New Europe spoke in exclusive with the Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman about immigration, the “After Merkel “ and Croatia’s approach in the Balkans.
New Europe (NE): How do you see the challenges on immigration after the Brussels EU summit?
Gordan Grlic Radman (GGR): Croatia is content with the latest European Council’s conclusions related to migration. As stated many times previously, we advocate the comprehensive migration policy, with strong emphasis on addressing the root causes of migration. In order to make migration management better, we need to prevent illegal border crossings and combat migrant smuggling networks. Our geographic position directs us to strengthen partnerships with Bosnia and Herzegovina and the other Western Balkan countries, which for us is of the utmost importance. Managing the Western Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean migration routes, which remain very active, is our primary concern and cause for constant vigilance. The countries of the region should take more responsibility and have full ownership of migration management while ensuring the effective returns and implementation of readmission agreements and arrangements.
NE: From your observation point, what do you think about the current political and human rights situation in Afghanistan? Which approach should the EU take in front of the Talibans? Should the EU take a dialogue strategy or a stronger stance?
GGR: We are deeply worried about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. The delivery of humanitarian aid is crucial, but it needs to be distributed in a fair and equitable way, reaching those who are most in need. Finding ways to ensure this is our collective priority. Together with my EU colleagues, we have adopted conclusions on Afghanistan which include the guiding principles for our joint engagement towards the Taliban.
These principles put a strong emphasis on the respect of Afghan people’s rights, especially those of women and children. The situation of this group is particularly close to our hearts. We also strongly support close cooperation with countries in the neighborhood of Afghanistan, including on regional security, the fight against terrorism and the management of migration. These countries face the spillovers of the crisis in Afghanistan and need our support. Together with the international community, we are requesting strong guarantees that Afghanistan will not become a safe haven for terrorists. These elements will continue to guide our future steps in the context of the crisis.
NE: After the departure of Angela Merkel and the new driving role of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, how do you see the relations among the EU countries? Do you see challenges?
GGR: Without a doubt, Chancellor Angela Merkel has been one of the most prominent European politicians in the last two decades and her departure will be felt, but the next government in Germany is aware of the challenges that lie ahead for the European Union, and I do not expect great changes in their policy towards Europe. The outbreak of the pandemic, and the response to it, proved the increasing necessity for strong cooperation between the members of the EU. It also reminded us that strong EU’s capabilities are crucial to protect the well-being of our citizens. Now, we need to learn from this experience, to be able to tackle the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic, and limit its negative impact on the EU as a whole.
NE: How do you see Croatia’s diplomatic actions in the Balkans playing out in the nearest future ?
GGR: Having good and stable relations with the countries of South-East Europe is one of Croatia’s foreign policy priorities because stability and economic prosperity are in line with European values and standards. They are in our direct national interest. This is why Croatia is a staunch supporter of the EU enlargement process as well as close ties with NATO in the region.
The security, stability, and prosperity of these countries are not only in Croatia’s interest, but also in the interest of the EU, especially on migration management and security. The current political tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, skirmishes between Kosovo and Serbia, and instability in Montenegro show how a lack of European engagement in these countries can quickly escalate. The EU and the Western Balkans are united by geography and culture, but also by our shared history, Instability can swiftly spill over and be exploited by malign actors. In this regard, let me mention Bosnia, with whom Croatia and the EU share the longest EU external border (around 1000 km) and in which Croats are one of the three constituent people, together with Bosniaks and Serbs. What is needed is progress in negotiating the Electoral Law reform, which currently discriminates against the Croat people and other citizens and violates rulings of the Constitutional Court as well as the European Court of Human Rights. Croatia stands ready to assist Bosnia and Herzegovina on its European path to secure peace, stability and prosperity of its citizens and the whole region.
To sum up, Croatia’s efforts in our southeastern neighborhood focuses on the promotion of European values and reminds the EU of the strategic importance of the integration of the six Western Balkans countries for security, stability, and prosperity of the whole EU.