miro kovač.jpg
Photograph: HINA/ Daniel KASAP / dk

Croatia and Bulgaria support EU enlargement to include all Western Balkan countries, but these countries must meet the necessary criteria, Croatian and Bulgarian Foreign Ministers Miro Kovac and Daniel Mitov said in Zagreb on Tuesday.

"We agree on the enlargement policy, we support enlargement and we want the 'black hole' on European maps to disappear and we want our southeastern neighbourhood to be integrated with the European Union one day, but of course, criteria must be respected and standards must be met," Kovac said after his talks with Mitov who is on a two-day official visit to Croatia.

Asked if Bulgaria supported Croatia's blocking the opening of Chapter 23 in Serbia's EU entry talks, Mitov said "EU enlargement is very important", adding that his country "will continue to support it".

However, meeting the criteria is also very important and Chapter 23 requires meeting certain criteria. Our Croatian friends have the right to demand that these criteria be met and also to help in every possible way, Mitov said adding that Bulgaria had certain issues that need to be clarified regarding the rights of the Bulgarian minority in Serbia.

We most definitely demand that these issues be resolved during the talks, Mitov said.

Croatian Minister Kovac said there are no countries that are more interested in seeing Serbia make progress towards the EU than Croatia and Bulgaria, as Serbia's neighbours.

"It is in our interest to see Serbia make progress and Chapter 23 on the judiciary and fundamental rights finally open," Kovac said. "This is the most important chapter, I would say, in the entire negotiating process and together we will help Serbia meet the criteria... clearly the set criteria must be met," Kovac said.

The two ministers also underscored good cooperation between Bulgaria and Croatia within the EU and NATO, notably during the refugee crisis. "Our cooperation is good within the European Union and NATO. We agreed to cooperate even closer in the European Union, to coordinate our positions regarding the European common foreign and security policy," Kovac said adding that he also wanted to step up cooperation in Central and Southeast Europe.

Kovac told the press he and his Bulgarian counterpart agreed that the protection of the EU external border was critical. Kovac congratulated Bulgaria for efficiently protecting its borders, which are also the EU external border.

Mitov said it was important to determine the difference between economic migrants and refugees. We must try to return economic migrants to their countries of origin and provide assistance to refugees, he added.

During his stay in Croatia, Mitov is scheduled to hold talks with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, Parliament Speaker Zeljko Reiner and First Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko.

Mitov is also expected to visit the town of Krizevci and unveil a monument to Croatian author and translator Fran S. Gundrum-Oriovcanin who also translated from Bulgarian.

Mitov is expected to give a talk in Zagreb's Europe House.

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