Croatia hopeful of reviving Albania and North Macedonia’s EU dream

Croatia has kicked off its presidency of the Council of the European Union by making encouraging noises about Albania and North Macedonia finally receiving the green light to start EU accession talks.

Both countries were meant to start formal accession talks with the EU last year, but French President Emmanuel Macron blocked the move in October and said he would continue to do so until the process for admitting countries to the bloc was reformed.

Croatia’s prime minister, Andrej Plenković, nevertheless appears confident that during the country’s presidency he will be able to meet Mr Macron’s demands and possibly finalise by May a date for Albania and North Macedonia to start accession negotiations.

Following a meeting on January 8 with Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, Mr Plenković said that he thought there could be an “evolution of the French position” and that they could “satisfy some of [France’s] reservations” on enlargement policy, adding that “being one of the countries in this part of Europe, we have a responsibility to promote and support our neighbouring countries … to get closer to the European Union.”

Meanwhile, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has launched a set of ambitious but achievable recommendations for the 2020 presidencies of the council.

The UNHCR believes that the presidencies and the envisaged EU Pact on Migration and Asylum present unique opportunities to better protect forcibly displaced and stateless people in Europe and abroad, while supporting host countries.

“As we enter a new decade, and following the success of the Global Refugee Forum, the EU under its Presidencies has the chance to make 2020 the year of change for robust refugee protection,” says UNHCR Regonal Representative for EU Affairs Gonzalo Vargas Llosa.

UNHCR’s recommendations propose a truly common and workable asylum system within the EU through sustainable reform and revitalised financial support for countries hosting forcibly displaced people outside the EU.

Inside the EU, fair and fast asylum procedures need to be established to quickly determine who needs international protection and who does not. People eligible for protection should quickly be granted status and receive support for integration. Those not eligible to any form of protection should be assisted in their return.

Responsibility-sharing with EU member states receiving a disproportionate number of asylum claims is also needed to ensure a truly common and workable asylum system. UNHCR is encouraging the presidencies to advance work on an effective solidarity mechanism, including through relocation arrangements, with family unity prioritised.

“The last decade was one of displacement. This decade can be, indeed has to be, one of solutions, starting right now in 2020,” says Vargas Llosa. “By supporting large refugee hosting countries outside Europe, the EU can also help refugees thrive and not just survive.”

With 85 per cent of the world’s refugees hosted in neighbouring and developing countries, revitalised financial support is also needed. UNHCR is calling on the presidencies to ensure increased and diversified funding, including for development cooperation funding, to further support host countries and help forcibly displaced people rebuild their lives. The next EU budget is a key opportunity for the EU to demonstrate global solidarity towards forcibly displaced people and their hosts.

Croatia faces its own challenges tied to migration.

The country is keen to become part of the passport-free Schengen zone, but to do that, it has had to show it can effectively police its borders with non-EU neighbours Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This has led to allegations of abuse of migrants by border police, including illegal pushbacks over the border.