Austria Pressuring Croatia to Use Military to Stop Migrants

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Croatia has no such plans.

As new migrants arrive in Bosnia and Herzegovina in an attempt to reach Western Europe through Croatia, there is a growing split among EU members about how to deal with the new migrant wave, reports Jutarnji List on June 6, 2018.

According to unofficial information, relations between Croatia on one side and Austria and Slovenia on the other are growing more tense. Austria has been getting harsher towards migrants for months, and Slovenia is following in its footsteps.

Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl stated that he and his colleagues from the region, including Croatian Minister Davor Božinović, had agreed to activate a police-military plan to stop the migrants. The plan was agreed in Vienna and signed in Prague in 2017. It includes sending the military to the external borders of six member states, including Croatia, and stopping the new migrant wave. He said that, if this did not happen, Austria would close its borders.

However, sources close to the Croatian Interior Ministry say that such a deal with Kickl does not exist and that Croatia did not agree to send the army to the border. “We have clearly told Austria to calm down and be more constructive, while we told our Slovenian colleagues that their potential agreement with the Austrians to make Croatia a ‘hot spot’ destination for migrants would not succeed.”

Croatian officials have explained to Austria, Slovenia and other EU members that there is no need to use the army and that Croatia has enough border police to oversee the EU’s external border. But the problem is that Croatia did sign the Central European Defence Initiative in Prague last year, which provides for a joint military engagement at the borders if a new migration wave starts. “The action plan provides for the six Central European countries’ military forces to be used together at the borders if there is a new migration crisis,” said at the time Petar Mihatov, the assistant defence minister, who signed the document.

Around 6,100 Croatian border police officers currently monitor Croatia’s border with Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, and the number will soon grow even higher. The number of border police officers in Croatia is far higher than in other countries in the region.

As opposed to the Austrian plan, Croatia has been working on a different border control plan for the last several months, with the active support from the European Commission. Croatia insists that EU members should jointly engage in providing assistance to countries on the migrant routes in training their police forces and expanding accommodation capacities for migrants. This means helping Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia to face the migrant problem.

“It is crucial to explain to states in our neighbourhood the importance of border control and management, as one of the conditions for joining the European Union. We will soon organise a meeting with the interior ministers of the countries on the so-called Balkan route where we will explain what is expected of them,” Minister Božinović said.

Which policy option will win should be known soon, perhaps even today, after a meeting of the regional police directors in Slovenia, where Austria will arrive with a proposal for the operational border protection plan and presumably receive strong support from Slovenia.

On Thursday, interior ministers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Albania, Greece, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia will meet in Sarajevo.

Translated from Jutarnji List (reported by Krešimir Žabec).


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