Miro Kovac.jpg
Photograph: EPA/ABIR SULTAN

If Serbia wants to make progress on its path towards European Union membership, it cannot apply its own law on regional jurisdiction in war crimes prosecution to Croatia, according to the EU's common position that was presented by Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Miro Kovac in Zagreb on Tuesday.

Croatia has repeatedly demanded that Serbia repeal its law on regional jurisdiction over war crimes by which Serbia declared jurisdiction for trying war crimes committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia after 1 January 1991 regardless of the nationality of perpetrators and victims.

Speaking at a press conference, Kovac said that the text of the EU's common position on the opening of Chapter 23 in accession talks with Serbia was agreed on Tuesday, adding that one of the transitional benchmarks was the need to avoid conflicts of jurisdiction in war crimes prosecution.

"I am very happy that, when it comes to Chapter 23, we have succeeded in including in the common EU position everything that is important for the rule of law, for us in Croatia, for the EU," Kovac said.

Asked to comment on the statement by Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic that Serbia had no intention of repealing the law on regional jurisdiction in war crimes prosecution, Kovac said: "You will have to ask Mr Vucic what he meant by that. I just gave you an idea of what Serbia would have to do on its EU path, which criteria it would have to meet. In this particular chapter that means avoiding a conflict of legal jurisdiction in prosecuting war crimes."

"The Serbian law concerning the prosecution of war crimes cannot apply to Croatia," he stressed.

Kovac said that the common position was yet to be confirmed by an intergovernmental conference, which could be held soon.

The transitional benchmarks also include full cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the application of the national and international obligations of Serbia in protecting minority rights, cooperation with neighbours in shedding light on the whereabouts of the war missing and ensuring the rights of victims, including the right to compensation for war victims.

"Serbia now has a chance to move forward. It's all up to Serbia," Kovac said. "The criteria have been established and these are the criteria of EU member states. We hope that we have helped with our contribution, that we have shown, despite the referendum in Great Britain, that we believe in the survival of the EU and in the enlargement process."

"We want a cool-headed, rational cooperation with Serbia, without verbal conflicts and without going back to the past, to the Second World War, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. There's no need for that. We have to clear up what is behind us, discuss the problems, tackle the problems, but look forward, rather than attack each other with verbal escapades," the Croatian minister concluded.

Latest news

Macedonian president blocks opposition's PM candidate

Macedonia's President Gorge Ivanov on Wednesday blocked the Social Democratic (SDSM) opposition leader Zoran Zaev from becoming prime minister, accusing him of intent to violate the country's constitution.

North Korea dismisses 'absurd' claims over death of Kim Jong Nam

Pyongyang on Wednesday dismissed as "the height of absurdity" official accounts of the death of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

President visits car glass factory in Lipik

During her visit to Lipik on Wednesday, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic visited the Lipik Glas factory which specialises in the manufacture of glass for high-end cars.

Hong Kong firm buys London's 1.1-billion-pound 'Cheesegrater' tower

A Hong Kong-based firm on Wednesday exchanged contracts to buy central London's iconic "Cheesegrater" office tower for 1.135 billion pounds (1.4 billion dollars).

Taliban assaults in Kabul end with 16 dead, officials say

At least 16 civilians and security forces were killed when Taliban suicide bombers targeted Afghan security facilities at two locations in Kabul on Wednesday, officials said. 

Top US general welcomes planned military boost in Lithuania

The head of US military forces in Europe on Wednesday welcomed Lithuania's move to boost military spending and personnel.

Dutch anti-Islam party slides to 2nd place in polls ahead of election

With just two weeks to go until national elections, the Netherlands' Islamophobic Party for Freedom (PVV), headed by firebrand populist Geert Wilders, has lost its top position in opinion polls for the first time this year.

Indictment upheld against former Defence Ministry official in aircraft overhaul case

The Zagreb County Court on Wednesday upheld an indictment against Josip Covic, former chief of the Defence Ministry Department for Aircraft Repairs and Maintenance, for soliciting a bribe of EUR 50,000 from Ivica Josipovic, representative of a Ukrainian company that had overhauled Croatian MiG fighter jets.

Five scenarios for the future of the European Union

The European Commission presented a paper Wednesday on the future of the European Union after Brexit, calling on EU leaders and the European Parliament to decide how the bloc should evolve by 2025.

HGK: Foreign debt reduced by EUR 3.3 billion y-o-y

According to data from the Croatian National Bank (HNB), Croatia's gross foreign debt at the end of November 2016 amounted to 43.8 billion euro, which is 3.3 billion or 6.9% less than in November 2015, while the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK) estimated that the debt-to-GDP ratio at the end of 2016 could fall under 100% for the first time in 7 years.

Croatian Constitutional Court to announce its ruling on abortion Thursday

Constitutional Court President Miroslav Separovic will announce on Thursday a ruling on a complaint of unconstitutionality filed against a law which regulates the right to abortion and which dates back to 1978, the Constitutional Court said.

Ukrainian rebels declare business takeovers as blockade tensions rise

A major Ukrainian rebel group said Wednesday that it was taking over dozens of businesses operating on its territory, as nationalist activists enforce a blockade that has cut off trade with the rebel-held east for a month.

Gabriel: NATO defence spending goal is "unrealistic" for Germany

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Wednesday underlined the importance of the NATO-mandated rule on defence spending, but said it was "unrealistic" that Germany would reach the goal of spending 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Parliament endorses amendments to construction act

Although parliamentary caucuses on Wednesday supported in principle, amendments to the law on construction which, according to Construction and Zoning Minister Lovro Kuscevic, "will significantly improve the construction system, accelerate and facilitate investments, notably the strategic ones," the Opposition submitted a number of suggestions and criticism.

Afghanistan district falls to Taliban after fierce fighting

Taliban militants took control Wednesday of a district in Afghanistan's troubled north-eastern Baghlan province, local officials said.

NGO worried about turnaround in Croatia's foreign policy on women's rights

The nongovernmental organisation Platforma 112 held a news conference outside the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, expressing concern about a turnaround in Croatia's foreign policy in the field of women's human rights and rights of sexual minorities.  

Festival of La Francophonie to be held in Croatia in March

The Festival of La Francophonie will be held in 14 Croatian towns throughout March to promote French culture and cultural diversity.

Bosnia divided over Independence Day celebration

A half of Bosnia and Herzegovina on Wednesday observed 1 March as the country's Independence Day in memory of the 1992 independence referendum when the vast majority of citizens voted for severing all ties with the then Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY).