Thursday, 21 October 2021

EU Borders Need to Be Protected, But Violence is Unacceptable, Commissioner Says

ZAGREB, 21 Oct 2021 - The external borders of the European Union need to be protected, but without violence and by respecting human rights, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said in the European Parliament on Wednesday.

"Violence at our borders is never acceptable. Especially if it is structural and organized. We must protect our EU external borders while upholding fundamental rights. And it’s possible to do both," Johansson said during a plenary debate on violent pushbacks of migrants at the EU external borders.

The EU must protect its borders and must protect human rights, she stressed.

Earlier this month, several European media outlets published footage of violent pushbacks of migrants at the Croatian border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Similar footage of pushbacks of migrants from Romania and Greece was also shown at the time.

Shortly after the publication of the footage, Croatian Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović said that the masked men shown in the footage were police officers, after which three policemen were suspended from duty.

Johansson said she had spoken with the Romanian, Greek, and Croatian ministers of the interior.

"The Croatian minister announced an investigation. Since then, Croatia’s national chief of police said that three policemen involved in violent pushbacks will face disciplinary proceedings. And I received assurances that any necessary follow-up action will be taken," she said and added: "It is the duty of national authorities to investigate allegations and follow-up any wrongdoing."

Anže Logar, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, the current EU president, said that effective control of the external borders is key to preventing security risks, illegal border crossing, and possible migratory pressure.

All tools need to be used to monitor who enters the European Union, Logar said, adding that pushbacks must not be allowed on EU soil.

The Commission's views were criticized by Social Democrat, Green, and Liberal members of the European Parliament.

Children are freezing and dying at Europe's borders and your greatest concern is border protection and Schengen, Dutch Liberal MEP Sophia in 't Veld said.

German Social Democrat Birgit Sippel said that a systematic attack on human rights is taking place at the EU's external borders and that the footage from the Croatian, Romanian and Greek borders is a scandal for the EU.

On Wednesday, Sippel, together with the leader and deputy leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group, Iratxe Garcia Perez and Simona Bonafé, sent a letter to the Commission president expressing concern about "the highly alarming systematic nature of pushbacks of vulnerable people, often involving violence."

The letter says that such practices are especially alarming in the Aegean Sea, at the EU's border with Belarus, and on the Western Balkan route.

"It is also alarming that the latest investigations suggest that parts of the material used to carry out pushbacks are seemingly paid for with EU money. This includes approximately €177 million that have been granted to Croatia for 'migration management between 2014 and today," the letter says.

The three MEPs said that requesting member states to investigate pushbacks is not enough, calling on the Commission to launch infringement procedures against Poland, Greece, and Croatia.

On the other hand, right-wing MEPs criticized the Commission for taking a soft stance, calling for putting up a razor-wire fence at the external borders.

I haven't heard anyone complaining about security checks in the European Parliament. Why wouldn't we better protect Europe with razor wire and armed personnel to ensure security? said Danish MEP Petar Kofod, a member of the Identity and Democracy group.

Croatian MEP Karlo Ressler (EPP/HDZ) said that people trafficking is one of the most profitable criminal activities and "an instrument of perfidious pressure on Europe."

He said that the EU urgently needs a common response in which the policy of preventing illegal migration has no alternative. He, however, noted that there is no room for violence against migrants in Europe and that any individual violation of human rights, especially the human rights of the most vulnerable groups, is totally unacceptable.

Ressler said that Croatia, with a modernized police force and without erecting razor wire fences, is performing its legal obligation and duty to protect its own border and the border of the European Union.

Sunčana Glavak (EPP/HDZ) said that the Croatian police are doing an excellent job in protecting the territory of Croatia and the EU.

She pointed out that Croatia has so far arrested over 3,000 people traffickers at the border and prevented 30,000 attempts at crossing its border illegally.

"Dear colleagues, the Republic of Croatia is guarding your border too, the border of the European Union, in a legal way," she concluded.

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

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Šuica Calls on Croatians to Participate in Discussions about EU More

ZAGREB, 17 Oct, 2021 - European Commission Vice-President Dubravka Šuica of Croatia believes Croatians are insufficiently interested in participation in the Conference on the Future of Europe, launched by the EU to convince citizens of its 27 member-states that their opinion, too, is important in decision-making.

Numerous citizens believe they have no influence on decisions made by EU politicians and bureaucrats so the EU's three main institutions - the European Commission, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament - have launched an online platform where citizens can offer their proposals on topics important for the bloc.

"More is expected of Croatia and Croats because so far they have reported 25 events and made 500 proposals and around 100 comments on our platform," Šuica, Commissioner for Democracy and Demography, told the Yammat FM radio station.

She considers these figures to be low.

"We (Croatians) like to speak when it is too late," she said, calling on Croatian citizens to present their ideas on the Conference on the Future of Europe website.

Debates can be organised by citizens and groups of citizens at county and local levels and conclusions can be reported on the digital platform by the end of the year.

"Their ideas will be taken into account in an analysis next spring," Šuica promised.

On Friday, she opened in Strasbourg the last of four panels at which randomly chosen EU citizens discuss topics relevant for the EU.

Among the 200 EU citizens whose travel and accommodation expenses as well as daily allowances have been paid for are three Croatians - two pensioners and a student, from Istria and Zadar- They will present their opinions on the EU in the world and migration at the panel, to last until Monday.

In September and October, 800 EU citizens have taken part in the panels, after which additional online panels will follow. Their proposals are expected to be formulated into a proposal to the European Commission in spring.

Šuica claims that the EC will take those proposals into account, mostly when making laws.

"The main purpose of this conference is to debunk the myth about the Brussels bubble and make EU citizens participants in the creation of European policies, so they can see that they themselves can influence the final outcome," she said.

"Until now people thought that that was not possible or happened only here. That's not true but such is the perception," she said.

Fifty-eight percent of Croatians do not trust the EU and only 38% trust it, shows a survey by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions, conducted in September 2020.

On average, 47% of EU citizens trust the EU while 45% do not.

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

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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.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Preparations Begin for Digital Green Certificates in Croatia

April 9, 2021 - A working group is being set up to develop a technical solution for cross-border interoperable digital green certificates in Croatia.

"Vaccination of employees in the tourism sector begins with the third phase of vaccination. I believe it will be very soon," said the Minister of Tourism and Sports Nikolina Brnjac, adding that based on data received so far in the proposed surveys, the number of employees who would enter priority vaccination in the tourism sector is about 68,000, reports HRTurizam.

"Given the nature of the work as well as the significant number of contacts that tourism workers make, it is necessary to vaccinate before the start of the season," said Brnjac.

A working group is being set up to develop a technical solution for cross-border interoperable digital green certificates in line with EU-level talks.

At Thursday's 52nd Government session, the Ministry of the Interior (MUP) proposed a Decision to establish a working group to develop a technical solution for cross-border interoperable digital green certificates.

"We will soon start creating a digital system of certificates of vaccination, testing, and recovery to enable citizens of the Republic of Croatia and the EU free and epidemiologically safe cross-border mobility and residence in our country," said Davor Bozinovic, Minister of the Interior.

Namely, the European Commission coordinates a common European response to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic. Following the development of the epidemiological situation and health and medical measures, it is necessary to develop other effective measures to combat COVID-19 and enable free movement in EU member states and third countries or green digital certificates, so-called 'covid passports'.

Therefore, they have recognized the need to ensure freedom of cross-border movement through establishing a system for issuing, verifying, and accepting vaccination, testing, and recovery certificates to facilitate free movement during the COVID-19 pandemic (digital green certificate) that would be interoperable between the EU Member States and third countries.

To this end, on 17 March 2021, the European Commission presented a Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a framework for issuing, verifying, and accepting cross-border interoperable vaccination, testing, and recovery certificates to facilitate free movement during the COVID-19 pandemic (digital green certificate). 

Croatia has expressed readiness to establish a national system of digital green certificates and their cross-border interoperability through the EU accession plan that the European Commission plans to establish in April, May, and June 2021, according to the Ministry of the Interior.

To establish a technical solution and to develop a national system of digital green certificates, the Ministry of the Interior is tasked with concluding a contract with AKD d.o.o. (Agency for commercial activity production, service, and trade d.o.o.), since AKD was established to perform the tasks of creating personal ID cards, passports, visas, driver's licenses and other solutions in the field of identity and security.

The Decision instructs the Ministry of Health to provide the Working Group referred to in this Decision with all necessary professional support, especially in fulfilling the following tasks: representing Croatia in the operational working groups of the European Commission's eHealth Network, which coordinates implementing the pilot project of the technical solution for digital green certificates; ensuring the integrity, confidentiality, availability, and non-repudiation of machine-readable data on vaccinated, tested and sick persons automatically and in real-time, accessible from data sources owned by the Ministry of Health, which will be the basis for issuing cross-border interoperable digital green certificates.

Recall that according to the new and expanded criteria for the entry of tourists into Croatia, tourists who have either been vaccinated, contracted COVID-19, or have a negative PCR or antigen test from the list of EU tests, can enter Croatia.

Follow the latest travel updates and COVID-19 news from Croatia HERE.

For more on travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Split IT Company Tech Resources Offers EU Covid Passport Solution

March 25, 2021 - Split IT experts from Tech Resources offer a travel solution that could facilitate drafting the new digital green certificate and protect citizens' privacy.

Slobodna Dalmacija reports that Europe is preparing to introduce digital green certificates, the so-called 'Covid-passport,' and an initiative is coming from Split that could facilitate drafting this document and protect the privacy of citizens.

As Secretary of State for Europe Andreja Metelko-Zgombić said at an informal video conference of European ministers on Tuesday, Croatia welcomes the Commission's proposal to introduce digital green certificates aimed at facilitating free and secure movement at the EU level.

The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs website stated in the information about the meeting that the adoption of the legislative proposal and the completion of technical preparations following the plan are expected by June so that the certificates can be applied as soon as possible. A digital green certificate should be evidence that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, has recovered from it, or has a negative test result.

While preparations for the production of Covid passports are underway, the Split IT company Tech Resources, founded in 2016 by Josip Majić, a returnee from America, already has an almost conceptual solution feasible in practice, based on blockchain technology and smart contracts.

When you hear the word blockchain, you may first think of cryptocurrencies, but the possibilities of applying these technologies are much wider.

This Split company currently has 20 employees who work mainly for foreign clients, i.e., for export. Among the most important projects that speak about the team's expertise is the fiscalization of bills for Montenegro, which has been implemented since the beginning of 2021, and the toll collection system in Great Britain. By the way, this company's focus is on innovation and application of new digital technologies in real current problems of both the private and public sectors.

"Covid has affected our business, both directly and indirectly, so we took the problem of Covid passports as a project task to check whether it is possible to create such a document with complete data security, without compromising anyone's sovereignty and without the possibility of misuse, while maintaining full functionality and fulfilling the purpose of such a document. We worked on it for two months and managed to make a conceptual solution that can be implemented in practice," says Leo Žanetić, project manager.

He notes that this solution requires the association of Croatian IT experts to be feasible in practice. In this way, Croatia will save significant amounts of money, and at the same time, will protect the personal data of its citizens because the solution they devised completely protects privacy.

"We must protect our interests, citizens, and the state, as much as the situation allows us. We in the company are ready to gather a consortium of experts for free, communicate the solution, and fully transparently manage the project," says Žanetić.

It would work following the guidelines published by the European Commission.

"Every EU citizen would receive a specially created digital document (similar to the online vaccination appointment system) containing their personal data and information on the type, time, and location of vaccination. When a citizen is vaccinated, the state issues them a smart passport in the form of a card with a printed code on it. When scanning the code, information is obtained from a digital document," explains Žanetić and cites several examples.

You travel, for example, from Croatia to Italy to visit relatives you haven't seen for a long time because of the lockdown. The police officer will scan the code from your smart passport at the border crossing and receive a confirmation that you - Mate Matić under vaccination ID number 123456789 - was vaccinated 2 days and 18 hours ago.

After entering Italy, you will jump to buy gifts at the mall. At the mall entrance, the security guard will scan the code from your smart passport and receive confirmation that the holder of that card has been vaccinated. He does not need to know your name or ID number or when or where you were vaccinated.

After a few days in Italy, you had a small accident and will be admitted to a local hospital with a swollen leg. The doctor who receives you will scan the code from your smart passport and receive a confirmation that you - Mate Matić, health insured in the Republic of Croatia under number 65432, have been vaccinated with the Pfizer Mo vaccine. C113 2 days and 18 hours ago in Split, with the remark that you are allergic to penicillin.

As the Split IT experts point out, all this can be done with the help of blockchain technology, building a distributed application that uses a smart contract as back-end functionality. Thus, they would make their own blockchain with their own smart contract in which all the scenarios that, for example, Mate Matić had when visiting relatives in Italy were defined.

"This means that state information centers, i.e., data centers where e-citizen systems, e-referrals, e-cadastre, etc., work, would become the so-called "Miners" of that blockchain. By reaching a mathematical consensus, they would verify each other's credibility on the items from the smart contract. No one on that network could read any data without first the whole network approving and verifying it. All data is in blocks arranged in a chain and merged by reaching the specified consensus, hence the name blockchain. This achieves complete decentralization of the database as well as its management. No one can decide anything on their own without the approval of other miners," explains Žanetić.

He emphasizes that this means that a citizen can only endanger their data and no one else's. Also, the possibility of direct cyberattacks on weak points is eliminated because there are none.

"There can be no error on the server so that the system "crashes" because the system is not located on any server but is online and updated on the systems of all miners. If one miner falls, the only thing that can happen is a slight and short-term slowdown of the system until a new miner is activated and takes over the job of the one who fell," says Leo Žanetić.

Now it is the turn of the Croatian Government and competent institutions to could consider this initiative. Domestic knowledge and domestic resources are available to them.

To read more about business in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page

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