BELGIUM EU COMMISSION.jpg
European Commission President Jean- Claude Juncker (R) shakes hands with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic prior to a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, 13 October 2016.
Photograph: EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Thursday for talks on the situation in Croatia and expectations from the new government.

Speaking to the press after the meeting, Grabar-Kitarovic said that they had also discussed the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and relations with neighbouring countries.

"I expressed concern about the latest developments and trends in that country and asked Mr Juncker and the Commission in general to focus more on Bosnia and Herzegovina and to help the country not only in the reform process on its path to EU membership but also in arranging the country in such a way as to ensure that all its three peoples, and we of course are primarily interested in the status of Croats, enjoy equal status throughout the country," she said.

As for a recent referendum in Republika Srpska, the Serb entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Grabar-Kitarovic said that the Commission's position was that the referendum was illegal and contrary to the Dayton peace accords.

She said she expected the new Croatian government to devote more attention to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"That is not only our constitutional obligation towards the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but our national interest as well. We share a 1,001 kilometre long border with Bosnia and Herzegovina and that country's stability affects the stability and perception of Croatia. We have not sufficiently taken advantage of the fact that we are a member of the EU and NATO, that our position is different now, that we are not a candidate that has to explain its internal processes, but that as a member of the EU, here in Brussels we can strongly argue for addressing issues within Bosnia and Herzegovina," the Croatian president said.

Grabar-Kitarovic said that she and Juncker had also discussed the need to change the Dayton agreement. "My personal opinion is that the Dayton agreement has already been changed by many amendments to the Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitution. It is now necessary to focus on what has happened in the meantime to see to what extent these amendments have contributed to the erosion of the constitutional equality of the three peoples in the country, because Bosnia and Herzegovina is a specific state. It is not just that its citizens are equal, but the three constituent peoples as well, or at least they should be," she said, adding that talks to that effect would be launched with the United States.

"So far I have discussed this with US and many European officials. Regardless of how these processes go, the present European initiative cannot focus only on economic and social processes, but it should also be a political one. Since Bosnia and Herzegovina is a sui generis case, certain criteria should be set for the country to meet in order to become fully functioning, to move towards EU and NATO membership and to arrange political relations at the state level. Institution building is extremely important and it's what the European initiative lacks," the president said. 

Grabar-Kitarovic said she explained to Juncker that Croatia had not blocked EU membership negotiations with Serbia. "I felt the need to explain to Mr Juncker in greater detail what that was about because there was an impression that Croatia was blocking Serbia over bilateral issues. I said that we actually haven't addressed our bilateral issues at all. We expressed a desire to resolve them, and I also spoke of my contacts and agreement with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, the joint declaration and the specific steps he personally has taken in Serbia with a view to resolving the status of the Croatian minority."

Grabar-Kitarovic said she told Juncker that the issue of missing persons from the 1991-1995 Homeland War should finally be closed, citing other bilateral issues with Serbia, such as the border issue, the regional issue of archives and the issue of universal jurisdiction in war crimes prosecution. She said that the best way to deal with them was through dialogue between Croatia and Serbia.

Asked what she thought of the initiative by war veteran Josip Klemm to arrange a meeting between Croatian and Serbian veterans, Grabar-Kitarovic said that any dialogue was good, but that she was not familiar with details of this initiative. She said that the new Croatian government should continue talks with the Serbian government on all issues. "But direct contacts between people are welcome," she said, adding that the issue of missing persons from the war should be treated as a humanitarian and human issue rather than a political one.

After the meeting with the Commission president, the Croatian president met with European Parliament President Martin Schulz for talks on current topics in the EU, Brexit and European membership prospects for Southeast European countries, Hina learned from a source in the Croatian delegation. Grabar-Kitarovic and Schulz did not speak to the press after their meeting.

Grabar-Kitarovic also met with a delegation of Croatian companies attending the fourth European Parliament of Enterprises, organised by Eurochambres, the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and the Croatian Chamber of Commerce.

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