miro kovač.jpg
Photograph: HINA / MVEP / mm

Croatia is not blocking Serbia's European Union accession negotiations but is asking that all criteria be met, notably the repeal of Serbia's law on universal jurisdiction for war crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovac said in Bratislava on Friday.

"Croatia supported the opening of the negotiations with Serbia, but moving on in the negotiations means meeting the criteria, basically the rule of law," he said at a talk at Komensky University.

Kovac said Serbia was an EU candidate since 2012, that the first accession conference was held in January 2014 and the first negotiation chapter opened nearly two years later because Germany and Great Britain insisted on Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. "Nobody talked about a blockade then," he said.

The main problem is the law which enables Serbian courts to try war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, regardless of a perpetrator's or victim's citizenship. "That's totally crazy" because the war plans originated in Serbia, Kovac said, adding that the law must be changed and that it was harmful for good neighbourly relations and Europe's stability. That's as if Germany had tried the war crimes committed in World War II, he said.

Recently Croatia did not greenlight the opening of the chapter on the judiciary and fundamental rights in the EU-Serbia negotiations.

Croatia also wants Serbia to fully cooperate with the Hague war crimes tribunal and to apply the law on minority representation in parliament.

"We continue to support enlargement and want our neighbours in the EU," Kovac said, adding that the EU was the best thing that happened in the wider region. However, one should bear in mind that some matters can be solved more efficiently at the national level and some at the EU level, he said, pushing for strengthening the role of national parliaments.

Kovac also spoke of the migration crisis. By cooperating intensively, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria successfully closed the Balkan route. Harsh words were exchanged with Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia, but the atmosphere has been different in the past three months.

Now we need a common European long term strategy for migrants which will be effective, Kovac said, adding that "the idea is for the EU to act on the spot, providing humanitarian aid."

Speaking of the UK June 23 referendum on whether it should stay or exit the EU, Kovac said he had been confident for a long time that the US would try to convince British citizens of the need to stay in the EU. "I believe in a strong 'yes' at the referendum. I don't want to think about any other scenario" which, he said, would be very bad for the balance of power in Europe.

Kovac went on to say that Croatia-Slovakia relations had been good throughout history and that Slovakia was the first to ratify Croatia's EU Accession Treaty. He said Croatia was part of both central and southeast Europe and that it wanted strong cooperation with the countries in both regions.

He announced that he would visit Serbia, the Czech Republic and Poland, and recalled that he visited Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Montenegro, Italy, Slovenia, Austria and now Slovakia. Later today he will meet with Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak and representatives of the Croat minority.

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