Croatia has France's support for accession to Schengen Area, Saturday protest predominantly political

Photo /Vijesti/2021/studeni/22 studenoga/VRH_6393 (1).png

Zagreb enjoys the French support for accession to the Schengen Area, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in Otočec ob Krki in Slovenia, while the start of the procedure to achieve that aim is expected in December during Slovenia's chairmanship of the Council of the European Union.

Plenković expects the legal procedure for the formal green-light to access the Schengen Area to start in December and that a final decision could be made in the first half of 2022 when France takes over the chairmanship.

Asked by reporters if Zagreb has support from Paris to achieve that aim, Plenković clearly said: "We do," and added that the support will be included in the contents of the strategic partnership that France and Croatia will sign this week during the first-ever visit by a French president to Croatia.

France and Croatia have a strategic partnership but that will be expanded in the new agreements.

"That will advance political dialogue and cooperation with regard to Southeast Europe, the EU, NATO (...) economic cooperation," added Plenković.

President Emmanuel Macron will first meet with President Zoran Milanović on Thursday and then later with Plenković in Government House.

In Otočec ob Krki, Plenković once again reiterated that "2022 is the year that we will resolve the Schengen Area and in 2023 membership to the euro area," and Slovenia is Croatia's partner on that journey.

"Prime Minister (Janez) Janša and the Slovenian government's support is strong, firm and consistent," Plenković said in Slovenia where he and Janša, along with the former prime ministers of Croatia and Slovenia of thirty years ago - Franjo Gregurić and Alojz Peterle, unveiled a memorial plaque at the Otočec Castle honouring the cooperation between the governments of both countries during their struggle for independence in the 1990s.

Plenković added that Slovenia is Croatia's "best neighbour and friend," and that the two countries are endeavouring to resolve "residual issues," and that talks are being conducted "permanently and quietly."

The protest against the COVID-19 certificate mandate on Saturday was predominantly a political protest

"I most strongly condemn the attack on your fellow reporter (Goran) Latković, it is a cowardly and brazen act and it is not clear to me why anyone would bring into question the right of reporters and media to report about a public event. I regret it happened and believe police will identify the perpetrators," Plenković told reporters during a visit to Slovenia.

Noting that it was not problematic to protest and express one's view or disagree with the measures the government was undertaking, Plenković said that the protest was nonetheless of a political nature.

"The gentlemen from the Bridge, the Homeland Movement, the remnants of the Human Shield, and the exhibitionist from the European Parliament whom no one knows there, (Croatian independent MEP Mislav) Kolakušić, have jumped on the bandwagon. (President Zoran) Milanović supported them before and afterwards. He is the only president of an EU member country who openly opposes COVID-19 certificates and measures introduced by the government to protect public health," said Plenković.

As for protesters shouting that there was no coronavirus and that they were being denied their freedoms, Plenković said profiteering from people's fears was shameful and called on the protesters to visit an intensive care unit in a Croatian hospital where COVID-19 patients are being treated.

He repeated that vaccination is not mandatory and that testing is being offered as a non-invasive alternative.

"What is invasive about swabbing that lasts half a second? The sole purpose of the protest was to profit from COVID-19 deaths. There are people who try to profit from people's fears while themselves being afraid of a simple test," said Plenković.

Constitution protects Milanović but not his secretary and chief of staff

In a comment on decisions by individual local officials to defy restrictions imposed by the national COVID-19 response team, the PM said that in normal circumstances, everyone fights against a disease but that there are know-it-alls who say that there is no coronavirus in Primošten, Sinj and Čabar, a reference to the three towns' mayors.

"We are dealing here with petty politics and politicians who are sabotaging our measures designed to protect citizens," he added.

As for President Milanović's statements about COVID-19 certificates, Plenković said that the president was protected by the constitution but that his secretary and chief of staff were not.

In a comment on an announcement by the opposition Bridge party that it would organise a referendum on COVID-19 certificates, he said Bridge officials were "the biggest parasites" trying to profit from the current situation, adding that they should be asked if they had got vaccinated as "there are many who are making noise and have protected themselves."

As for a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights pointing to omissions by Croatian police in a case involving the death of a six-year-old Afghan migrant child, Plenković said that he regretted the tragic event and that he respected the ruling.