Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovac pushed in Berlin on Monday for a better securing of the EU's external borders and more solidarity between small and big member states.
"If we wish to preserve the Schengen Area, which is one of the most important factors of the European Union, we must be capable of jointly preserving the EU's external borders. That's very important," Kovac said in a discussion at a conference on asylum and migrations in the EU.
Kovac pointed to the need of better cooperation between secret services and supported European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Elmar Brok's advocacy of a common European security policy.
"Last year, after the (terrorist) attack on (French magazine) 'Charlie Hebdo', when (Italian Prime Minister) Matteo Renzi pointed to the need of better cooperation between secret services, he was ridiculed. Now, after the attacks in Paris and Brussels, we realise how right Renzi was," Kovac said.
He said that agreements similar to the one on refugee returns reached with Turkey, should be expanded to North Africa countries.
Asked by a member of the audience how Croatia would handle refugee reception based on the EU distribution key, Kovac said Croatia would comply with its commitments "and receive those 476 refugees from Turkey, but the biggest challenge will be keeping those people in Croatia, because they will want to continue on to Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands."
He said that because of demographic trends, Croatia could become interesting to immigrants in the future. "Last year, 50,000 (Croatian) citizens left for Germany... When it comes to migration, we must also consider that we too will need experts and the workforce."
Brok said the refugees to be distributed among the EU states should be prevented from migrating to other countries. As long as the social advantages between EU countries differ, it will be difficult to prevent migration to wealthier countries unless something is done about it, he said.
Kovac defended the closing of the Balkan migrant route as inevitable, commending the coordination of the neighbouring countries and criticising those who had no understanding for the route closure. He said criticising "the bad Austrians, Slovenians and Croats for closing their borders" was "nonsense."
He dismissed criticism that the closing of the Balkan route should have been agreed. "The decision on receiving refugees in large numbers, should have been agreed too, no matter how noble it was. Because it had consequences for other European Union member states too," he said, commending Serbia and Macedonia, which he said were not in the EU but cooperated in border protection.
Kovac criticised the "ignoring of the Dublin agreement", which stipulates that refugees should stay in the EU countries in which they first stepped on EU soil, alluding to Greece.
An employee of the Greek Embassy in Berlin said that by closing the border and blocking the Balkan route, Croatia did not show solidarity with Greece.
"We weren't happy that we had to take such measures. But I'll say only one thing. In the 90s, as a consequences of the wars on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, Croatia was faced with 500,000 refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina and we didn't complain. I understand Greece, but we had to take that step," Kovac replied.
At the end of the discussion, he said, "I'm worried about the EU's future, which is why it's important that politicians open to citizens' fears. If we don't, populists will take the wheel and destroy the EU. Too much has been invested in the EU after World War II to allow the dream of a joint EU family to fall apart. We must leave room for populists and extremists."
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