Croatia supports Serbia's EU membership bid, but the continuation of its accession negotiations depends on Serbia's readiness to respect the rule of law, Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Miro Kovac said in an interview with the French newspaper La Croix published on Thursday.

Kovac also said it was not true that some groups in Croatia, including the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party, had a negative opinion of the European Union, stressing that the Croats are "Euro-realists" and reject any extremism, both right-wing and left-wing extremism, as is written in the preamble to the Croatian constitution.

When asked why Croatia was blocking Serbia's EU accession negotiations, the Croatian minister said that was a wrong impression.

"That is a wrong impression. Croatia is one of the countries that supported the formal opening of negotiations between Serbia and the European Union in January 2014, as well as the start of negotiations on the first two policy chapters in December 2015. We clearly support Serbia's efforts to get closer to the European Union. That is in Croatia's interest," Kovac said.

"Negotiations on two key chapters, which relate to fundamental rights and the judiciary and which are at the very heart of the European identity, can still be opened in June. Progress in that area primarily depends on Serbia's willingness to respect the principles of the rule of law," he added.

Serbia is hoping to open negotiations in Chapter 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and Chapter 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security) in June, but Croatia has not yet given its consent. Croatia demands that full cooperation with the Hague war crimes tribunal, annulment of the law that grants Serbia the authority to prosecute war crimes throughout the former Yugoslavia, and rights for the Croatian minority in Serbia be included as benchmarks for opening Chapter 23.

Negotiations with the European Commission and EU member states on this matter are still going on.

Kovac denied that some groups in Croatia, including the HDZ, had a negative opinion of the European Union, comparing directives from Brussels to new communism.

"That again is a wrong impression. Croats are more pro-European than citizens of many of the EU founding states," Kovac said, citing the recent rejection of an association agreement between Ukraine and the EU at a referendum in the Netherlands and the rejection of the first EU constitution at a referendum in France in 2005.

"A recent opinion poll has shown that 60 percent of Croats support enlargement," Kovac said, adding that in his opinion the Croats are not "Euro-enthusiasts" but "Euro-realists".

"Croatia's independence is inseparable from the European idea," he said, recalling that the European Community member states recognised Croatia as an independent state in 1992. "As early as 1990 our first democratically elected president, Franjo Tudjman, speaking in the Croatian parliament, called for Europeanisation of our country," he added.

He went on to say that Croatia was among the few countries in the world which in the preamble to its 1990 constitution rejected totalitarian systems and values, both fascist and communist. "We condemn both right-wing and left-wing extremism."

Asked if Croatia wanted to get closer to the Visegrad Group countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) because it was ideologically close to them, Kovac said that Croatia wanted to have friendly relations with all its neighbours.

"Croatia wants to have friendly relations with all its immediate neighbours: Slovenia, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Italy. We want to cooperate closely with countries in central and eastern Europe and intensively with our neighbours in southeastern Europe," the Croatian minister said.

In that context Kovac said that Croatia was proud of its role in the refugee crisis because it did not close its borders but provided temporary shelter to 1,600 refugees. Croatia closely cooperated with Austria and Slovenia, as well as with Serbia and Macedonia, and thus helped considerably reduce the number of refugees and migrants coming to Europe, he added.

"We helped the European Union reach a common position on the migrant crisis. The Bavarian premier recently thanked us for that," Kovac said.

Speaking of the Schengen passport-free area, Kovac said that all should be done to preserve it and make it more effective. "Croatia hopes to join it in 2018. We are working on it," he said.

"To the average Croat or Frenchman, Europe today, what is tangible, is free movement of people and goods and the common currency. All should be done to preserve the Schengen regime and the euro," Kovac said.

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.