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Croatian PM says there should be fewer obstacles to EU enlargement to Balkans and Ukraine

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Croatian PM says there should be fewer obstacles to EU enlargement to Balkans and Ukraine

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As Ukraine struggles to maintain its national autonomy while fostering European integration, it has found an ally in Croatia, which has faced similar challenges since its independence just three decades ago.

“There are many parallels between Croatia and Ukraine today, from Vukovar to Mariupol for example,” Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said at a press conference. a front page event at the Atlantic Council on February 22, naming two cities that were targets of significant siege and urban warfare.

Despite intense periods of conflict that devastated its economy and citizens, Croatia has proven itself and can now serve as a model for other countries that, like Ukraine, will continue to navigate the delicate process of integration European and national construction.

Plenković highlighted that on January 1, Croatia became the first country to simultaneously join the Eurozone monetary union and the Schengen area without a visa, and is now one of only fifteen members of these two groups plus NATO. “In the space of three decades, from a country that was not even recognized, we managed to enter this hard core,” he said.

Plenković is the longest-serving prime minister in Croatia’s history, with over six years in power, a period marked by the ongoing migrant crisis, the blocking of European Union (EU) enlargement and now the invasion of Ukraine. The latter, he said, should serve as a “lesson” to Western leaders “on recognizing the threats as they are for international law, for international security, for the global system of governance. And also to completely abandon the politics of naivety.”

Read on for more highlights from his remarks and conversation with Paula J. Dobriansky, vice president of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council.

The new member of the club

  • Plenković acknowledged his country’s relatively privileged position within the EU. It is, with Slovenia, the only country from the former Yugoslavia to have been accepted into the EU and joined the Eurozone and the Schengen area more quickly than Bulgaria and Romania, although they joined the EU before Croatia.
  • Plenković stressed that Croatia is “a net beneficiary country” which brings in more EU funds than it contributes. This “allows the government to invest in areas that need to catch up,” he said, such as infrastructure, environmental protection and “improving the standard of living of our population.”
  • But Plenković acknowledged that European integration has been a difficult thing to deal with for some Croats. “People who live in Croatia today knew what it was like not to have our state,” he said. “Some of them are wary of the impact of other actors on our decisions. What I meant was that by joining NATO and the EU we have only become stronger. Some like it, others less.”

A model for the rest

  • Plenković sees Croatia’s rapid integration as a model for other countries wishing to join the club. “No one knows the latest membership process better than us.”
  • Plenković confirmed that Croatia supports Ukraine’s efforts to join the EU: “There is strong political pressure coming, especially from Poland and the Baltics, to move forward with Ukraine. »
  • As for Serbia’s EU candidacy, Plenković was a little more cautious in his comments. “As far as Serbia is concerned, our relations have been weakened by the events of thirty years ago,” he said. “Now, after our session, I will even go and visit an area near Vukovar where we are still looking for the remains of missing people who died thirty years ago, so there are many sensitivities. But we are determined to normalize our relations. Plenković continued to meet with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, notably in Davos, and the country’s foreign ministers also met several times.
  • Plenković strongly believed that the current candidate countries would benefit from EU membership. “EU membership is the only attraction, the only real source of transformative power and political will for change in many political regimes that are not yet part of the EU. »

A shared history of conflict

  • Plenković is a strong supporter of ongoing efforts to strengthen Ukraine’s defense and economy. “My government has been prompt and clear in condemning Russian aggression and extending solidarity to Ukraine in every possible way,” he said. Plenković summed up his vision for aid to Ukraine in one word: sustainability. “Sustainability of Ukrainians to resist, sustainability of Western aid to Ukraine and sustainability of Western governments to rise to the challenges we face, namely energy prices, inflation, food and maintaining social cohesion in our countries. .”
  • Plenković also highlighted Croatia’s role in hosting Ukrainian refugees. “We welcome around twenty-two thousand Ukrainian refugees and they are well integrated. Children go to our schools. Due to the proximity of Slavic languages, it is even easier in a Slavic country than elsewhere. »
  • Plenković also saw glimmers of hope in the situation, particularly in the way Russian aggression spurred increased European unity. “The unity of the EU is truly unprecedented. This unity is unique in international affairs over the past three decades. I don’t remember any similar scenario in which international support would have been so strong.”

Nick Fouriezos is a writer with over a decade of journalism experience across the world.

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Further reading

Image: Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic appears at the European Parliament for a debate, before Parliament delivers its opinion next month on Croatia’s proposal to adopt the euro from January 1, 2023, in Brussels, Belgium , June 22, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Géron

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