Monday, 24 February 2020

Croatia: EU Has to Show It Is Committed to Enlargement

ZAGREB, February 24, 2020 - Croatia's Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Monday in Greece that the EU had to show its unequivocal commitment to the European future of Southeast Europe, expressing his belief that the Zagreb summit in May will serve as a "a pivotal point for positive changes."

"The European Union has to send a clear signal that we remain committed to the European future of Southeast Europe," Grlić Radman said on the margins of a high-level day-long conference on the European prospects of the Western Balkans "From Thessaloniki to Zagreb," which was held in that Greek coastal city.

Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia, which is currently holding the presidency of the EU, will host the EU-Western Balkans summit in early May. The first gathering of a similar format, called the EU-Western Balkans Summit, was held 21 June 2003 in Thessaloniki.

Grlić Radman, recalled that Croatia had applied for membership to the Union in 2003 during the Greece presidency of the Council of the EU and thanked Greece for its "lasting and strong support to European enlargement."

The Croatian minister believes that the summit in Zagreb in May will "serve as a pivotal point for positive change and decision-making in the enlargement policy," and hopes that accession negotiations will be opened for North Macedonia and Albania which were blocked in October.

He described the new methodology proposed by the European Commission announced early February as a "good and positive step," and added that Croatia will continue to advocate a "credible and efficient policy of enlargement based on merits and fulfilment of all criteria."

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

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Croatia's Honorary Consul in Barcelona Under Investigation for Money Laundering

ZAGREB, February 22, 2020 - Catalan police are investigating Croatia's honorary consul in Barcelona over possible money laundering for a local criminal gang, a source from Catalonia's autonomous police told Hina on Friday.

Consul Juli Barcena San Jose is suspected of receiving money from drug sales and investing it in real estate and luxury cars, thus covering up the trail of the illegally gains.

Also under investigation are the honorary consuls of Albania and Mali, Jose Maria Calmet Iglesias and Jose Luis Lopez Fernandez, respectively. Both are suspected of the same crime.

Catalonia's autonomous police Mossos d’Esquadra said on 18 September 2019 that they had arrested four members of a known family clan from Catalonia for money laundering and drug trafficking. An investigation uncovered their business ties to the consuls.

Three honorary consuls stationed in Barcelona are under investigation, the Catalan police said in a press release.

A police source told Hina today Croatia's consul was under investigation while a diplomat said Croatia would request his dismissal for damaging Croatia's reputation.

Neither Barcena San Jose nor the Croatian consulate in Barcelona have issued any statement.

Honorary consuls are usually not nationals of the state they represent but citizens of the territory they are on, in this case Catalonia, i.e. Spain. They are usually renowned in their communities and their main job is to encourage economic and cultural cooperation between the two countries and to help the citizens of the country they represent.

Barcena San Jose is an entrepreneur and has held the post of Croatia's honorary consul since May 2002.

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

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to Visit Croatia in Late April

ZAGREB, February 16, 2020 - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Zagreb at the end of April and Croatia sees Russia as a partner with whom one should talk, Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said in Munich on Saturday.

Grlić Radman met with Lavrov on the margins of the Munich Security Conference 2020.

He later told reporters that they discussed the two countries' expectations from the Zagreb visit.

"It is in our interest to know what Russia's positions are. We care about partner relations," Grlić Radman said.

He also met with his Slovenian counterpart Miro Cerar, but said that they did not have the time to discuss the two countries' border dispute that has been burdening their relations since the break-up of the Yugoslav federation.

Radman said the talks with Cerar focused on EU enlargement and Croatia's current EU presidency.

Slovenia insists on the implementation of an international arbitration ruling on the border dispute which Croatia does not recognise, offering bilateral talks on the border instead.

The Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg in late January said it did not have jurisdiction to rule on Slovenia's complaint against Croatia in which it alleged that the non-implementation of the border arbitration award breached EU law.

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

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Croatia to Send Humanitarian Aid to Albania and Venezuela

ZAGREB, February 13, 2020 - The Croatian government on Thursday decided to send humanitarian aid to Albania as earthquake relief, and to Venezuela that is in a humanitarian and economic crisis and Zagreb will also help Bosnia and Herzegovina in procurement of police equipment necessary for the fight against cross-border crime.

Croatia will donate 1 million euro to Albania at a donor conference to be held in Brussels on 17 February. Albania will receive donations for reconstruction after a destructive earthquake hit that country in November last year, State-Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs Zdravka Bušić informed the cabinet.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković is expected to attend the Brussels conference.

On 26 November 2019, an earthquake of magnitude 6.4 hit Albania, resulting in 51 fatalities, with 1,000 people sustaining injuries while 4,000 people had to leave temporarily their homes. The disaster caused havoc to public and private infrastructure, hitting thousands of households and thousands of buildings were seriously damaged, including schools and health care facilities.

The Croatian government responded immediately after the earthquake and sent food and other kinds of aid to the local population.

Five thermal vision cameras and 198 sets of police equipment to be donated to Bosnia

Croatia will send aid to Bosnia and Herzegovina following several requests by Bosnia and Herzegovina's Interior Ministry and the ministries of three cantons in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and border police in those cantons, considering a rise in cross-border crime.

That represents a security challenge particularly in southern areas of the Federation entity that borders with Croatia, Bušić explained.

Therefore, Zagreb has decided to donate five thermal vision cameras and 198 sets of police equipment used in establishing public peace and order. The equipment is part of write-offs that the Croatian Ministry of Interior conducted last year.

Croatia will send USD 100,000 to Venezuela in order to procure medicines and basic hygienic products for vulnerable residents, including Croats and their descendants.

The crisis in Venezuela is one of the most critical humanitarian crises in the world at the moment, Bušić said and more than four million people have left the country since 2015 in the wake of economic and political instability.

An estimated million people have left the country since the end of last year alone while 90% of the population is living in poverty.

Since 2016 the EU has allocated €90 million in humanitarian aid for the people in Venezuela and those who have fled to neighbouring countries.

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

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Citizens Need to Be at Centre of Discussions on Future of Europe

ZAGREB, January 29, 2020 - Citizens of the European Union's member-states must be at the centre of discussions which will be taken during the Conference on the Future of Europe, the Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Ministry's State Secretary, Andreja Metelko Zgombić, said in Brussels on Tuesday.

This official of Croatia, which is the country-in-chair of the European Union in the first half of 2020, today chaired a meeting of the General Affairs Council that focused on exchanging the views on the proposed Conference on the Future of Europe due to start in 2020 and end in 2022.

At its meeting on 12 December 2019 the European Council asked the Croatian presidency to work towards defining a Council position on the content, scope, composition and functioning of the conference and to engage, on this basis, with the European Parliament and the Commission.

"Citizens need to be at the centre of the discussions on the future of Europe - how we can address the current and future challenges and what kind of a Europe we want. The Conference on the Future of Europe will provide a valuable opportunity to reflect on these issues," said Metelko Zgombić.

"It is important to listen to different opinions and views in a way which builds trust and ensures that the EU effectively meets citizens' expectations."

During today's discussion, ministers stressed the importance of putting citizens at the heart of the conference and focusing on issues that truly matter to them.

As underlined in the conclusions of the December European Council, priority should be given to implementing the Strategic Agenda for 2019-2024 and delivering concrete results. Building on the success of the citizens’ dialogues which have taken place over the past two years, the process should involve a wide range of stakeholders and groups to ensure that different views and opinions are represented.

Ministers also expressed their views on the detailed organisation of the conference. Many speakers underlined the need to ensure a balanced representation of the three EU institutions and to fully involve national parliaments. Several ministers also expressed their preference for a lean and simple governance of the conference process.

The presidency concluded that discussions would continue after the Council meeting with a view to defining the Council position on the conference and engaging with the other EU institutions, according to the report issued on the official website of the Croatian presidency.

European Commission Vice-President for Demography and Democracy Dubravka Šuica expressed hope on Tuesday that the three main institutions of the European Union would soon adopt a joint declaration defining details of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

The conference is due to start on 9 May, Europe Day, and Šuica hopes that the venue for the start of this event will be Dubrovnik.

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

Friday, 24 January 2020

Croatian Foreign Ministry Issues Travel Alert on China

ZAGREB, January 24, 2020 - The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs on Thursday advised Croatian citizens to exercise caution and obtain detailed information on the novel coronavirus outbreak before travelling to China, but did not recommend delaying travel to the country for now.

The Ministry advised strict adherence to the usual measures for reducing the risk of respiratory diseases, and recommended closely following news from Chinese health authorities and the World Health Organization about the state of the virus outbreak and the preventative measures to be taken.

The number of patients in China diagnosed with the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus reached 571 on Thursday, 17 of whom have died, the Chinese authorities said.

The number of afflicted people might increase in the coming days, when millions of people are expected to travel from large cities, such as Wuhan, for celebrations of the Lunar New Year starting on Saturday.

Cases of the disease have been reported in Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States, as well as in the Chinese special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

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

Monday, 20 January 2020

Plenković to Attend World Economic Forum in Davos

ZAGREB, January 20, 2020 - Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković will attend the 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Swiss ski resort of Davos on Tuesday and Wednesday, during which he is due to hold a number of bilateral meetings with high-level international political and economic officials.

The summit meeting will focus on issues such as climate change, slowing global growth, trade wars, and conflicts and tensions in the Middle East, north Africa and east Asia.

The Croatian prime minister is scheduled to participate in three discussions, according to a government press release issued on Sunday.

On Tuesday, he will attend a meeting called "Dialogue on the Western Balkans", moderated by WEF President Borge Brende. Among those attending will be Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.

On the same day, Plenković will attend a working meeting entitled "Generating Growth in Central and Eastern Europe", together with European Parliament President David Sassoli, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.

Also on Tuesday, the Croatian prime minister will attend a formal dinner given by the WEF founder and executive chairman, Klaus Schwab.

On Wednesday, Plenković is scheduled to attend an informal meeting of global economic leaders.

This year's summit will gather together a number of heads of state or government, business leaders, activists and scientists, including US President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

During his time in Davos, the Croatian prime minister is due to hold a number of bilateral meetings. He will meet with Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh and French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

He is also scheduled to meet with the Secretary-General of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhan Ghebreyesus, the General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, Luca Visentini, European Research Council President Mauro Ferrari, the Dean of INSEAD Singapore, Ilian Mihov, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Visa Europe CEO Charlotte Hogg, European Investment Bank President Alexander Stubb and CEO Gillian Tans.

More foreign policy news can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Croatian Foreign Minister, OECD Secretary-General Discuss Croatia's Accession

ZAGREB, January 17, 2020 - Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman met with the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Angel Gurria, in Paris on Thursday, for talks on Croatia's accession to that organisation, the Foreign and European Affairs Ministry said.

Croatia's accession is being blocked by Slovenia because Zagreb is refusing to implement an international arbitration ruling on the two countries' border.

Until recently, the country's accession was blocked by Hungary which claimed that Zagreb was not honouring a decision by an international arbitral tribunal in the INA-MOL case. Budapest has in the meantime lifted its blockade.

Also, members have still not agreed on further enlargement, and decisions on further enlargement are made by consensus.

Gurria commended Croatia's commitment to drawing closer to OECD membership by intensifying its participation in various working bodies and accessing OECD instruments.

"Croatia has been working with commitment to meeting the criteria for membership, which is very useful for development and reform implementation, and that is one of our most important national priorities," said Grlić Radman.

After the meeting with Gurria, Grlić Radman also took part in a forum on migrations and integration challenges.

The OECD is an international economic organisation that brings together 36 more developed countries.

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

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Croatia Calls for Calming Situation in Iraq and Middle East

ZAGREB, January 4, 2020 - Croatia's Foreign and European Affairs Ministry on Friday called for defusing the situation in Iraq and the Middle East following the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike in Iraq, which has prompted Iran to threaten reciprocal actions.

"The Republic of Croatia is closely following with deep concern the developments in Iraq and in the entire Middle East," the ministry says in a press release.

We call for calming the situation and urge restraint from the use of force and we also advocate the investment of additional efforts in seeking a diplomatic solution in the interest of all sides and the preservation of global peace, the Croatian ministry says.

The ministry is also in permanent contact with the Croatian embassy in Baghdad and says that the embassy staff and Croatian nationals in that country are safe and well.

The international community is concerned over the escalation of the situation in the region following U.S airstrikes in which General Soleimani was killed on Friday morning.

Iranian officials are quoted by international media as saying that this is an act of war to be met by "harsh retaliation".

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

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Croatia's Foreign Policy in 2019: Pushbacks, Preparations for EU Presidency, Lobbying

ZAGREB, December 29, 2019 - In 2019 Croatian officials had to defend the country's foreign policy from criticisms that Croatia was unlawfully returning migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country prepared for presidency over the EU in 2020, hosted a conference of the 16+1 initiative and lobbied for the appointment of Croatian women to important international positions, with the usual tensions in relations with neighbouring countries falling into the background.

Croatia will take over the chairmanship of the Council of the European Union on 1 January 2020, and that will be the most important foreign policy event for the country since its accession to the EU in 2013.

Zagreb will take over the rotating EU presidency at the very beginning of the term of the new European Commission, led by German Ursula von der Leyen for whose appointment credit also goes to Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, who, as one of the European People's Party (EPP) negotiators, insisted that the position of EC President should go to the EPP as the winner of the May 2019 elections for the European Parliament.

Brexit is expected to be finalised during Croatia's EU presidency, which will also be marked by discussions on the new EU budget.

A large part of Croatia's diplomatic activities, notably in the second half of 2019, therefore related to acquainting oneself with the programme of EU presidency and adjusting it with other European countries.

An important topic in that was the situation in Southeast Europe and EU enlargement to Western Balkan countries. Zagreb will therefore use its presidency to organise a new summit on EU enlargement to Western Balkan countries, 20 years after such a summit meeting was held in the Croatian capital city.

The summit will be held in May, about seven months after the European Council decided not to launch membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia, a country that agreed to change its name over its membership in Euro-Atlantic associations.

The Croatian political leadership has been repeating since October that it regrets that decision.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended Zagreb in May from frequent accusations that it was violating the rights of migrants trying to cross over from Bosnia and Herzegovina, stressing that the perspective of a country protecting the EU's external border was different from the perspective of countries in the heart of the Schengen area.

Even though the Croatian political leadership dismissed allegations that it was pushing back migrants, at the time when it had to prove to the European Commission that it was capable of protecting the EU's external border, Croatia was a topic in international media over allegations that it violated migrants' rights and pushed them back.

A Swiss TV station in May ran a video showing Croatian police officers forcibly returning migrants to neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Human Rights Watch in July asked President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in an open letter that Croatia stop pushing back migrants, and the president admitted in an interview with a Swiss TV station that the practice of pushbacks over the green border did exist.

Amnesty International joined in the criticism, and Croatia's treatment of migrants was also reported about by Reuters, the BBC, The Guardian, Euronews, Foreign Policy, etc.

The Croatian authorities dismissed all criticisms, claiming that migrants were treated lawfully.

The Croatian government sought support for its accession to the Schengen area in dialogue with other countries. In late October the EC assessed that Croatia had met the necessary criteria.

It is now up to other European countries to decide if Croatia will join the area and Slovenia has already said, more or less directly, that it will make its support conditional on Croatia's agreeing to implement a ruling by an international arbitral tribunal on the two countries' border dispute. Bulgaria and Romania have had a positive assessment from the EC since 2011 but have still not joined the Schengen area, which is why it is yet to be seen what awaits Croatia on that path.

After Croatia's talks with the European Central Bank, the EC and member-states, the euro group in October accepted a letter of intent from Croatia on joining the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, ERM II, a step that precedes the introduction of the euro as the official currency.

In 2019 a woman from Croatia was appointed for the first time the leader of one the biggest multilateral international organisations - Foreign and European Affairs Minister Marija Pejčinović Burić in June defeated her Belgian counterpart and became the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, an organisation established in 1949 that brings together 47 European and other countries but before Pejčinović Burić had only one other woman at its helm.

Pejčinović Burić was succeeded as foreign minister by Gordan Grlić Radman, until then Croatia's ambassador to Germany.

In November Croatia also got its first woman European Commission Vice-President, with EPP member of the European Parliament Dubravka Šuica becoming one of eight EC vice-presidents, in charge of democracy and demography.

This year Croatia also got an executive director of an EU agency when Maja Markovčić Kostelac in January took over the leadership of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) in Lisbon.

Croatia in 2019 hosted several political meetings. In April Dubrovnik hosted a summit meeting of the 16+1 initiative, launched with the aim of strengthening economic cooperation between China and eastern Europe. After Greece joined the platform in Dubrovnik, it was renamed 17+1.

Attending the Dubrovnik conference were the prime ministers of almost all participating countries, including Li Keqiang of China, who arrived for the event accompanied by a large delegation of politicians and business people.

Li said that Croatia and China had entered a diamond stage of their relations, and together with his host, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, toured the construction site of the 2.08 billion kuna Pelješac Bridge, which is being built by the China Road and Bridge Corporation and which the EU is co-financing with 85% of the necessary funds.

In May, ahead of elections for the European Parliament, German Chancellor Merkel and Manfred Weber, at the time still the EPP's lead candidate for the position of EC President, arrived in Zagreb for a rally of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the EPP.

Addressing the event, the two German officials condemned nationalism as an adversary that aimed to destroy Europe and that had caused tragedies in the past. At the rally, music by Croatian pop-rock singer Marko Perković Thompson was played, which met with the criticism of some German media outlets.

Chancellor Merkel did not know which songs would be played at the Zagreb rally or their content, her office said later in response to a query from the N1 broadcaster, adding that during her visit to Zagreb, Merkel had expressed a clear stand against nationalism.

The EPP in November held a congress in Zagreb. More than 2,000 participants from 40 countries attended, including von der Leyen, Merkel, Weber, Sebastian Kurz and Silvio Berlusconi.

Former European Council President Donald Tusk was elected the new EPP president at the event.

More news about Croatian foreign policy can be found in the Politics section.

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