The president’s last open letter was only accidentally sent to three addresses in Brussels: Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and Antonio Tajani. The Presidents of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament were selected as addressees only because of the expected echo of what is written. In fact, the letter by the president of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, from Thursday, was primarily aimed at Croatian political public.
The president blamed the Slovenian government for the Easter jam at the Croatian border, as it allegedly used the European regulation on the systematic control of EU borders, as forced remedy and for blackmailing the Republic of Croatia. And the reason for such action was, allegedly, Croatian inflexible attitude to final compromising of arbitration proceedings regarding the flow of border between the countries. And in this regard, the letter was also aimed at Slovenian public. Aimed for a reason, not by accident. The president simply wanted to start a new dispute with Slovenia.
The president’s letter is irrelevant in content and as such it could be ignored. But, still – the letter was written with a very specific goal. And this goal shall be revealed so that its unwritten and yet factual content could be read.
Certainly, the president could have written the letter with a view to diverting the attention of the domestic public from current and unpleasant Croatian internal political problems.
They would probably like to hide at least three of those.
First of all – a complete lack of clarity and even confusion regarding the further fate of the holding company Agrokor, and related deeper entry of the Russian political influence into the region. And also, although to a much lesser extent, debts of a large Croatian trading company towards all those who fill their shelves in stores. Identifying a new culprit that may threaten the tourist season, namely Slovenia, could be an adequate tool.
Also in terms of the second big problem. Namely, at the end of last year, the Croatian government was aware of the decision by the Uncitral arbitration tribunal in Geneva, regarding the dispute between Croatian and Hungarian oil trading companies, Ina and Mol. Croatia sued Mol, in fact the owner, the Hungarian government, that it performed the operation of taking over less than a half of the Croatian company, by means of a million dollar bribe for the Prime Minister at the time, Ivo Sanader, PhD.
The arbitration tribunal, as indicated in the arbitral award, determined, decided, announced and adjudicated that all the claims made by the Republic of Croatia shall be rejected.
This year in February, the Croatian government submitted to the Swiss federal court a request for the annulment of the decision by the arbitration tribunal in Geneva. The reply was received on Tuesday, April 18 this year. Swiss cold reply. A complete fiasco. A reply specifying that all Croatian claims are rejected and that the government in Zagreb must immediately pay ten million euros for the costs of the arbitration tribunal. This notice immediately brought up a new question or perhaps a similar unpleasant outcome can be expected in the arbitration process, which is supposed to end these days, as a matter of fact, in connection with the same case, but before the International Court for Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington.
The third internal political problem in terms of which they would like to reduce attention, is the foreseen interpellation against the Minister of Finance of the Croatian government, Zdravko Maric, because allegedly, as a former senior official of Agrokor, he was aware of the difficult financial situation of the company, but failed to notify the government timely. Allegedly, interpellation is supported by the coalition government coalition, too. To make the problem even bigger, the president of the said party who is also the president of the Croatian Parliament, Bozo Petrov, filed a criminal complaint against the owner of the insolvent holding company. All together would, supposedly, especially with the success of the interpellation, really shook the Croatian government led by Andrej Plenkovic.
Searching for the reasons and the actual cause of the new letter by the president, only to the extent of her ambition of concealing the difficult internal political situation, would not lead us to the actual cause – why she wrote the last letter. Our journey would end before we even hit the road. We would simply be satisfied with an explanation that such behaviour in politics is occasional practice and we would confirm this pleasure by stating that all these difficulties are almost directly linked to the publication of the letter in terms of date. In fact – to last week.
So let’s start from the beginning.
In early October 2015, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic was a guest at the meeting of the Visegrad Group in the Hungarian small touristy town – Balatonfüred. During her attendance, among other things, she spoke about borders, too. Her assessment implied that she hoped that the dialogue between the countries would remain the most important point of solving mutual problems and therefore it was necessary to respect the rules of the Schengen borders. She added that Hungary and Slovenia only respect what had been agreed and that this was also a reaction to a rather poor response of the Croatian state during the migrant crisis.
Her performance was in some kind of harmony with that part of Croatian politics that, after signing the agreement on the European Union membership, as the next objective determined that the country should join the Schengen border regime.
In October 2013, the French president, Francois Hollande drew the attention of the Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, to this task. An important task that we must all do, is to protect European borders. He told him that for Croatia this was a crucial task, too.
Just a few months later, at the session of the Croatian government, Milanovic said that he would personally control all actions related to the accession of Croatia to the Schengen regime and added that his government had 120 million euros in European aid for the modernization and expansion of border crossings, among which he also mentioned the border crossing Obrezje.
In early June 2015, after talks on EU external borders with the Prime Minister of Estonia, Taavi Rõivas, Milanovic announced that Croatia would in a few days seek membership in the Schengen Area. And added that this was the final decision.
Croatian intention to join Schengen Area ends precisely with this statement. Actually, it ended a few months before. The talk with Estonian President was appointed late.
In mid-February 2015 in Brussels, the meeting between the prime ministers of EU member states was held. They brought out a joint statement on the fight against terrorism. A part of this statement was the announcement of the possibility for the detailed control at the external Schengen borders. Milanovic, who of course voted for this statement, later said that this was only an irrelevant document, not affecting Croatia. He then added that if such measures had been, one day, in many years’ time, introduced as a matter of fact, that would have been the time with Croatia already as a member of this European alliance for protection. His point was literally – that all together is at the end quite unlikely to happen. Certainly, Milanovic overlooked a part of the statement for which he voted, which determined that it would be necessary to fully exploit the existing Schengen framework and protect the Schengen borders. However, he once again stressed that the Republic of Croatia had at its disposal sufficient resources from the European funds for the inclusion in the Schengen project.
It could have been expected that by the end of 2015 and in the first months of 2016, when Croatia became part of the main migrant route, the government of this country would again revive the Schengen plans. Yet this did not happen. Milanovic introduced a new political plan. It was pretty simple. Croatia would have open borders for migrants and would open a large number of reception centres near the border with Serbia. On the other hand, it would also adequately take care of their quick departure to Slovenia. Within this new political framework first political assessments of the necessity of promoting such way of solving the migrant route appeared in Slovenia, too. Not accidentally, and probably not without the knowledge of the Croatian Interior Minister at the time, Ranko Ostojic, in the Slovenian public emerged paroles on how the Schengen was dead, that Slovenia should open the borders and extend the route of Croatian trains full of migrants to the Republic of Austria. That the Croatian government found the perfect solution which should be applied by Slovenia as well, since allegedly all European agreements, as well as Schengen, remained invalid.
Now we can again go back to the letter by the president Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. Of course, this letter does not only express concern with the lines of cars at the borders and their impact on Croatian tourism. She knows that the lines which are and will be made during most days of the summer season when entering the Croatian highways much longer. And which could literally overnight be solved by the Croatian government through the introduction of vignettes.
The problem that afflicts the president lies somewhere else. She simply knows that Croatia does not want and cannot become part of the Schengen countries. And that is exactly what she wants to hide in the letter sent to Brussels and accusations addressed to Slovenia.
The Republic of Croatia does not want and cannot become part of the Schengen Area. It cannot – because it cannot completely dispense with the important part of state doctrine of the late Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, PhD which indicates that the multi-ethnic Yugoslavia broke up and that multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot survive either. Thus, Bosnia and Herzegovina shall be divided into the Croatian and Serbian part. Namely, by the content of the President’s conversations with Slobodan Milosevic, Serbian president at the time.
The formation of the Republic of Herceg Bosna and its direct funding from the Croatian budget, was only a part of this plan.
Another reason – for not wanting to enter the Schengen Area, lies with a relatively simple but not solvable fact – that the Republic of Croatia has an undefined border with Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as with the Republic of Serbia. Although the treaty on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina was signed by Tudjman personally, he never really acknowledged it. As for the negotiations with Serbia on the border, they remain deadlocked.
Croatian problem and problem of the president’s letter, therefore, does not lie with Slovenia. First of all, Grabar Kitarovic underestimated the attitude of the Slovenian President Borut Pahor, when, during a conversation with Mateja Babic Stermecki in mid-December 2015, he stressed that no one should assess that our country was not able to perform its responsibilities which would lead to its exclusion from the Schengen Area. That’s a »par excellence geopolitical matter, that is in the interest of the highest category«, said Pahor. Therefore, the Croatian President did not mention the preparation of the letter to Pahor, whom she encounters very often. We found out about the letter by chance the day before it was sent.
They underestimated the Slovenian Prime Minister, Miro Cerar, PhD even more as well as his decision implying that the protection of the Schengen border was necessary, and that supposedly, the second choice could be only if we were not in the Schengen Area any more.
Obviously, Zagreb estimated that the public pressure on the Slovenian government would be strong enough and that it would gradually abandon its international agreements. That would be the only way to get the Schengen borders moved again to Karavanke and Skofije. As it was once.