRT.

"There's no need to be afraid of price increases"

Many people are afraid of price increases as a result of Croatian Eurozone accession, but Mavricek has assured that the practice of countries that have already adopted the euro has shown that the replacement of the national currency has had very little effect on price growth, ie inflation.

"The countries that first adopted the euro had a small so-called harmonised growth of the consumer price index, which ranged between 0.09 and 0.28 percentage points. Countries that later adopted the euro had one which stood at around 0.3 - so we don't expect any significant impact on prices, maybe of some 0.37 percentage points, with the biggest impact coming from services and a slightly smaller number of commonly used products, such as pastries and newspapers,'' said Mavricek.

After the introduction of the euro in neighbouring Slovenia, prices in transport, restaurants and hairdressing/beauty salons increased, while in Slovakia the prices of food and construction works increased.

"Research has shown that these increases mostly regard products that don't affect people with lower incomes when compared to those with higher incomes, such as sectors like accommodation services, restaurants, and sports services - these are usually services used by people with higher incomes," explained Mavricek.

For more on Croatian Eurozone accession, check out our dedicated politics section.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

How Will Croatian Schengen and Eurozone Entry Help Exporters?

September the 7th, 2021 - The country's many exporters are set to have life made that bit easier for them with Croatian Schengen entry on the horizon, further aided by the country finally entering the Eurozone.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Darko Bicak writes, Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Tomislav Coric recently said that for small and open economies, such as that boasted Croatia, exports are a prerequisite for development and survival.

"The country's GDP has been growing for years now, and of late, exports have been one of the main factors when it comes to economic growth and economic recovery. Exports recorded very good results even during pandemic-dominated 2020. This year, we've been recording a large recovery in terms of exports with 60 billion kuna, which is 11 billion kuna more than in pre-crisis 2019,'' said Coric.

He added that we must be careful in this analysis of the growth of the value of Croatian exports, because part of it is related to global inflation.

Minister Coric also pointed out that the achieved results are due to about 20,000 Croatian exporters who are the largest employers in the country, who also generate the largest share of total income and investments. He stated that both EU and national funds are a major source of funding for innovation and competitiveness of the domestic economy in the wake of the Green Plan.

"I'm aware of the challenges that Croatian exporters have been facing for years, and the Government is making great efforts to overcome bureaucratic obstacles for Croatian businessmen, and especially exporters, for greater growth and exports. By joining the Eurozone in two years, we'll take an additional step forward in eliminating exchange rate risks faced by Croatian entrepreneurs when doing business on our most important market - the single market.

In addition to the above, Croatian Schengen entry will be a benefit for all of the country's exporters because it will simplify and speed up mobility,'' concluded Minister Coric.

For more on Croatian Schengen and Eurozone entry, make sure to follow our politics section.

Monday, 5 July 2021

With Croatian Eurozone Entry Coming, Economist Talks Price Rises

July the 5th, 2021 - Croatian Eurozone entry might seem a far away event, but it is edging ever closer with discussions about what the Croatian design on Euro coins taking place. What will happen if you're making loan payments in Croatian currency? The details so far.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, on Thursday, after a session of the National Council for the Introduction of the Euro, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Croatian National Bank Governor Boris Vujcic stood before the press and talked about Croatian Eurozone entry. Plenkovic said that they were convinced that the country would be ready to enter the Eurozone on January the 1st, 2023, and Vujcic added that until that date, we need to work "at full speed".

The question of how ready Croatia actually is for this step and whether the aforementioned period is long enough to prepare everything was discussed by economic analyst dr. Sc. Petar Vuskovic, who believes that in technical terms, Croatian Eurozone entry can happen relatively quickly.

"Croatia is already highly euroised. This means that the kuna is just a currency model. In that sense, we're ready for the euro. We have to convert the kuna, adjust the ATM system, and harmonise accounting items,'' explained Vuskovic for Net.hr.

When people start talking about Croatian Eurozone entry and the removal of the kuna, what worries people the most is that with the arrival of the euro, everything will become more expensive.

"The rise in prices due to the introduction of the euro will not occur because the rise in prices is predominantly dependent on the movement of raw material and energy prices. If you look at the countries that have already adopted the euro, price growth was at most a mere 0.3 percent. Annual inflation is, for example, one percent,'' explained Vuskovic, before adding:

"The euro will reduce loan installments. Countries that have the euro are considered currency-safe, so the cost of capital is lower. The euro means more than two billion kuna to the market that exchange offices and banks would have taken during exchange operations,'' Vuskovic concluded.

For more, follow our lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

New Consul: Italy Gives Biggest Support to Croatia's Schengen Membership Bid

ZAGREB, February 26, 2020 - The new Italian Consul-General in Rijeka, Davide Bradanini, said on Tuesday that the two countries have had extremely good relations for years and that Italy provides Croatia with the greatest support for its efforts to join the passport-free Schengen Area.

During his visit to the Istrian city of Pula, the consul said that the two countries had developed good relations and cooperation in the economic, political, cultural and tourism sectors.

"So far, a lot has been done in those sectors, and I would like to deepen our shared interests and cooperation in all fields," said Bradanini.

He praised Pula and Istria for the rights and entitlements enjoyed by the local Italian community.

"I am aware of the fact that the Italian minority here is a great asset," Bradanini said.

The acting Istria County prefect Fabrizio Radin said that although Croatia is part of the European Union, the current border system is still a barrier, underlining the importance of Croatia's admission to the Schengen Area.

Pula Mayor Boris Miletić said he is proud of the city's statute which guarantees rights to all ethnic minorities in Istria's largest city.

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

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Croatian Politics 2019: A Year in Review

What follows is a review of events in Croatian politics in 2019, as reported by TCN. If you would like to refresh your memory about the events which has led us here, read the reviews for the three previous years (2016, 2017, 2018).

The year started with a high-profile failure by the government. Months after it was announced that Croatia would buy used Israeli F-16 fighter planes, the US government vetoed the sale and the whole project fell through. Despite earlier warnings from experts that the deal was in question, ministers continued to claim that everything was alight. However, after a meeting between high-ranking officials from the United States and Israel, the truth was revealed. Ministers lost their nerves and the government launched an immediate investigation, which expectedly ended without any real results, and also announced that it would re-start the process. To show its level of seriousness, it even established a commission! Twelve months later, the process of deciding which aircraft to buy still hasn't move any further on and is not expected to end for at least another year.

The migrant crisis continued to be in the news this year. The inflow of migrants over the borders with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia increased somewhat, together with media coverage about alleged brutality of Croatian police and illegal pushbacks of migrants to Bosnia. The authorities were quick to deny everything, but the sheer number of documented cases makes it apparent that at least some of the allegations are founded.

Efforts to limit media freedoms continued this year and some reporters were even briefly arrested. Journalists, NGOs and international organisations stood up to these attempts, but the final score is still unknown.

Repression continued in other ways as well, with courts ruling that peaceful protesters should go to prison, Croatia's human rights situation being criticised from abroad, ethnically-motivated assaults (several of them) taking place, ombudswomen’s warnings not being heard, journalists receiving instructions from the president on what to do, and diplomats spreading hate...

Historical revisionism was in full force once again this year. As a result, representatives of Jews, Serbs and anti-fascist organisations once again boycotted the government’s annual commemoration at the site of the Jasenovac concentration camp.

European elections were held in May (with even Pamela Anderson giving recommendations to Croatian voters). While the ruling HDZ party had high hopes earlier in the year (and was supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who attended one of its rather controversial rallies in Zagreb), the actual results were much tighter and were interpreted by everyone as a success for the opposition (particularly SDP) and a disappointment for the government.

June brought us a few days of excitement when it seemed possible that prime minister Plenković might just succeed in his life-long dream of getting a top EU job. Despite denying he ever wanted such a thing, he was rumoured to be trying to become president of the European Commission (or president of the European Council, or perhaps something else). In the end, he had to return to Croatia empty handed, again denying his alleged attempts.

Unlike Plenković, foreign minister Marija Pejčinović-Burić was more successful in the area of career development. In June, she was elected secretary-general of the Council of Europe. She promptly resigned her post in Croatia and has not been heard about since. Another happy politician is Dubravka Šuica, who has been appointed Croatia’s commissioner in the European Commission.

Mostly good economic news continued. Public debt is at its lowest level in decades, the European Commission concluded that Croatia no longer suffered from excessive economic imbalances, and GDP growth is holding up.

One of the companies which was in the public focus this year was Croatia Airlines, Croatia’s national flag carrier. Its business results were dismal and the search for possible strategic partners was on, but without any real results. The government eventually decided to cover some of the debts, but as the year comes to and end, there is no long-term solution in sight. In the meantime, Zagreb Airport continues to lose airlines using its services.

The construction of an LNG terminal on the island of Krk has apparently started out with strong support from the US government, after many years of delays and announcements. The project is funded from the state budget, since there was no interest among anyone to actually use the terminal. The government claims that there will be interest once the terminal is built, but it would not be the first major government-funded project in Croatia’s history to fail to deliver on its promises.

The construction of Pelješac bridge continues to go at an even faster pace than expected (despite occasional Bosnian protests), mostly thanks to the efforts by the Chinese construction company which won the tender, which also brought about a marked improvement in the relations between Croatia and China. Unfortunately, the construction of the access roads leading up to the bridge has not progressed nearly as fast, with tenders being decided just several months ago. It is quite possible that, when the bridge is built, it will be unusable for a while because there will be no roads leading to it.

Emigration continues amid Croatia's demographic crisis, although somewhat slower than in previous years, probably as a result of the fact that most of those who could have left have already done so. The authorities talk about demographic revival, but nothing much has happened so far.

Political scandals were as numerous as ever. The regional development minister had an accident while driving without a driving license, the agriculture minister forgot to list all his assets on an official statement, the administration minister had his own scandals which were too numerous even to count, and the state assets minister had problems of his own. The Prime minister strongly supported his ministers before some of them resigned, and then he changed his mind and dismissed the rest of them.

The ruling coalition remained stable this year, despite occasional rumours of impending collapse. Ultimatums were rejected, resignations demanded, talks announced, decisions to stay in coalition made, threats given... Just the usual stuff.

As expected, the border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia has not been resolved this year. Slovenia was disappointed with the EU’s decision not to get involved in a dispute between its two members. The chances that this issue will feature in our review for 2020 are quite high.

In October, the European Commission announced that Croatia has fulfilled all the technical conditions to join the Schengen area. However, the final decision will require the unanimous support of all EU member states, and Slovenia does not seem ready to give its approval until the border dispute with Croatia is resolved. 

Another major project is the introduction of euro in Croatia. After a lot of talk, the government has finally sent an official request. The process will certainly take years and opinion is divided as to whether it is a good idea or not.

One of the highlights were the trade union's activities. Earlier in the year, the unions managed to collect enough signatures for a referendum against the government’s pension reform and an increase in the retirement age. The government capitulated and revoked already approved laws (although it previously warned that such a decision would be a disaster).

The other major trade union success was the primary and secondary school strike later in the year. After almost two months, the government capitulated and gave the unions more or less everything they had asked for.

One of the highlights of the next six months will be Croatia’s EU presidency. The government is promoting it as a great success, although all EU member states sooner or later get their chance to hold the rotating presidency. While Croatia's plans are ambitious, their delivery will probably be more modest.

The major event at the end of the year was the first round of Croatia's presidential elections.

While the post is largely ceremonial, elections are held every five years and still manage to occupy public attention for months. Three major candidates launched their bids: incumbent president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (officially an independent candidate who in reality is HDZ), former SDP prime minister Zoran Milanović, and singer Miroslav Škoro, who presented himself as a candidate of change, despite having been an MP, a diplomat and a former HDZ member.

The first round was held on December 22. Zoran Milanović won with 29.6% of the vote, followed by Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović with 26.7%. Škoro was third with 24.5%. Milanović and Grabar-Kitarović will take part in the run-off on January 5.

Friday, 8 November 2019

HRW: Border Pushbacks Disqualify Croatia for Schengen

ZAGREB, November 8, 2019 - The European Commission’s October conclusion that Croatia is ready to join the Schengen Area "wilfully brushes over evidence of violent pushbacks of migrants at its borders," Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

As proof of that claim, HRW released a video documenting the abuses.

"The European Commission’s action sends the message that serious human rights abuses are no obstacle to Schengen accession. The European Commission should investigate the situation instead of rewarding Croatia," HRW said in a press release.

"Croatia's unlawful and violent summary returns of asylum seekers and migrants should disqualify it from joining the Schengen Area," said Lydia Gall, senior Eastern Europe and Balkans researcher at HRW. “Ignoring Croatia’s abuses of migrants at its borders makes the notion that Schengen membership is contingent on respect for human rights just meaningless talk."

The HRW video features interviews with people shortly after they were summarily returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina by Croatian police in August. It includes interviews with other pushback victims and witnesses of pushbacks, including the mayor of Bihać, a BiH town across the border from Croatia. It also shows credible secretly recorded footage of Croatian police officers escorting groups of migrants across the border to BiH without following due process.

The summary return of asylum seekers without consideration of their protection needs is contrary to European Union asylum law, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the 1951 Refugee Convention, HRW said.

According to the press release, HRW has documented summary collective expulsions from Croatia to Serbia and BiH since 2016.

"In some instances, Croatian border officials have used force, pummelling people with fists, kicking them, and making them run gauntlets between lines of police officers. Violence has been directed against women and children. Unlike with lawful deportations, migrants are not returned at ports of entry, but rather in remote border areas, including, at times, forced to cross freezing streams."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, and other nongovernmental organisations have echoed HRW concerns. Although President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in July acknowledged that authorities engage in pushbacks, Croatian authorities have repeatedly denied the allegations, including to HRW, and in some cases have accused aid groups and victims of fabricating facts to make Croatian police look bad, the press release said.

Croatian authorities have not taken credible steps to halt the practice and to hold those responsible to account, HRW said.

"In a meeting with Human Rights Watch in May, the Interior Ministry state secretary, Terezija Gras, said the Croatian police would investigate any complaints filed by migrants about police mistreatment but could not say how many complaints the authorities had received. Nor could she explain how a migrant pushed back from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina would be able to a file a complaint with the authorities in Croatia."

To join the Schengen area without border and passport controls, member states have to fulfil certain criteria, including respect for the right to seek asylum, HRW said.

"The EU Schengen Borders Code Article 4 says that member states should act in compliance with EU law and 'obligations related to access to international protection, in particular the principle of non-refoulement (banning the return to a country where they would face torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or other irreparable harm)'. ... Pushbacks effectively preventing people from accessing the Croatian asylum procedure violate Article 4."

Before using the European Commission’s report to approve Croatia’s full access to Schengen, the European Council should call for a reassessment of Croatia’s compliance with the EU Schengen Borders Code, HRW said.

The Council should also put in place a monitoring mechanism for Croatia as well as initiate legal enforcement action against Croatia for violating EU laws, HRW added.

"Letting Croatia join Schengen when migrants and asylum seekers continue to be brutally pushed back would be an EU green light for abuses," Gall said. "The European Commission should not just accept Croatia’s empty promises, but ensure that Schengen criteria are truly met, which is clearly not happening now."

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

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Plenković Hopeful Border Dispute with Slovenia Won't Affect Croatia's Schengen Bid

ZAGREB, November 2, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in an interview which the Euronews television news network broadcast on Friday that he believed that Slovenia would not block Croatia's accession to the passport-free Schengen Area over their border dispute, adding that the dispute was irrelevant in that context.

"First of all, the border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia is an open issue that we have on the agenda for the last 30 years. Had this been a condition for any of the two countries to join the EU or to join the Schengen, then Slovenia would not have entered either, in either of the two inner cycles."

"Our firm belief is that Schengen membership for Croatia should be completely separated from a bilateral border issue between the two countries. For us it is the Savudrija Bay, for them, it is the Piran Bay. At the end of the day, we can find a solution," Plenković said in his response to the reporter's question whether due to "the open dispute with Slovenia over the Gulf of Piran" the Slovenian side might even veto Croatia's way to the Schengen Zone if there is no solution.

Plenković expressed confidence that the two countries can find a solution. "What we are saying towards our Slovenian neighbours 'we have an open issue, there are ways to solve it, peaceful ways, good neighbourly relations and a solution that can be acceptable for both sides, unrelated with our Schengen ambitions."

Upon the reporter's remark that Croatia recently got a green light from the European Commission for the Schengen Zone and that the decision came "as a surprise to many because lately, Europe seems to be closing in rather than opening up," the premier said that "first of all, the decision of the college of the European Commission, of Jean-Claude Juncker’s Commission in Strasbourg last week is actually a fruit of four years hard work by Croatia, by fulfilling the criteria which are structured in eight different chapters of the so-called Schengen acquis."

"In every (all) of these chapters, we have managed to elevate the readiness of Croatia to be part of Schengen. So this was a very thorough technical evaluation by the Commission services."

In response to the reporter's comment that Croatia has a long coastline, including 1,300 kilometres of border with non-EU countries which prompted her to ask Plenković if Croatia considered any special measures to protect its borders, he answered "Not only considered, but we have put them in place."

"Croatia has very much invested in the capabilities of our police force. We have 6,500 police officers fully trained and equipped to guard the external EU border, which is the Schengen border. We have not opted either for walls or barricades or barb wires, unlike some other countries, because we felt first of all that the relationship that we have with Bosnia- Herzegovina, in particular, was not the adequate way to guard the border. So we are cooperating between the police services of Croatia, of Bosnia- Herzegovina, of Croatia and Serbian Croatian Montenegro."

Plenković also dismissed accusations levelled by some NGOs say about "police violence against immigrants".

The premier says: "We have always respected the Croatian law, we have respected the highest standards, but we are also protecting our border. Any allegation that we have heard, it has been investigated. So far when it comes to the behaviour of our policemen we can only praise their efforts for guarding not only the Croatian border but also guarding the border of all the other EU member states which are behind us."

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

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