Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Plenković: 2022 Essential Because of Accession to Schengen and Euro Area

ZAGREB, 14 Dec 2021 - Next year is very important because we expect a final decision on Croatia's accession to the Schengen and euro areas, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Tuesday, recalling that Croatia has access to about €25 billion from European sources for this decade.

Addressing a launch conference for the Croatian-language special annual edition of the global magazine The Economist, Plenković said that Croatia has about €25 billion at its disposal for this decade, including regular funds from the seven-year European budget, funds from the NextGenerationEU, and about one billion euro for reconstruction following last year's devastating earthquakes.

"That is more than we have ever had....and these are mostly grants," he underscored.

This year's conference dealt with the transformation of the Croatian economy through the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NPOO) 2021-2026 as the basis for the absorption of funds from the NextGenerationEU mechanism, under which Croatia has access to €6.3 billion in grants and another €3.6 billion in favorable loans.

The NPOO has been approved by the European Commission and Council, Croatia has already received an advance payment of HRK 6.14 billion, and in the first half of 2022 it will receive a new tranche, Plenković said, adding that there are some EU countries that have not yet even delivered their national plans.

The NPOO is the reform basis and financing basis for economic growth and is forecast to increase Croatia's GDP in 2022 and 2023 by 1.4 percentage points.

Economy proved to be exceptionally tough

Plenković said that the national economy showed exceptional strength, agility, and resilience, particularly since the tourism season was beyond all expectations. He also mentioned growth in personal consumption and economic growth which is expected to exceed nine percent, which is more than the eight percent drop in GDP last year.

The most important thing is that Croatia has maintained its image among international organizations, financial institutions, markets, and credit rating agencies, he noted.

"Anyone who is following us sees our credibility and the direction of our actions," said Plenković and highlighted that the direction is based on a speedy return on the path to decreasing public debt and a balanced budget, which cannot be expected this year or next.

He recalled that the Fitch agency has upgraded Croatia's credit rating to its highest level since rating agencies have appraised Croatia.

"This is the framework with which Croatia is entering 2022, which should be very significant institutionally because we expect a final decision on accession to the Schengen and euro areas," said Plenković.

He emphasized the importance of political stability, noting that the period from 2021 to 2028 will have just one intensive period of about 12 months of electioneering.

Government faced unbelievable challenges last year

Speaking of last year, Plenković said that all governments faced an unbelievable challenge as a consequence of coronavirus and had to find solutions to enable normal functioning and economic trends.

That led to a decline in all trends and weaker economic activities, but the government managed to overcome that and it does not regret the expenditure due to the coronavirus crisis which has exceeded HRK 40 billion.

"We have no regrets because we did not see any mass layoffs or bankruptcies," the PM underscored, recalling government support for wages in the private sector among other measures.

Challenges of climate change and demographic revitalization

Globally, the pandemic is still continuing and no one can know when it will end and what new variants we will meet, or what measures we will have to take. However, we will do everything we can to protect the health of citizens while ensuring economic, financial, and social flows, he said.

Everyone has had to learn how to balance - governments, companies, educational institutions, and international institutions, he said.

In the global context, Plenković reflected on relations between the USA and China, the need to strengthen the EU's strategic autonomy in all possible aspects, relations with Russia in the context of Europe's stability, and the issues of migration, climate change, and demographic revitalization.

Polarisation in society during the coronavirus crisis

Plenković said that the coronavirus crisis has led to an exceptional polarisation in the social and political environment, both in Croatia and in the world.

He highlighted the impact of the Internet, social networks, and false information that deceives people, which is why they do not trust institutions, public health, and science.

The latest edition of The Economist was presented by Ivan Vrdoljak from the Livit company. The edition is published in Croatian and provides analyses and forecasts for next year.

Vrdoljak said that The Economist was wrong in its projection of Croatian growth for this year due to unexpectedly fast recovery.

The Economist has forecast growth of 4.7% whereas the government expects growth of about 9%. The Economist projected next year's Croatian GDP growth at 4.1% and inflation at 1.7%, added  Vrdoljak.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Macron Hints at French Support for Croatia's Admission to Schengen Area

ZAGREB, 25 Nov 2021 - President Emmanuel Macron said in Zagreb on Thursday that France and Croatia would continue cooperating in the sectors of security and migrations, and hinted at French support for Croatia's plan to join the Schengen Area.

Marcon was received by Croatian President Zoran Milanović in his office on Thursday morning with the highest state honors.

Addressing the press after their talks, Milanović said that it was a special honor for him to receive the French head of state.

Macron said that he was proud of being the first French president to visit Croatia since the country gained independence. He said that it was unfair that no French president had visited Croatia before.

Announcing the continuation of cooperation between the two countries in the sectors of security and migrations, Macron added, "Schengen is also here."

Croatia expects the legal procedure for a formal decision on its accession to the Schengen Area to be launched this December when Slovenia is still the chair of the Council of the European Union, and the final decision to be made in the first half of 2022 when France presides over the EU.

Milanović and Macron also discussed the procurement of 12 Rafale fighter jets from France for the Croatian Air Forces.

"This is a big deal in Croatia, both strategically and financially. I am happy about that," Milanović said, adding that the strengthening of Croatia's defence cooperation with France did not mean a halt in cooperation with the United States.

"We have cooperated and we will cooperate with the USA," he said.

During the reception at the Pantovčak presidential office, Macron also held a brief meeting with Croatian pilots who will be trained to fly 12 Dassault Rafale F3R used multipurpose fighter jets.

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

Monday, 22 November 2021

Croatia, France to Sign Aircraft Agreement, Support for Entry to Schengen, Euro Areas

ZAGREB, 22 Nov 2021 - French President Emmanuel Macron is the first French president to officially visit Croatia, and his visit on Wednesday and Thursday is exceptionally important for Zagreb, which will receive support for entry to the Schengen and euro areas and finalize a contract on the purchase of French fighter jets.

"The visit is in line with Croatia's strategic goals for 2022 - entry to the Schengen and euro areas and the strengthening of defense capabilities with the Rafale aircraft," a Croatian government source said on Monday.

Croatia expects the legal procedure for the adoption of a formal decision on its admission to the Schengen area of passport-free movement to begin in December this year, during Slovenia's EU presidency, and it expects the final decision to be adopted during France's presidency in the first half of 2022.

Talks with President Macron on Schengen, therefore, have a twofold significance - France is one of the main EU members and its EU presidency starts on 1 January, the source said.

The source noted that Croatia also expected to receive France's support for admission to the euro area.

The French president will arrive in Croatia on Wednesday evening, his formal host being Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, and the reason for that is that the French president, in line with his extensive powers in the presidential political system, is one of the few heads of state who sit on the European Council, which comprises mostly prime ministers. As such, Macron is a formal colleague to other countries' prime ministers, the source said.

Macron will on Thursday be received for talks by President Zoran Milanović, after which he will meet with PM Plenković.

The talks between Plenković and Macron will focus on bilateral relations, the Western Balkans, the Eastern Partnership, with emphasis on Ukraine and Belarus, the strengthening of the EU's strategic independence, and global topics.

France and Croatia already have an agreement on a strategic partnership but they will sign a new one covering a number of new areas, the source said.

The first visit of a French president is considered important also in light of the fact that France is the EU's leading military power, its only nuclear power, and the only permanent member of the UN Security Council from the EU.

After Plenković and Macron sign a new agreement on strategic partnership, the two countries' defense ministers, Mario Banožić and Florence Parly, will sign an agreement on the procurement of the Rafale jets.

Country's security to be raised to the highest level ever

The purchase of the Rafale jets, "the most modern, new-generation aircraft, for the least money and with the fastest delivery" will mean a huge step forward in Croatia's defense security, raising it to the highest level ever, government officials have said.

Croatia will obtain the most powerful aircraft in the area between Germany and Greece, which will enhance its geopolitical importance as there are no jets in its neighborhood that could be compared with the Rafale.

The jets are expected to arrive in late 2023, which is when Croatia will be able to control its entire territory for the first time, the government source said.

Zagreb in May announced that it would buy 12 Rafale jets to modernize its armed forces, opting for the biggest procurement of military equipment since its war of independence, the Agence France Presse has said ahead of Macron's visit.

Clear French support

The document on a strategic partnership to be signed by Plenković and Macron underlines France's clear support to Croatia's accession to the euro area as well as the Schengen area. France also supports Croatia's admission to the OECD, the Croatian source said.

The idea behind the new agreement on strategic partnership is for Croatia to "become a privileged partner to France in this part of Europe," the source said.

The other elements of the strategic partnership refer to economic relations and cultural, scientific, academic, and administrative cooperation.

Croatia is one of the two EU members, the other being Hungary, which Macron has still not visited since the start of his presidential term.

The French president will end his visit with a dinner, to be organized for members of Croatia's public, cultural, scientific and sports life, after which on Thursday afternoon he travels to Rome, where he will sign an agreement on strategic partnership with Italy, while on Friday he is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis in the Vatican.

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

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Slovenian Minister Says Croatia Should Join Schengen, Supports Border Fences

ZAGREB, 18 Nov 2021 - Croatia's admission to the Schengen Area will significantly contribute to the control of illegal migration in the region, and Slovenia continues to firmly support that goal, Slovenian Interior Minister Aleš Hojs said on Thursday.

The minister is convinced that the problem of illegal migration should be addressed with all resources, including border fences.

We are a strong advocate of Croatia joining the Schengen Area, all technical conditions have mostly been met and we are waiting for a political decision, Hojs told reporters in Sarajevo at an international conference on illegal migration management.

The decision on Croatia's Schengen Area membership is expected to be made by summer 2022.

I don't think the final decision will be made before June or July next year, said Hojs.

According to him, shifting the external Schengen border to the south will contribute to better control of illegal migration, and it would be best if an effective control mechanism were established on the Greek borders to shut the Western Balkans route.

Hojs stressed that the situation had deteriorated with the hybrid war of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko against the European Union and the collapse of the Afghan government.

All of that is an additional reason why a large number of irregular migrants are again directed towards Europe and thus destabilize the entire EU, said Hojs, warning that the situation was considerably different than in 2015 because they were no longer welcome in the EU.

He pointed out that everything Lukashenko was doing by pushing migrants toward Poland was undoubtedly a hybrid war and he believes that the EU will not allow the use of migrants as a political tool or weapon.

Hojs warns that a political agreement with Belarus is not working.

Although he believes there is still plenty of room for talks, he considers that EU borders must be secured at all costs, even if it is necessary to raise fences.

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

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.

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