Saturday, 8 February 2020

Swedish Media Criticise Croatia: Don't Let Them Join Schengen

The Swedish media has launched some scathing attacks on the Croatian Government and the current Croatian EU presidency, referencing the treatment of migrants, multiple failures to align with EU law and the dire demographic picture.

As Index/Slobodan Mufic writes on the 8th of February, 2020, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and several of his ministers have repeatedly called on the Croatian media in recent weeks to pay less attention to disgraceful scandals caused by Croatian politicians and more attention to the presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Although each EU member state at some point or another assumes the six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council according to a pre-determined timetable, the Croatian prime minister presented Croatia's EU presidency as some sort of remarkable success for his HDZ government and his diplomacy, and accordingly hoped for positive public recognition of that. The opposite happened.

For the most part, the Croatian media weren't all that engulfed in writing about Croatia's EU presidency, instead focusing on numerous political scandals. However, at the end of 2019, there was an increased interest in Croatian internal politics among the Swedish public.

A few weeks ago, the Croatian media reported criticism of Swedish MEP Malin Björk, who attacked Plenkovic at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg following his presentation of the EU Council Presidency priorities, over the brutality of Croatian police against migrants and their forced return to neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina without following any of the proper administrative procedures.

"Don't let Croatia enter Schengen"

Björk also set out her arguments and remarks in a column entitled "Do not allow Croatia to enter Schengen", published on December the 31st, 2019, in the Swedish media outlet Svenska Dagbladet, traditionally inclined more to the right of the centre. In her text, Björk calls out Croatia over its poor treatment of migrants at the Bosnian-Herzegovinian border, and gives examples which she, as she says, has witnessed herself.

Her accusations of Croatia's violation of EU regulations and international conventions are also referred to by a journalist for the same Swedish publication in a text titled "A bitter winter in refugee politics" about ten days ago. Writing about the EU member states' disagreement on migration policy, Wiktor Nummelin points out: "Croatia is chest-thumping about taking care of its borders with police activities and not with the use of barbed wire, but instead of praise, it receives criticism because of the strict treatment of the border police."

Although interest in Croatia in the Swedish media has intensified significantly in recent weeks, they began writing in a harsh and critical manner about Croatian politicians back in September, when Dubravka Suica was elected Vice-President of the European Commission for Democracy and Demography.

Then, in a column for the daily Aftonbladet, traditionally close to the Social Democrats, the former Minister of Culture, and today an MEP for the Greens, Alice Bah Kuhnke, wrote the following:

"It's a worrying policy with the Commissioner who has spoken out against safe and legal abortions. Together with Hungary and Poland, Croatia has repeatedly argued that abortions should not be included in the protection of women's sexual and reproductive health as an EU priority.''

She then urged her Swedish counterparts in the European Parliament not to vote for Dubravka Suica (HDZ).

The last arrow aimed at Croatia as chair of the EU Council appeared a few days ago in Svenska Dagbladet, and refers to the problematisation of INA's sponsorship of the Croatian presidency of the EU Council, right at the moment when the EU is preparing the Green Plan, which foresees that the EU will become climate neutral by 2050.

"Croatia certainly expected to go unnoticed in choosing a relatively small national oil company to sponsor it, but this decision at the time of launching the Green agreement is scandalous. First of all, we don't know what the companies are getting in return for their sponsorships. There must be some counter-service," said Vicky Cann of the anti-lobbying Corporate Europe Observatory based in Brussels.

Emily O'Reilly, the European Ombudsman, thinks similarly. She told Svenska Dagbladet that "there is a risk that sponsors will have some influence over EU policy." It should be noted that other members also had sponsors during their presidency of the EU Council, Sweden had Volvo and Telia, Ireland was sponsored by Audi, Romania was sponsored by Coca-Cola and Croatia's predecessor, Finland, was sponsored by BMW.

"Aware of climate challenges, the Republic of Croatia strongly supports the ''Green Transition'' and actively participates in discussions on major initiatives of the European Green Agreement. During the EU2020HR, Croatia will encourage discussions on the transition to a resource efficient, circular and low carbon economy for the sustainable use of resources and the achievement of climate neutrality by 2050,'' reads the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs' response to criticism from the Swedish and other European media outlets.

"One smaller town disappears in Croatia every year"

In the meantime, the Swedish media outlet Svenska Dagbladet has published another text on Croatia, this time about Croatia's demographic losses and emigration. The crux of the text, entitled "One smaller town disappears here every year" is that "Today, Croatia has almost 15 percent fewer inhabitants than it did in 1991".

Also interesting is the quote by Minister of Science and Education Blazenka Divjak, who said that Croatia "still has schools for the industrial society of the 20th century". To this, the author added: "She's dreaming of brain circulation instead of the brain drain."

As we can see, the Swedish media took the Croatian Government's appeal seriously (although it was not addressed to them) and focused on Croatia's EU Council presidency instead of politicians having magically appearing, undeclared houses and attacks on journalists, but it's unlikely that Plenkovic and his government expected heavy criticism and valid complaints from the Northern European nation.

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Sunday, 29 September 2019

No Chance of Croatian Schengen Entry for at Least Two More Years

Croatia is gradually being woken from its Schengen dreams bit by bit, and it isn't only Slovenia's border complaint standing in the way of Croatia's entry...

As Slobodna Dalmacija/Jutarnji list/Kresimir Zabec writes on the 29th of September, 2019, the Republic of Croatia will not be part of the Schengen area for at least another two years, despite the fact the European Commission is likely to confirm that the country has fulfilled the Schengen technical requirements next week, Jutarnji list learned from diplomatic sources.

There are several reasons for this, one of them being that, apart from Croatia's neighbour to the north - Slovenia, which is blocking entry, Croatia's Schengen accession is opposed by the Netherlands, Germany and France, according to available information.

Although until recently, certain high-ranking Croatian officials have been making quite firm statements about Croatia's potential very early entry into Schengen, they are now very vague. Yesterday in Brussels, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković confirmed that "it is politically important for Croatia to receive a positive assessment by the European Commission on its readiness to enter Schengen, which is expected soon, and now it's impossible to predict when it will enter the area without internal border controls,'' according to a report from Jutarnji list.

Political criteria

It is Croatian MEP Karlo Ressler's committee at the level of the European Parliament that deals with the issue of Croatia's entry to Schengen and migration. The entry of EU member states into the Schengen area is decided by Schengen member states themselves. So, it is no longer the professional criteria that matters, but the political criteria. After confirming that Croatia has fulfilled the technical criteria, there is one Council session remaining during the Finnish EU Presidency before the end of the year, and there will certainly be no debate on Croatia.

The Union will then be chaired by Croatia, which must not place the issue of Schengen entry on the agenda of the Council session during those six months during which it will preside.

After Croatia's presidency comes the turn of Germany, which opposes Croatia's entry into Schengen, meaning it will almost certainly not put the issue on its agenda. In early 2021, Portugal will preside over the presidency, and Portugal is unlikely to intefere with the issue. Then comes Slovenia, which assumes EU presidency during the second half of 2021 and will surely pile on the pressure to stop Croatia's Schengen entry unless the still ongoing border issue between the two countries is resolved.

System reform

Karlo Ressler pointed out that after the decision was made that Croatia fulfilled Schengen's technical conditions, it was still a matter of political decision, and there are several things that do not benefit Croatia at all.

Namely, the reform of the Schengen system is underway, and according to the available information, the Netherlands, Germany and France are all of the opinion that a new Schengen system should be agreed first and then new members should be admitted. Knowing the decision-making system within the EU, which is slow and full of red tape, one can expect it to be a very lengthy process that could delay Croatia's accession for a significantly longer period.

Ressler therefore believes that "a potential delay in Croatia's accession would not be good for anyone because the situation with reforms will be long-lasting."

There is also the issue of Bulgaria and Romania, which have both been awaiting the Council's decision to join Schengen for five years now. Ressler notes that "there is certainly an intention for all three states to be bundled together.'' However, unlike Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria are two countries under EU monitoring, and as long as they are, they will not be allowed to enter Schengen.

The Slovenian veto

According to the currently available information, it is actually Germany who is advocating that Croatia cannot enter Schengen without Bulgaria and Romania going with it. In addition, Germany supports the Netherlands' arguments that Croatia cannot enter Schengen until it has resolved border issues with its neighbours, and Croatia has unresolved issues with all its neighbours except Hungary and Italy.

The Netherlands is also not happy with the fact that there are a great number of Croats living in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is not a member state of the EU, they typically have dual citizenship and, after Croatia joins Schengen, they will be able move smoothly and freely around the EU, without control. For them, this is proof that the Croatian border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially the part towards Herzegovina, is too porous.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Plenković cited precisely those valid arguments - the Schengen reforms and the issue of Bulgaria and Romania - as a reason for it being unknown as to when Croatia could become part of Schengen.

"In this context, it's difficult for me or anyone else to be able to give a date, but we'll hold on to and advocate for it in the EU Council based on our concrete achievements and decontextualise it from what could be some political angle being taken by any country," noted Plenković.

Despite it upholding its view, Slovenia is more than aware that it is too weak to veto Croatia's entry itself, so it is trying to push its interests with three much stronger members. However, the Croatian Prime Minister has made sure to warn Slovenia that it cannot block Croatia's Schengen membership indefinitely.

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