Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Milanović Criticises EU for Prolongations in Croatia's Accession to Schengen Area

ZAGREB, 27 Oct 2021 - President Zoran Milanović said on Wednesday that Croatia's problem is that it is on the "external border of the Schengen Area, yet it isn't Schengen," he said, criticizing the EU for procrastination in allowing Croatia to join this passport-free area.

That is being prolonged yet Croatia is expected to act as if it is playing in the first four Series A or premiership league teams, Milanović said after meeting with his Maltese counterpart George Vella.

Apart from strengthening cooperation, the presidents discussed foreign policy topics including migration which has once again come to the fore with the Afghanistan crisis.

Milanović believes that Croatia is in an unfavorable situation due to its position.

"This puts us and our reputation in a bad situation because if the Croatian police don’t control the border then Croatia is unreliable and isn’t doing its job. If the Croatian police do their job and make mistakes at times, exceeding their authority, then it is something that Europe points its finger at Croatia. That’s not fair," said Milanović.

Milanović asked Malta to support Croatia, as the youngest EU member state, and its accession to the Schengen Area and criticized the Union for "procrastination and delay."

Romania and Bulgaria have been members of the EU since 2007 and are still waiting for a green light to access that European area without border controls.

Vella said that the migration issue is a huge challenge for the EU, however, he expects a consensus from all 27 members of the bloc.

Saying that his small country is full of migrants, the only solution is to proportionally distribute migrants and refugees among member states prepared to take them. 

We are trying to find countries - 20, 22- as many as possible willing to work together and try and implement a system of distribution (of migrants), said Vella.  

Milanović praised Malta for its treatment of the migration issue.

"A small nation such as Malta, in the middle of the Mediterranean – with a special culture, language and identity, is different from others yet open in every aspect the whole time – it is able to deliberate the difficult topic of migration maturely, soberly and humanely, while some Central European states are just about to arm their population. Incredible difference! This just says how openness, especially for small economies, is important. Well done, Malta!"

This is the second meeting between the presidents in a few weeks and Vella said that it confirms "the splendid relations between the two countries and the friendship that has been developing between our nations."

EU enlargement: The bloc "is buying time and the years are passing"

The two presidents talked about the countries in Southeast Europe and their journey towards the Union.

Vella said that Malta has "always advocated for the Western Balkans to become part of the EU."

"Countries such as Croatia and Slovenia have become members and can definitely help, they can show the way. The process of EU accession is lengthy, certain sacrifices are necessary, but I am sure that there is a strong will both in the EU and in the Western Balkans for them to join the EU," said Vella.

During the recent EU-Western Balkans Summit organized by Slovenia as the incumbent chair of the Council of the EU, membership prospects for those countries were once again confirmed however they were not given any time frame for that.

I wouldn't want this to be transformed into some kind of procrastination, delay. "A lot indicates that the EU has such a policy because, in fact, it hasn’t got one, it’s buying time and the years are passing," said Milanović.

There is an election here or there, hence the fear of leading mainstream politicians of right voters and rivals on the right (...) and then countries with an Islamic population which is one of the prejudices we have to talk about, are some of the reasons why the EU is not clearly stating what it wants, believes Milanović.

Croatia's President said he wants a more stable neighbor and that in the context of the Western Balkans it is necessary to talk about stability, predictability, security, and money.

"When we talk about the Western Balkans, we must talk about stability, predictability, and security, and ultimately we talk about money too because those are fundamentally impoverished states," he said.

Malta's President Vella and his wife are on a state visit to Croatia at the invitation of President  Milanović.

Vella is expected to meet with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković. He will also visit Varaždin.

For more, check out our politics section.

Friday, 22 October 2021

PM: Decision Making on Croatia's Schengen Bid Going According to Plan

ZAGREB, 22 Oct (Hina) - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in Brussels on Friday he expected the decision making process on Croatia's accession to the Schengen area to proceed according to plan.

"I have discussed this matter at all levels, with all governments. I think the momentum is slowly gathering for a decision at the level of the Council of the EU," Plenković told reporters on arrival for the continuation of the two-day EU summit.

Plenković said that ongoing talks during the Slovenian EU presidency and the next French presidency would be "crucial for achieving Croatia's strategic goal - to become a member of the Schengen area."

Among the topics to be discussed at the summit will be protection of the EU's external borders against illegal migration.

Plenković said that also discussed would be several action plans with non-EU countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, to help them improve migration management.

He said that during discussion on foreign policy matters on Thursday evening he had drawn attention to the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, notably to the existing tension and statements by the Serb member of the state presidency, Milorad Dodik, which destabilise the country.

"Croatia supports a single Bosnia and Herzegovina, its independence, sovereignty and good functioning. I also made it clear that the EU should help, together with our partners, first of all the United States, to achieve a timely agreement on electoral legislation so that at next year's elections the Croats, as one of the three constituent peoples, can be legitimately and equally represented in the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina," Plenković said.

He said he was pleased with the quality of the discussion on this matter, adding that several leaders had taken part in it.

For more on politics, CLICK HERE.

Friday, 16 July 2021

VL: Croatia Has Italy's Support for Schengen, Scandinavia Problematic

ZAGREB, 16 July 2021 - Slovenia supports Croatia's Schengen entry and now that it chairs the Council of the EU, it has the chance to show it by putting the item on the agenda, Večernji List daily said on Friday, adding that Croatia had Italy's support too, but that Scandinavia was a problem.

No member state likes to open a topic during its six-month rotating EU presidency that it cannot conclude, so Slovenia's decision will depend on the signals of the member states, which must all support Croatia if it is to join the Schengen Area.

There is no open resistance to Croatia's entry but there is a big picture that some states would like to resolve before giving the green light.

Thursday's informal meeting of foreign ministers in Slovenia provided the outline of what can be expected - at stake is a final agreement on a migrant pact proposed by the Commission which should relieve the states of first entry.

The agreement is tied to the functioning of Schengen which, during the previous migrant crisis and now the pandemic, has suspended the flow of people and reinstated border control.

Those in the know assess Croatia's situation as "cautiously optimistic" and its chances of joining Schengen "very good," but the main obstacle is the area's very concept, the newspaper said.

For more on politics in Croatia, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Plenkovic Expects Croatian Schengen Entry to Take Place Next Year

July the 14th, 2021 - Since so many more pressing issues have come to the forefront since the outbreak of the global pandemic, Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic has assured once again that Croatian Schengen entry is on track for some time next year.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who submitted a report to Parliament on Monday regarding European Council meetings over the past six months, reiterated that he expects Croatian Schengen entry to finally take place at some point in 2022.

"I've repeatedly said publicly that we expect this to happen during 2022," said the Prime Minister in response to Pedja Grbin (SDP), who asked if there would be Schengen enlargements and if so, when.

This question also included what the position of other member states was, given the statement of the Slovenian Interior Minister affairs of Ales Hojs, which more or less says that there is doubt as to whether the issue of Croatian Schengen entry will be included in the agenda in the next six months at all.

The Prime Minister referred to the new Schengen strategy announced by the European Commission in early June, which clearly states the Commission's position that the Schengen area should be completed, "which includes Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania."

He says that Hojs' statement is of a "generic character" and notes that no country holding the presidency of the Council will raise a sensitive topic if there is no consensus on it. "We will bring it to the Council when all the elements are mature, we'll bring it in partnership with the chairman," Plenković said.

Speaking about the vaccination programme, but also further support to the economy, he said that many businessmen received support, practically only by meeting the minimum Government criteria.

"We want people who come to work to come sure that those around them are also safe, and that is only possible if as many people as possible are vaccinated," concluded the prime minister.

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

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.

Friday, 2 July 2021

Slovenia Absolutely Supports Croatia's Schengen Entry

ZAGREB, 2 July 2021 - The Slovenian Council of the EU presidency absolutely supports the Schengen entry of Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, and is willing to put that on the agenda as soon as the member states reach agreement on it, Slovenian Interior Minister Aleš Hojs said on Friday.

Frankly, we are most interested in Croatia's entry, for understandable reasons, because they are our neighbours and that would ease many of the problems we have on the border, for both Croatia and Slovenia, Hojs told a group of Brussels correspondents invited to Slovenia on the occasion of its Council of the EU presidency, which started on 1 July.

Over the next six months, Hojs will chair the Home Affairs Council, which is in charge of Schengen enlargement.

He said he was willing to put the issue of the three countries' Schengen entry on the agenda at any moment, but that he felt it was not a good idea before all member states agreed on that.

Hojs said it was smarter not to vote until there was full consensus. He added that as chair, he would do his best to convince those states that were still sceptical about Schengen enlargement that it was the right decision.

Early in June, the European Commission called for enlarging the Schengen Area to Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, which meet all the technical requirements for membership.

The Schengen Area consists of 26 states, including four that are not in the EU - Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. All EU member states are in the area without border control except Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus and Ireland.

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

Monday, 28 June 2021

PM: Four Big Projects Will Be Realised, Reforms Continued in Next 3 Years

ZAGREB, 28 June 2021 - Croatia will realise four big projects in the next three years, the Pelješac Bridge, joining Schengen and the eurozone, and buying fighter jets, and will also use them for the necessary reforms, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Monday.

Croatia's road to independence was difficult, but the years ahead will not be easier if we don't prepare for the world that is coming, he said at a conference on Croatia's key successes, organised by Hanza Media on the occasion of Croatia's 30 years of independence.

Plenković said the government's ambition was to join the eurozone on 1 January 2023 and that the multipurpose fighter jets would arrive in early 2024.

Health reform framework in the autumn

"Reforms are key" and all that we have now are remnants of past administrations, policies, circumstances, weaknesses as well as daring, he said.

He singled out the judicial reform, resolutely stating that "the judiciary is not the HDZ's."

State administration will be strengthened because it must be more efficient, counties will not be changed but there is room to merge municipalities, which will cut costs, Plenković said.

The privatisation of the state-owned portfolio will continue while advancing corporate management, he said, also underlining the importance of education and health reform.

Healthcare has generated enormous expenses for years, but there is a concept of a solution which should be hammered out in the near future, Plenković said, adding that many laws would be amended in the autumn to make it easier to run the health system.

He said it was necessary to make progress in demography and also highlighted climate change.

"It would have been better had we solved some things faster," he said, but added that with "these three to four steps we will do in the next two and a half years, and (with) the money we ensured for the next ten years, we have indeed created prerequisites for development that we never had."

Vaccination is also an economic issue

Plenković called on citizens to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying it was also an economic and financial issue, and that the tourist season could be lost if Croatia was declared unsafe.

He said it was a matter of personal responsibility and warned about the threat of new variants and a fourth wave of coronavirus.

Croatia's road to independence was difficult and demanding

Looking back over the past 30 years, Plenković recalled that Croatia had been a victim of Greater Serbia aggression but that it managed to build an army and defend its freedom.

He said the 1991-95 war claimed many lives and caused big destruction, which cost Croatia 15 years of development because pre-war GDP was restored only in 2004. He said 15% of homes were destroyed, that the war damage amounted to 160% of the pre-war GDP, and that over 150,000 houses were rebuilt after the war.

Plenković said the second decade of Croatia's independence saw the beginning of economic transition and key steps towards the realisation of geostrategic goals, including joining NATO in 2009 and completing EU accession negotiations by the end of 2011.

Those were years of strong GDP growth, but will lots of borrowing, followed by the global crisis which lasted until 2013, when we joined the EU, a historic success, he said.

He added, however, that Croatia started utilising the benefits of EU membership only in 2016 because only 9% of the funds available had been contracted by then, as against 120% now.

Plenković said that between 2012 and 2015 Croatia fell from 61 to 60% of the EU's GDP average, while in the past five years, before COVID-19, GDP per capita was raised to 65%, falling to 64% now.

He said that in the past five years quality of living had improved, with considerably higher wages, pensions, and social and maternity allowances. The average net pay in that period went up by HRK 1,440 to 7,082 this past April, while the minimum net pay went up by HRK 904 to 3,400, he added.

Speaking of employment, Plenković said the number of pension insurees fell by 90,000 between 2009 and 2016, while going up by 134,000 to over 1.5 million in the past five years.

He said the biggest problem of his first term in office, from 2016 to 2020, was saving the Agrokor conglomerate from bankruptcy, adding that the Petrokemija company was restructured and shipyards' debts were settled during that term also.

He recalled that for the first time, Croatia had a budget surplus for three consecutive years. "Before the pandemic, we relieved the corporate sector by more than HRK 11 billion in taxes and administration, the credit rating was raised to investment level."

Strong international position

Plenković said Croatia had a strong international position and that EU funds helped to carry out strategic projects such as the LNG terminal on Krk island.

He said he expected the U.S. to waive visas for Croatian citizens this autumn, also because of the good political and military ties.

He said good relations had been built with China and that China helped Croatia a lot at the start of the pandemic.

Plenković went on to say that Croatia had secured another €25 billion from the EU for the next ten years, and that it was in a more difficult situation than others because of the two strong earthquakes that hit last year.

The COVID crisis has cost us HRK 34 billion, he said, adding that unlike Croatia other countries did not have HRK 128 billion in earthquake damage.

We have ensured HRK 11.1 billion for wages and 700,000 jobs have been retained in the past 15 months, he said.

The National Recovery and Resilience Plan was made for green and digital transition, he said, confident that the realisation of the measures contained therein in the next two years would ensure an additional GDP growth of 1.4%.

For more on politics in  Croatia, CLICK HERE.

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.

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