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 Booking.com 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.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

“Croatia Will Show During EU Presidency It Supports Bosnia”

ZAGREB, December 29, 2019 - Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have very good relations despite occasional miscommunication, Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said in Sarajevo on Saturday, adding that Croatia would show it supported BiH during its EU presidency in the first half of 2020.

He met with BiH's new Foreign Minister Bisera Turković. Speaking to the press, he said that as a co-signatory of the Dayton peace agreement, Croatia supported BiH's territorial integrity and sovereignty as well as the equality of its constituent peoples.

He said that during its EU presidency Croatia would be a resolute advocate of the continuation of BiH's Euro-Atlantic journey. "Presiding the Council of the EU is a big responsibility for a stable neighbourhood, notably BiH with which Croatia has the longest border."

Grlić Radman reiterated that for the sake of BiH's stability, its constituent peoples should elect their government representatives.

He also met with the Archbishop of Sarajevo, Cardinal Vinko Puljić, underlining the importance of his struggle for the survival of Croats in BiH in the spirit of tolerance, which he said contributed to peace, stability and dialogue.

Puljić said the Catholic Church in BiH counted on the continuation of Croatia's support for the survival of Croats in BiH, adding that equality was a burning issue for them. "Because Croatia is presiding the EU, it should help (BiH) to become normal too, and it won't become normal unless there are equal rights."

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

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Plenković Attends CEI’s 30th Anniversary in Rome

ZAGREB, December 19, 2019 - The Central European Initiative (CEI), established at the time of the fall of the Iron Curtain, marked its 30th anniversary in Rome on Thursday, in the presence of six prime ministers, including Andrej Plenković of Croatia, and sent out a strong message of support for further EU enlargement.

The CEI was launched in Budapest in 1989 with the idea of helping countries of Central and Eastern Europe join the EU.

"The foreign ministers of the four countries realised what was happening and seized the opportunity" to launch the initiative, at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the break-up of the Soviet Union, said Giuseppe Conte, the Prime Minister of Italy which has chaired the CEI this year. Croatia chaired the initiative in 2018.

The first four CEI members were Italy, Austria, Hungary and Yugoslavia.

Even though in the meantime Austria has left the initiative, it has expanded over the years and now has 17 members - apart from the former Yugoslav republics, it also includes Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine.

"The father of the initiative, Italian Minister Gianni De Michelis, realised early that divisions on the old continent were disappearing," Conte said, stressing that thanks to De Michelis' vision Italy had focused on dialogue and integration, which it did today as well.

This is evidenced by Italy's commitment to EU enlargement to the Western Balkans and to maintaining close relations with Eastern Europe, the Italian PM said, adding that Italy would be the chief advocate of EU enlargement until it happens.

That goal drifted further away in October, when France, Denmark and the Netherlands opposed the launching of membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia, the country which agreed to change its name for the sake of its Euro-Atlantic integration.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said in Rome that despite that Tirana would continue the reform process and that Europe would decide when it felt ready.

He also said that one should be frank and admit that French President Emmanuel Macron, the most prominent opponent of enlargement, was right to claim that the EU should start functioning better before further enlargement.

This is not about the Balkan countries but about Brussels, Rama said.

However, opponents of that view stress that launching membership talks does not mean a speedy accession to the EU, and PM Plenković recalled in Rome that closed policy chapters could be reopened if they turned out to contain something contentious.

The issue of enlargement will gain new impetus with Croatia's EU presidency in the first half of 2020. Zagreb has said that this is one of its main goals and in May a summit meeting will be held between EU and Western Balkan countries in the Croatian capital in an effort to step up the accession process.

Pleković said that the Zagreb summit would send out a message that such systematic dialogues should be held every two years. The last summit in Zagreb, focusing on the same topic, was held in 2000. It was followed by the Thessaloniki summit in 2003, after which there was a 15-year break, followed by the Sofia summit in 2018.

The Zagreb summit will discuss ways to make the accession methodology "simpler, clearer and more encouraging", the purpose being to open talks with North Macedonia and Albania before the summit, said Plenković.

Also attending the CEI meeting in Rome was new European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi of Hungary, a country that also strongly advocates the accession of Western Balkan countries to the EU.

Serbian PM Ana Brnabic, Montenegrin PM Duško Marković, Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev and Moldovan PM Ion Chicu also arrived in Rome for the meeting.

Addressing the closed-door session of the CEI, Plenković also spoke about Croatia's EU presidency during which Zagreb will also focus on Brexit, the new European budget, a conference on the future of Europe, the European Green Deal and the digital agenda.

Next year CEI chairmanship will be taken over by Montenegro.

More news about Croatia’s foreign policy can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Croatia: Slovenia's Parliament Confirms Arbitration Was Compromised

ZAGREB, November 26, 2019 - The international community knows that the arbitration proceedings in the Croatia-Slovenia border dispute was compromised and now that has been confirmed in Slovenia's parliament, Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlic Radman said in Brussels on Monday.

"The arbitration proceedings have been compromised and the international community is aware of that fact and that fact has now been confirmed in Slovenia's parliament. Who else needs to confirm that the arbitration proceedings were compromised if even the country that claims it wasn't, no longer thinks so," Grlić Radman said commenting on a report by a parliamentary commission for the oversight of Slovenian secret services.

The report actually admits that the Slovenian secret service SOVA had from the very start of the border arbitration process provided support to Slovenian diplomats in their attempts to lobby for the Slovenian side.

Grlić Radman reiterated Croatia's stance regarding the Croatian-Slovenian border dispute, saying that this is a bilateral matter that needs to be resolved by the two countries.

"There is no point in trying to prove whether the decision by the compromised arbitration is valid or not. Slovenia's side is unnecessarily exhausting itself by trying to prove that the arbitration award is valid. It is unnecessarily wasting time instead of sitting down at the table and start resolving outstanding issues," Grlić Radman said.

More news about the border issue between Croatia and Slovenia can be found in the Politics section.

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