Friday, 23 April 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, 15 March 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 12 March 2021

Croatia Successfully Completes Schengen Evaluation Procedure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Croatia evaluated as no other EU member state

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

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

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

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

Stronger cooperation with third countries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 5 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

A political, not a professional decision...

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

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

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

The new Rafales are too expensive

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Make sure to follow our dedicated politics page for much more.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Croatia Given Initial Green Light for Schengen Membership – Newspaper

ZAGREB, July 27, 2019 - Croatia has received as yet unofficial information from the European Commission that it has met all technical requirements for accession to the Schengen area, Večernji List newspaper said on Saturday, citing diplomatic sources.

Zagreb has received signals from the European Commission that the evaluation of the last of the eight chapters of the Schengen acquis will pass well, the newspaper said.

An official confirmation of Croatia's readiness is expected most likely in the second half of September, after the Commission's summer recess. In order for Croatia to actually join the passport-free travel area, the decision needs to be approved by the Council of the EU, that is all the member states.

Membership of the Schengen area is one of Croatia's foreign policy priorities. Prime Minister Plenković has set his government a target for Croatia to join the area by 2020, when the country assumes the rotating six-month presidency of the EU.

Večernji List noted that the path to Schengen membership may not be easy despite the green light from the Commission, as shown by the cases of Romania and Bulgaria which have met the criteria but are still kept out for political reasons. Croatia could face obstacles from Slovenia, which has hinted on several occasions that it may make its consent conditional on Croatia's acceptance and implementation of the border arbitration ruling.

The newspaper said that Schengen would also be one of the topics discussed by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and the new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during her visit to Zagreb on Tuesday.

More Schengen news can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Picula: Stronger European Union Support for Control of Croatian Borders

Strasbourg, 18 April 2019 - Croatian MEP Tonino Picula supported the report on the proposal of the regulation on the European [Union] border and coast guard during the last plenary session in Strasbourg.

"I'm glad that we'll have stronger support from the European Union in the control of our borders and European [Union] borders,'' he concluded during yesterday's debate on the report on the proposal of the European Parliament.

Croatia's MEP Picula was the initiator of the successful extension of the European Coastal and Border Guard for the Schengen area along the external borders of the European Union, including the Republic of Croatia, and he stressed how the new agency will help to better protect the borders in order to preserve free movement inside the European Union.

Thus, today the Croatian foreign border is protected a part of Schengen, and the Republic of Croatia has the funds of the European border and coast guard available to it, which greatly eases the job of border officials.

The European Border and Coast Guard consists of the border police and coastal police of member states and the agency for the European border and coastguard, more specifically Frontex, and was established in the autumn of 2016. 

"Since I come from Croatia, the country with the longest foreign land border in the EU, I especially support the work of the agency along the external borders of the Union, not just the Schengen area, from which we are still closed off with barbed wire,'' he pointed out.

Only four months after Croatia's accession to the Schengen Information System, it was done 75 million controls and identified over 4000 offenses. This proves the importance of Croatia as a partner in securing the external borders of the European Union and justifies its quicker connection Schengen area.

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