Thursday, 8 July 2021

European Parliament Confirms that Croatia Meets All Conditions for Schengen

ZAGREB, 8 July 2021 - Croatia has met all the conditions to Schengen, it is said in a resolution of the European Parliament adopted on Thursday in which Croatia is also urged to address shortcomings in terms of providing border staff with training and to persist in a thorough assessment of respect for fundamental rights.

During a visit to Croatia in November 2020, the Commission reaffirmed that the necessary conditions for the application of the Schengen acquis had been met, it is said in the resolution of the European Parliament, adopted with 505 votes in favor, 134 against, and 54 abstentions.

All but two Croatian MEPs voted in favor of the resolution. Those two who voted against were an MEP of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), Ladislav Ilčić, and independent MEP Mislav Kolakušić.

The Parliament also called on Croatia to address the identified shortcomings, especially in terms of staff training, the number of staff, and the capacity to protect the land border and to persist in a thorough assessment of respect for fundamental rights following repeated reports by NGOs and the media on abuse, violence, and pushbacks by border police officers.

In that context, the document welcomes the establishment of independent mechanisms to monitor the actions of police officers towards illegal migrants and applicants for international protection.

Croatia expects that its membership in the Schengen area could be on the agenda during Slovenia's presidency of the EU in the second half of this year, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in late May.

In October 2019, the Commission said that Croatia had met the criteria for joining the Schengen area while in early June it invited EU countries to admit Croatia to the Schengen area.

All EU countries except Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania are members of Schengen, as are four non-EU countries -- Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.

Violence against migrants

The resolution also says that there are still allegations of violence against migrants, including those seeking international protection, and of illegal pushbacks at the EU's external borders, but no member states are explicitly mentioned.

In that context, it is stressed that the EU does not have a developed mechanism for monitoring fundamental rights at its external borders, which should change.

The Parliament is deeply concerned due to constant and serious reports on violence and pushbacks at the external border, including from one member state to another and then to a third country.

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

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.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Interior Minister Davor Božinović : Croatia's Schengen membership in interest of EU

ZAGREB, 2 June, 2021 - Interior Minister Davor Božinović said on Wednesday that Croatia's entry to the passport-free Schengen Area was in the national interest as well as in the interest of the European Union.

Earlier on Wednesday the European Commission called for the enlargement of the Schengen area to include Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, which have met all technical criteria for membership.

"Schengen's future must be marked by the expansion to those EU Member States that are not yet part of the Schengen area," the EC said while presenting the strategy for making the Schengen area stronger and more resilient.

Božinović recalled that Croatia had met 281 requirements in eight different segments concerning the membership criteria.

The minister is confident that Croatia will be admitted to the Schengen area in the next 12 months.

He said that he was glad to see that in Europe awareness was being raised about the importance of accession of Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria.

40,000 EU Digital COVID certificates issued in Croatia since first day of issuance

Since yesterday, when the issuance of EU Digital COVID certificates started in Croatia, as many as 40,000 such travel passes have been issued.

Božinović said that Croatia was among the first EU countries to make this system operational.

The minister, who visited the Bregana border crossing to get acquainted with the functioning of the system of checking those certificates, said that it took only 10 seconds to check those certificates.

One million kuna has been invested in this project, which included IT solutions, the necessary equipment of border crossings to be able to read the codes from the certificates, and other equipment for the Croatian Health Insurance Agency (HZZO), he said.

Croatia tapped EU funds for this purpose, Božinović said at Bregana.

ENTER Croatia application available to people travelling to Croatia

The minister said that people traveling to Croatia can fill in the ENTER Croatia application which will also facilitate passage across the border.

New, relaxed rules for arrivals in Croatia

As of today, some relaxed rules go into force for arrivals in Croatia, including a negative PCR test for coronavirus not older than 72 hours, while travellers who have received at least one vaccine dose at least 22 days before their arrival do not need to self-isolate.

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

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Portugal Supports Croatia's Schengen Membership Bid, Says Grlić Radman

ZAGREB, 27 May 2021 - Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman, who held talks with his Portuguese counterpart in Lisbon on Wednesday, said that Portugal supported Croatia's efforts to join the passport-free Schengen Area, as well as to enter the OECD and the MED7, an alliance of Mediterranean EU member states.

Portugal has expressed unreserved support for Croatia in that regard, Minister Grlić Radman told Hina after he held the hour-long talks with Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva in Lisbon.

Grlić Radman recalled that during his recent visit to Madrid, Spain's officials also expressed support for Croatia's Schengen membership bid and plans to join MED7.

MED 7 or EuroMed 7 is a group consisting of Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta, and their ministers meet once a year to discuss topics of common interest and harmonize their positions. The group was established in 2013 at the proposal of Spain and Cyprus.

The next meeting of MED 7 is likely to be organized in Greece this autumn, and Grlić Radman said in Lisbon that he hoped that Croatia and Slovenia, which also aspire for MED7 membership, could attend that ministerial gathering.

The admission of Croatia and Slovenia to that association will bolster the Mediterranean cooperation, the Croatian minister said.

Portugal is the chair of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2021, and on Thursday, a Gymnich meeting, an informal meeting of the foreign ministers of the EU member states, will take place in Lisbon. EU-Africa relations, the unresolved conflicts in the EU's Eastern Neighbourhood and the Indo-Pacific region will be on the agenda. There will also be an exchange of views with the Jordanian Foreign Affairs Minister, Ayman Al Safadi, who has been invited to take part in the working lunch.

Grlić Radman, who will attend that meeting, said that he had congratulated Minister Santos Silva on the successful Portuguese EU presidency.

Croatian-Portuguese relations excellent, TAP introduces direct Lisbon-Zagreb flight service

Considering the Croatian-Portuguese relations, Grlić Radman described them as excellent without any outstanding issues.

He thanked Santos Silva for the prompt Portuguese assistance after the 29 December 6.2 strong quake hit central Croatia.

"We discussed economic cooperation. There is room for its advancement," Grlić Radman said.

TAP Air Portugal, the state-owned flag carrier airline of Portugal, will restore the direct flights between Lisbon and Zagreb on 2 June, after it had ceased operating that line more than five years ago.

We are looking forward to that service, the Croatian minister said.

In 2019, 65,570 Portuguese visitors traveled to Croatia, and in 2020, their number fell to 7,122  due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the data provided by the Croatian National Tourist Board.

Grlić Radman also welcomed the Portuguese authorities' decision to relax rules for the entry of Croatians into Portugal. Currently, travelers arriving from Croatia into Portugal are required to have a negative PCR test to coronavirus and need no quarantine.

The two ministers discussed the developments in the Western Balkans and the EU enlargement to that part of Europe.

The European security and stability depend on the admission of those countries in the European space, and this is also important in the light of reducing the influence of third countries on Western Balkan countries, the Croatian minister said. 

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

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Slovenian PM Supports Croatia's Schengen Entry

ZAGREB, 26 May, 2021 - Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša on Wednesday supported the Schengen entry of Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania as it would strengthen security in Europe.

We support Croatia's entry to the Schengen Area, as well as the entry of Bulgaria and Romania. We believe those are steps that strengthen security in Europe, he told a joint press conference with European Parliament President David Sassoli.

He spoke at the press conference via video link from Ljubljana after presenting to European Parliament leaders the priorities of the Slovenian presidency of the Council of the EU, which starts on 1 July.

Croatian PM Andrej Plenković said in Brussels on Tuesday he expected Croatia's Schengen membership could be on the agenda during the Slovenian presidency.

"Croatia is on the right track to become a member of the Schengen Area in 2022 and then to enter the eurozone. I think that's possible. When we look at the very good relations we now have with Slovenia, it would be a great scenario if something like that happened during Slovenia's presidency of the Council of the EU," he told the press.

Janša today also supported EU enlargement to the Western Balkans, saying many problems there, including the border issue, would be taken off the agenda with the accession of those countries.

EU enlargement is in our common interest. It should be our strategic response to numerous challenges, he added.

He said that when the EU was dealing with the financial and then the migrant crisis, neglecting enlargement, some other factors started expanding their influence in the Western Balkans.

Those foreign factors don't have the same values as we in the European Union, he added.

Janša said a European perspective was the answer.

We can solve problems by making borders less important. Slovenia is now part of the European Union and Schengen, where there are no physical borders, he added.

He announced an EU-Western Balkan summit for 6 October in Slovenia.

As for the priorities of Slovenia's EU presidency, Janša highlighted respect for the rule of law and EU resilience to crises. He also underlined the importance of the Conference on the Future of the EU, which will end next year during the French presidency.

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

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

PM Andrej Plenković: Decision on Croatia's Entry to Schengen Area Possibly in Second Half of Year

ZAGREB, 24 May, 2021 - Croatia hopes its entry to the Schengen area of passport-free travel could be put on the agenda during Slovenia's EU presidency in the second half of this year, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Monday.

"I believe it is possible. We have excellent overall relations with Slovenia and it would be great if that happened during Slovenia's presidency of the Council of the EU," Plenković told reporters.

Plenković discussed Croatia's accession to the Schengen area and the euro area with European Council President Charles Michel and Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.

Both the previous and current European Commission have confirmed that Croatia has met all technical criteria to enter the Schengen area and it is now up to the member-states, that is, the Council of the EU, to make a political decision on the matter.

Asked if he expected problems from some member-states, Plenković said that Croatia had succeeded in showing its partners through dialogue that it had met all criteria.

"I believe that we are heading towards a positive decision by the Council," he said.

The EC has said that on 2 June it will announce a new strategy for the Schengen area and two bills on changes to the Schengen evaluation mechanism and the Schengen Information System.

As for Croatia's other strategic goal, entry to the euro area, Plenković said that talks were underway with Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis and that Croatia could soon achieve that goal as well.

"I believe that we will manage to join the euro area in the next two years," said Plenković.

The Croatian PM and European Council President Michel discussed also the situation in Southeast Europe, notably Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Plenković said that Croatia supported its neighbours' European ambitions, underlining the need to amend Bosnia and Herzegovina's election law so that it could enable parliamentary elections in 2022 and be fair for all constituent peoples and other citizens.

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

Friday, 23 April 2021

Croatian PM Andrej Plenković, European Commissioner Ylva Johansson Discuss Migration Issues

ZAGREB, 23 April, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on Friday received European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson for talks on migration and Croatia's accession to the Schengen Area, the government said in a press release.

The officials discussed the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, which aims to halt arrivals of irregular migrants since the migrant crisis of 2015 and 2016, and to make the Union and member states better prepared for efficient migration management, the press release said.

Prime Minister Plenković underlined that for Croatia, as a country of the EU's external border, it is exceptionally important that the talks on the new pact define key issues such as responsibility and solidarity, procedures on the external borders, strengthening cooperation with third countries, efficient implementation of readmission of migrants who are not entitled to stay in the European Union and legal migration paths.

Significant investments in technical equipment to supervise the border and its border police enables Croatia to successfully protect the EU external border and the country is ready to protect the external Schengen Area border, he underscored. 

Plenković and Johansson discussed Croatia's accession to the Schengen Area. At the the Home Affairs Council meeting on 12 March Commissioner Johansson confirmed that Croatia had successfully completed the evaluation process and ensured the full application of Schengen rules and she supported the adoption of the relevant political decision in that regard.

The two officials also discussed migration trends in neighbouring countries and underscored that in order to reduce the permanent migrant pressure on the Croatian border it is key to better manage migrations along the entire East-Mediterranean route, the press release concluded.

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

 

Monday, 15 March 2021

Plenković: Croatia Expects to Join Eurozone and Schengen in 3 Years

ZAGREB, 15 March, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in an interview with the Politico news website published on Monday that it was reasonable to expect that Croatia would enter the eurozone and the Schengen area by the second half of 2024.

"The idea is to do both — accession to Schengen and the eurozone — by the end of this government’s term, so the second half of 2024," Plenković said. "It’s tough, but reasonable."

The European Commission said in 2019 that Croatia had fulfilled all the technical requirements for entry into the Schengen passport-free travel zone, and this should now be endorsed by other member states. Romania and Bulgaria have been waiting for this to happen for years.

In mid-2020 Croatia was admitted to the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II), a key step towards eurozone membership.

Plenković said that because of the coronavirus crisis the eurozone members could be expected to continue suspending their own rules for fiscal discipline, while those on the path to join the euro could not rely on "such easy self-help tricks."

He expressed regret that Croatia had "stepped away from consolidation and sound public finances" to limit the economic damage of the crisis.

Plenković said that his government would pursue two goals: "Using the recovery fund, the EU budget and private investment to generate growth. And the other one: Go back to the framework of 2017-2019, when my government achieved a budget surplus."

The prime minister said he believed Croatia would be able to spend the first euro from the EU recovery fund at the beginning of next year, adding that it was a complicated process. "Unless it’s helicopter money, it’s very difficult and complex. You need a plan, a project, verification, tender, implementation, documentation. If it goes faster, we’ll gladly spend it, but if I’m realistic …"

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

Friday, 12 March 2021

Croatia Successfully Completes Schengen Evaluation Procedure

ZAGREB, 12 March, 2021 - In four years Croatia met 281 recommendations in eight acquis areas, successfully completing the Schengen evaluation procedure, the Interior Ministry said on Friday after a meeting of EU interior ministers who discussed security and migrations.

The Portuguese presidency and Commissioner Ylva Johansson informed the Council that Croatia had successfully completed the Schengen evaluation procedure which began in June 2015 and ended in May 2019, the ministry said in a press release.

In the most comprehensive evaluation of preparedness for membership of the Schengen area, Croatia met 281 recommendations in eight Schengen acquis areas, including 145 pertaining to external border control.

Early in February, the Council confirmed that Croatia had met all the recommendations in that, the most demanding evaluation area, the ministry said, adding that in the past two weeks bilateral meetings were held with four member states which were unsure if Croatia had indeed met all the membership requirements.

On 2 March, Interior Minister Davor Božinović met with all the EU ambassadors accredited in Croatia at which he informed them in detail of everything Croatia had done in the past three and a half years to ensure full application of all Schengen standards.

"The ministers endorsed the report by the Portuguese presidency and Commissioner Johansson, without debate thereby confirming the completion of the Schengen evaluation procedure for Croatia," the ministry said.

Croatia's job and goal now is to prepare everything that is necessary for the Council of the EU to adopt a political decision on the Schengen membership, the ministry added.

Croatia evaluated as no other EU member state

"Croatia successfully passed the most comprehensive and the most detailed evaluation, like no other EU member state," said Božinović, who attended a video conference of the Home Affairs Council.

He added that Johansson said that this was the final confirmation of Croatia's preparedness to join the Schengen Area, while the chairman of the Council of the EU, Portuguese Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita, supported Schengen enlargement to Croatia.

The ministry said the Council held the first debate on a draft directive on the resilience of critical subjects, which is aimed at further contributing to the implementation of EU Security Union Strategy targets.

The Portuguese presidency reported on the external dimension, border protection and solidarity. Another priority is working on the establishment of legal migration routes to more effectively curb illegal ones.

Stronger cooperation with third countries

The European Commission presented a report on strengthening cooperation with third countries in returns and readmissions as well as a 2019 report on the evaluation of cooperation in readmission.

Božinović said Croatia saw the former report as an important step forward in dealing with the return of migrants illegally staying in the EU.

"All Commission activities to use the potential of the EU visa policy are welcome, in an effort to encourage third countries to cooperate more constructively in the readmission of their citizens, as well as the possibilities available to us in other areas, development and trade arrangements for example," he said.

It would be useful to supplement initiatives with lists of safe third countries and safe countries of origin which would make it easier for the relevant services to swiftly make decisions on asylum or returns, Božinović added.

In concluding readmission agreements, priority should be given to countries of origin, the ministry said, adding that Božinović also pointed to the problem of transit countries.

Croatia supported strengthening cooperation with North African states in all areas that can contribute to strengthening stability in Africa, which would then facilitate dealing with the root causes of migrations towards the EU, the ministry said.

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

Monday, 5 October 2020

If F-16's Remove Visas for USA, Do French Rafale's Put Croatia in Schengen?

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Darko Bicak writes on the 4th of October, 2020, the fighter procurement project, which is ongoing and should be completed by the end of this year by selecting bidders and signing contracts, could finally abolish visas and double taxation for Croatia with the United States, but still leave us outside the Eurozone and Schengen - but maybe, just maybe... it could be the other way around. If American planes equal the removal of American visas, do French planes equal Croatia in Schengen?

Although after the collapse of last year's tender, and then with the arrival of the coronavirus crisis, it seemed that there would be nothing to come of the new squadron, in just a few months the situation has completely changed and it is now almost certain that Croatia will finally procure the long-talked-about fighter jets.

However, the very choice of a military aircraft could, in addition to the inevitable financial burden, bring us a number of other undesirable political and, consequently, economic effects. We're witnessing that every day, and it was the case with the last tender. Various military experts and enthusiasts deal with all of the different aspects of Croatia's procurement of such aircraft, which has reached the level of controversy that football has, with everyone having an opinion on it all. The selection proposal should be made by the interdepartmental commission, but the fact is that this existed in the previous tender, but their views were subordinated to a decision which had already been made by the Ministry of Defense.

Therefore, it is to be expected that this decision will also be political, not professional. In fact, the profession can say very little indeed in this situation because these are aircraft that meet the technical and tactical needs of the Croatian Air Force (HRZ). Thesedays, who has better acceleration is ultimately less important because these are platforms whose equipment and functionality will depend on not merely financial capabilities but political conditions. The US and Israel have F-16s, as do Taiwan and South Korea, Jordan, Pakistan and Venezuela, but in each individual case it is a completely different aircraft.

A political, not a professional decision...

Regardless of what Croatia orders, it will almost certainly not be the same package of equipment and weapons as the home air forces of the USA, France, Sweden and Israel, but a custom Croatian model. Of course, it doesn't matter if it is a new plane, or one which is 10 or 40 years old, but the strategic, political and economic implications are much more important.

The purchase of military equipment of this value, measured in billions of US dollars, is never just a purchase of weapons but also a first-class political decision on a strategic partner which will result in decades of ties. How much Israel can be our political, economic and military strategic partner for the next 40 years is difficult to say. Most would say you need to build a fair relationship, and that’s it. On the other hand, among the bidders are some countries that really are or perhaps could become strategic partners for Croatia in the long run.

There is no need to waste words on the United States because it is clear to everyone that it is the most powerful economic, political and military power without which little in the world can be solved. They offer the well-known F-16, one of the most powerful and widespread fighter jets in use today. The Americans are now much more serious about the Croatian tender, and the abolition of visas is sitting on the table, as is the long-sought agreement on the avoidance of double taxation, which creates headaches for many Croatian entrepreneurs, particularly those in IT.

The new Rafales are too expensive

On the other side. there is France, which became the most powerful country in the EU following Brexit, and which surprisingly offered Croatia its Rafales. This is the first time that the French have offered their used fighters, and they haven't offered us new ones due to their price of around 220 million euros per aircraft - a stretch indeed. It is definitely an aircraft that is in all respects in the range of the latest F-16, and some analysts say that it is better and even closer to the F-35.

France could be an advantage, or a weight, for the glittering, star-spangled ambitions of a Croatia in Schengen, and then of course the Eurozone. Will France "take revenge" on Croatia if it fails to choose their used Rafales? Will it purposely place stumbling blocks and obstacles in the way of Croatia in Schengen or using the euro? Maybe. There are always cases of otherwise friendly EU nations taking a dislike to things Croatia aims for within the bloc.

There is also Sweden, which is not as powerful as the USA and France, but is an economically extremely strong country and an influential member of the EU, and economically it can offer a lot through "offset" and later through the EU. Although many "experts" consider their Gripens to be inferior to other offered aircraft, the Croatian Air Force would certainly not have any problems with them.

However, Sweden is often mentioned as a politically unreliable ally because it often shares lessons with others because of its high standards of democracy and human rights, which tend to fall on either deaf or unwilling ears.

The fact is that there are interests in the international arena, not friendships, and the situation is constantly changing. If American planes mean no American visas and French planes might mean Croatia in Schengen, who knows what turning either of these offers down might result in? Perhaps nothing, but the possibility of France spitefully enjoying its new role as the EU's most powerful nation isn't entirely beyond the realm of imagination, either.

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