Thursday, 20 January 2022

Western Balkans Important to Macron in Security Context

ZAGREB, 20 Jan 2022 - French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday the EU should give a clear European perspective to the Western Balkans although he is not an advocate of enlargement without reforming the EU, while several Croatian MEPs feel that part of Europe is important to him for security reasons.

We must not distance ourselves from the Western Balkans anymore. They should get from us a clear perspective of EU accession within a reasonable time, Macron said at a plenary in Strasbourg, but added that enlargement is not possible without reforming the EU.

Croatian MEP Tonino Picula (S&D/SDP) told Hina "Macron is looking for his place in that security architecture of the world, notably Europe. Macron is interested in all that is in some way dubious from the aspect of Europe's security."

Macron is "aware that if Europe doesn't fill some gaps, someone else will," the president of the EP Working Group on the Western Balkans added.

Croatian MEP Željana Zovko (EPP/HDZ) told Hina the issue of enlargement to the Western Balkans "is first and foremost a security challenge if that region is left to third countries looking for their own strategic position and interest."

Enlargement "won't happen at any cost" and without all the requirements being met, the co-rapporteur on the pre-accession assistance to Southeast Europe instrument added.

Zovko said Macron's statement should be viewed in the context of the French presidential election due in April given that a majority of the French are not in favor of enlargement occurring soon. "The fact that he underlined that Europe needs to reform for enlargement to continue (indicates that) that process won't take place any time soon."

Picula, too, said Macron's address "was first and foremost a pre-election address because he was speaking in Strasbourg and to French citizens."

Croatian MEP Tomislav Sokol (HDZ/EPP) told Hina "pro-European groups should be given an incentive to continue to fight for the European path so that those countries reach the European standards of human rights protection, rule of law." He added, however, that some Western Balkan countries are still far from that.

"There is practically no opposition in Serbia, where all media or all-important media are controlled by the authorities. The story about a Serbian world, which is an attempt to spread Serb influence in neighboring states... Montenegro's ruling coalition consists of political groups that range from pro-European to fiercely anti-European. In Bosnia and Herzegovina we have one people looking to the West, instead of Turkey and Russia, without a hidden agenda, the Croats," he said.

Last November, Macron supported Croatia's accession to Schengen, and reforming the area is one of the priorities of the current French Council of the EU presidency. Croatian MEPs don't believe that will change if France gets a new president.

Sokol said he was confident that if Valerie Pecresse, the center-right presidential candidate, won the election, the support to Croatia's Schengen entry would be even stronger.

During the plenary debate, independent Croatian MEP Mislav Kolakušić told Macron, "Given the rescinding of numerous rights and freedoms in France during the pandemic, I ask you just one thing, while you preside over the Union, do the exact opposite of what you did in France."

"On the other hand, today you said you were proud that there is no death penalty in Europe. Tens of thousands of citizens have died as a consequence of vaccination. Mandatory vaccination represents the death penalty," he said, adding that vaccination against COVID "must remain" a personal choice.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Thursday, 16 December 2021

MEPs Call for Reforms, Opening Archives in Fight With Organized Crime in W. Balkans

ZAGREB, 16 Dec 2021 - Organised crime is a structural problem in Western Balkan countries but it also affects EU countries, which is why members of the European Parliament are agreed that it is necessary to encourage reforms and open former Yugoslav archives.

Michael Gahler, deputy rapporteur of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, said in a debate on a committee report on Tuesday that the document calls on Western Balkan governments to step up efforts to implement the necessary reforms, noting that ties between organized crime, politics, and business had existed before the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and continue to exist.

Therefore in the report, we call for opening former Yugoslav archives, notably, those of the former Yugoslav secret service (UDBA) and the military intelligence agency (KOS), said Gahler.

Croatian MEP Željana Zovko (EPP/HDZ) agreed with Gahler's request, noting that "this could help shed light on many deep-rooted criminal organizations that have been operating under the radar for decades."

Andreas Schieder (S&D) stressed that crime was a result of social conditions, poor state, and bad structures. The EU can have an influence on reducing organized crime in the Western Balkans through the process of integration, he said.

The accession process itself is the necessary support for reforms required to fight organized crime in the Balkans. There is no excuse for delaying the accession of North Macedonia and Montenegro which have been in the EU's waiting room for decades even though they courageously implement reforms, he said.

Nicolae Ştefănuță (Renew Europe) underlined the geopolitical importance of the Balkans, noting that it was necessary to fight organized crime there and unblock the process of Western Balkan countries' integration in order to prevent influence from third countries.

Viola Von Cramon-Taubadel (The Greens/European Free Alliance) underlined the importance of supporting independent organizations and reporters in W. Balkan countries.

Croatian MEP Tonino Picula (S&D) stressed the importance of the European Parliament sending "strong messages of support to civil society organizations, investigative reporters and all hard-working and brave people who take risks to make their countries better."

MEP Sunčana Glavak (EPP/HDZ) said organized crime was also a matter of security.

"Organised crime is dangerous for the democratic progress of Western Balkan countries and it is a first-class security issue," she warned, noting that the EU estimates that revenue from criminal activities in the main markets in 2019 accounted for 1% of the EU's GDP or €139 billion.

Croatian MEP Karlo Ressler (EPP/HDZ) called for better security and intelligence cooperation and for "taking more account of the countries' results in that regard in the context of enlargement policy priorities."

French MEP Thierry Mariani (Identity and Democracy) said he disagreed with the report. "The report is not about the fight against corruption but about the promotion of an ideological agenda," he said, noting that the report failed to mention the Balkan migration route.

Croatian MEP Ladislav Ilčić (Conservatives/Reformists), too, said illegal migrations "are fuel for organized crime", adding that uncontrolled migration was largely "due to irresponsible statements by European politicians welcoming illegal migrants."

Croatian MEP Mislav Kolakušić, too, criticized European leaders for welcoming refugees, adding that that had helped create migration routes that were still active, affecting primarily Western Balkan citizens as well as all EU citizens who do not want illegal migrations.

The report was supported with 531 votes for, 48 against, and 117 abstentions.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Monday, 17 May 2021

Brdo-Brijuni Summit on Western Balkans starts

May 17, 2021 -  An initiative of the heads of state of Western Balkan countries as part of the Brdo-Brijuni summit started in Brdo Pri Kranju, Slovenia, on Monday morning intending to bring countries in Southeast Europe closer to their integration into the European Union.

In addition to the presidents of Croatia and Slovenia, Zoran Milanović and Borut Pahor respectively, Albanian President Ilir Meta, Montenegro's Milo Đukanović, North Macedonia's Stevo Pendarovski, Serbia's President Aleksandar Vučić, Kosovo's Vjosa Osmani, and the three members of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency - Milorad Dodik, Šefik Džaferović, and Željko Komšić - are attending the meeting.

The Brdo-Brijuni initiative was launched in 2010 by Slovenia and Croatia to strengthen regional trust and cooperation and encourage the EU membership aspirants to continue the necessary reforms to join the European Union.

Ahead of the plenary session, President Zoran Milanović met for bilateral talks with Kosovo President Osmani and North Macedonia's President Pendarovski.

Milanović and Pahor met on Sunday, saying that they expected today's summit to make a big step toward bringing the region closer to the EU.

Slovenia will chair the Council of the EU in the second half of this year when it intends to boost the region's faster integration as one of its presidency priorities, with Pahor saying that this was just as important for the EU as a whole for geopolitical reasons.

Slovenia is advocating a faster EU accession of Western Balkan countries "in a package," despite them being in different positions regarding the phase of their accession process.

One of the important achievements of the Brdo-Brijuni initiative so far is communication between leaders, considering that ten years ago, it had not existed.

"We are here to help our neighbors in the Western Balkans join the EU as soon and as simply as possible," Milanović said on Sunday after meeting with Pahor.

In addition to the plenary session, the presidents are expected to conduct bilateral meetings and issue a joint statement expressing their strong commitment to the EU enlargement process towards the southeast neighbors.

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

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Grlić Radman, Čović Say Western Balkans Declaration Historically Important

ZAGREB, May 9, 2020 - Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman and the president of the House of Peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina's Parliamentary Assembly, Dragan Čović, said at a video conference on Friday that the declaration adopted at an EU-Western Balkans summit was of historic importance.

At the summit, which was held as a video conference on Wednesday, the EU sent a strong message about unquestionable EU membership prospects of Western Balkan countries.

European Commission President Usrula von der Leyen said at the event that the Western Balkans was an absolute priority for the EU.

Grlić Radman also commented on a video conference of the United Nations held earlier this week and focusing on the 57th report of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina on the implementation of the peace agreement for the country, at which Croatia called for amendment of the country's election law, stressed its support for Bosnia and Herzegovina's EU journey and underlined the importance of the legitimate representation of local Croats in the country's institutions.

Grlić Radman and Čović also discussed measures and activities undertaken to fight the coronavirus pandemic, with emphasis on aid Croatia sent for Bosnia and Herzegovina last week, the ministry said.

More news about relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

EU Sends Strong Message to Western Balkan Countries from Zagreb Summit

ZAGREB, May 7, 2020 - The European Union sent from the Zagreb Summit on Wednesday a strong message to Western Balkan countries that they have an unequivocal European perspective and that their future is in the EU.

Leaders of the EU's 27 member states and six Western Balkan countries held a summit via video link because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Although the meeting, unfortunately, was not held as would have liked, by physically coming together in Zagreb, in terms of content we have achieved results in line with our expectations and those of our south-eastern neighbours," Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković one of the co-organisers of the summit, said at a press conference.

"I'm sure the peoples and states in our neighbourhood will appreciate the message that was sent today from Zagreb and all other capitals of the EU member states," he added.

"The European Union wants to continue to support the countries of Southeast Europe on their path to the EU. We wanted to send a message for the continuation of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. Croatia especially underlined that Bosnia and Herzegovina as its nearest neighbour deserves membership candidate status and that it should be helped in that. In that context, we underlined the issue of the equality of the constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina, notably the status of the Croatian people in terms of legitimate representation in the highest BiH institutions," Plenković said.

He pushed for holding such EU-Western Balkans summits every two years at least.

He said he was pleased the blockade of a decision to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania was lifted during Croatia's EU presidency.

Asked if some countries in the region should be more grateful to the EU and kiss the European flag instead of China's, as Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić did, Plenković said it was not up to him to talk on anyone's behalf but that all six Western Balkan countries had clearly articulated their European orientation.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the Western Balkans was an absolute priority for the EU and that this region belonged to the EU.

She underlined the importance of reforms, notably regarding freedom of the press, which she said was the cornerstone of the EU and the best instrument in the fight against disinformation.

European Council President Charles Michel underlined the importance of the Zagreb Declaration which once again reaffirmed the European perspective of Western Balkan countries.

He welcomed the €3.3 billion aid package which the EU set aside for them to deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

More news about Croatia and the EU can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Zagreb Summit to Confirm European Perspective of Western Balkan Countries

ZAGREB, May 5, 2020 - The European perspective, the commitment of the Western Balkan countries to the European Union and cooperation in the coronavirus crisis are the key elements of a declaration that will be adopted at the central event of the Croatian EU presidency in Zagreb on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Tuesday.

On the initiative of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the summit of the 27 EU member states and the six Western Balkan countries, scheduled for May 6, will be held online in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Cooperation in dealing with the pandemic, giving the Western Balkan countries the European perspective and these countries' commitment to European values" are the key elements of the Zagreb Declaration, Grlić Radman told the press outside the government offices.

He recalled that North Macedonia and Albania had been given the green light on their path to EU membership which he said was "a great Croatian success".

Zagreb will again host a summit on the European perspective of Southeast Europe, just as it did 20 years ago when Croatia was not yet a member of the EU. The next summit was held in Thessaloniki in 2003 and the last one took place two years ago in Sofia.

The Croatian EU Presidency has proposed that summits on European integration be held every two years, Grlić Radman said.

"Not all EU members are equally interested in enlargement. There is still talk of what the future will bring with new members, but Croatia has shown the initiative in this regard," he said.

More news about Croatia and the Western Balkans can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Croatia Sending Coronavirus Aid to Western Balkan Countries

ZAGREB, May 2, 2020 - Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Saturday that Croatia would send protective gear to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Montenegro and that shipments were worth HRK 1.2 million (€158,000).

Zagreb will send shipments of protective masks, tents, blankets, sleeping bags and so on.

"In this way we strengthen our friendship and cooperation," Minister Grlić Radman said.

He added that Croatia had tackled the coronavirus epidemic in the most organised manner in comparison to other European countries.

More coronavirus news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Zagreb Summit Most Likely to Be Held Via Video Link

ZAGREB, April 9, 2020 - A summit of EU member states and Western Balkan countries scheduled for May 6-7 in Zagreb will most likely be held via video link at an appropriate time, Croatian government spokesman Marko Milić told Hina on Wednesday.

He said the summit would not take place on those days because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković as the chairman of the Council of the EU, European Council President Charles Michel and other partners are consulting about the possibility of holding a video conference at the most suitable time, Milić said.

The summit was planned as the main event of Croatia's presidency of the Council of the EU, which ends on June 30.

The Croatian presidency said earlier it had decided to postpone until May 15 at the earliest all informal meetings and conferences which were to have taken place in Croatia in order to curb the spread of the pandemic and alleviate its effects.

More news about Croatia and the EU can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 3 April 2020

EU Generously Helping Western Balkans Regarding Pandemic

ZAGREB, April 3, 2020 - The COVID-19 pandemic is a global issue hence it is especially important to help the Western Balkans as a European region, Croatia's Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said after a video conference of EU foreign ministers, stressing that the EU has been generous in that regard.

The meeting, which was presided by the EU's High Representative Josep Borrell, discussed aid for third countries in curbing the pandemic which has killed 53,693 people in the world while 1,035,380 are infected with the virus in 188 countries.

"The pandemic is a global issue and we need to help third countries and the Western Balkans urgently need EU assistance. The Union has been generous because that area is a European area and it deserves our attention," Grlić Radman said after the meeting.

According to Grlić Radman the meeting discussed the situation in northern Africa, Latin America and Asia.

"They all need the EU's help and the European Commission is preparing a comprehensive aid package which will be discussed at the next Foreign Affairs Council" he said.

Italy, which is the most affected country in Europe with the coronavirus pandemic and a death toll of 13,915 and 115,242 COVID-19 cases, three weeks ago accused the European Union of "lacking solidarity," and particularly after Germany and France banned the sale of protective equipment.

Italy's Ambassador to the EU Maurizio Massari said early March that he expected Brussels to stop "consulting" and to launch "emergency measures that are immediate, concrete and effective."

The head of the European People's Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber also criticised Germany saying that it was crazy that China had shown solidarity with Italy and not Germany.

On Thursday the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen apologised to Italy for lack of solidarity from Europe in tackling the coronavirus crisis.

As far as the Western Balkans region is concerned, a package of aid worth €38 million is being prepared for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia, to address the pandemic. The aid will be made available immediately so these countries can procure medical equipment and other requirements for their health systems.

An additional €373 million is being prepared for short and medium term aid for the period after the health crisis to help those six countries to deal with the social-economic consequences.

More coronavirus news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Plenković Calls for Investments in Western Balkans

ZAGREB, February 24, 2020 - Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, who on Monday attended the EBRD's Western Balkans Investment Summit 2020 in London, called on potential investors to invest in that part of Europe.

Croatia will do all it can to help its southeast neighbours and the investment community needs to utilise this opportunity to the benefit of those countries and for the benefit of the entire European Union, said Plenković at the event organised by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The summit meeting was opened by EBRD President Suma Chakrabarti and Prime Minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenkoviž, in his current position as holder of the European Union presidency.

This is the fourth EBRD summit of its kind; the inaugural Western Balkans Summit took place at the EBRD in February 2014 and, for the first time, brought together all the region’s six prime minister: Duško Marković of Montenegro, Edi Rama of Albania, Oliver Spasovski of North Macedonia, Zoran Tegeltija of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albin Kurti of Kosovo and Ana Brnabić of Serbia.

We are a country that is the most familiar with that region and which is offering support to those countries so that their path to the European Union can be accelerated. That is one of the key priorities, Plenković said.

He added that as the presiding country of the EU, Croatia had already achieved success in putting the topic of EU enlargement high on the agenda. That has motivated some other member states to organise high-level meetings ahead of the Zagreb summit in May on the topic of enlargement to the Western Balkans, he added.

As the leading investor in the region we are looking forward to this fourth edition of EBRD's Western Balkan investment summit which is a priority for the EBRD. Our aim is to unlock the potential of that region supporting a greater economic growth and its regional and European integration, Charkrbarti said. He announced that six new projects would be signed for the Western Balkans.

The EBRD has invested to date 13 billion in the Western Balkan countries.

More news about Croatia and Western Balkans can be found in the Politics section.

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