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.

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.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Jansa: Croatia's Entry into Euro and Schengen Area is in Slovenia's Interest

ZAGREB, July 11, 2020 - Prime Minister Janez Jansa said on Friday that Croatia's admission to the euro area and the Schengen zone of passport-free travel was in Slovenia's national interest.

He criticised the policy of the Slovenia's two previous governments which advocated the blocking Croatia's membership of those two areas, underlining the futility of that conditionality policy.

"The recent past has shown us that Slovenia's vociferous opposition to Croatia's entry (into the OECD,  the Schengen or the euro area) has led us into this situation which we have with the (border) arbitration agreement, and there is no use of that," Jansa told the Slovenia Television on Friday evening after he met his Croatian counterpart Andrej Plenkovic earlier in the day for the talks on the bilateral relations and the latest developments surrounding the COVID-19 epidemic.

"Slovenia is a responsible member of the European Union," said Jansa explaining that Ljubljana would insist on the implementation of equal criteria for all euro area and Schengen zone aspirants.

"The adoption of the common currency (the euro) has not been only the possibility but also the obligation since 2004, and it is not about whether or not to adopt the euro but about when to do that," Jansa said adding that it would be pragmatic for Slovenia that the euro could become the sole legal tender in Croatia as soon as possible.

He explained that in such case Slovenians vacationing in that eastern neighbour would no longer need to exchange the euro for the kuna.

Considering Croatia's admission to the Schengen zone, Jansa explained that it was in Slovenia's interest that Croatia could meet the technical conditions for that area membership as soon as possible, hence it would mean that the Schengen external borderline was shifted from Slovenia to Croatia's eastern borders, and consequently, this would made it easier for the Slovenian border police to tackle the issue of irregular migrants.

Both Slovenia and Croatia face similar problems regarding COVID-19 infection sources

Asked whether Plenkovic had reassured him that due to the spread of the coronavirus infection, Croatia would impose more restrictions on passengers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, Jansa answered that Slovenia and Croatia faced similar problems regarding sources of COVID-19 infection and that there were now more local transmissions in both countries.

A majority of new infections have recently been imported into Croatia and Slovenia from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. In recent days Croatia has imposed some stricter measures for entries from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, even for those who are only in transit through Croatia, the Slovenian PM said.

Jansa added that he and Plenkovic had discussed the possibility of introducing a common mobile application for monitoring contacts of the infected persons and persons who self-isolate as a means to reduce the number of new infections.

Jansa said that both of them expressed regret that at the start of the epidemic, no agreement had been reached on a joint EU mobile application solution. The Slovenian premier holds that such joint EU mobile applications in combating COVID-19 would be useful.

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