“The visit is in line with Croatia’s strategic goals for 2022 – entry to the Schengen and euro areas and the strengthening of defense capabilities with the Rafale aircraft,” a Croatian government source said on Monday.
Croatia expects the legal procedure for the adoption of a formal decision on its admission to the Schengen area of passport-free movement to begin in December this year, during Slovenia’s EU presidency, and it expects the final decision to be adopted during France’s presidency in the first half of 2022.
Talks with President Macron on Schengen, therefore, have a twofold significance – France is one of the main EU members and its EU presidency starts on 1 January, the source said.
The source noted that Croatia also expected to receive France’s support for admission to the euro area.
The French president will arrive in Croatia on Wednesday evening, his formal host being Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, and the reason for that is that the French president, in line with his extensive powers in the presidential political system, is one of the few heads of state who sit on the European Council, which comprises mostly prime ministers. As such, Macron is a formal colleague to other countries’ prime ministers, the source said.
Macron will on Thursday be received for talks by President Zoran Milanović, after which he will meet with PM Plenković.
The talks between Plenković and Macron will focus on bilateral relations, the Western Balkans, the Eastern Partnership, with emphasis on Ukraine and Belarus, the strengthening of the EU’s strategic independence, and global topics.
France and Croatia already have an agreement on a strategic partnership but they will sign a new one covering a number of new areas, the source said.
The first visit of a French president is considered important also in light of the fact that France is the EU’s leading military power, its only nuclear power, and the only permanent member of the UN Security Council from the EU.
After Plenković and Macron sign a new agreement on strategic partnership, the two countries’ defense ministers, Mario Banožić and Florence Parly, will sign an agreement on the procurement of the Rafale jets.
Country’s security to be raised to the highest level ever
The purchase of the Rafale jets, “the most modern, new-generation aircraft, for the least money and with the fastest delivery” will mean a huge step forward in Croatia’s defense security, raising it to the highest level ever, government officials have said.
Croatia will obtain the most powerful aircraft in the area between Germany and Greece, which will enhance its geopolitical importance as there are no jets in its neighborhood that could be compared with the Rafale.
The jets are expected to arrive in late 2023, which is when Croatia will be able to control its entire territory for the first time, the government source said.
Zagreb in May announced that it would buy 12 Rafale jets to modernize its armed forces, opting for the biggest procurement of military equipment since its war of independence, the Agence France Presse has said ahead of Macron’s visit.
Clear French support
The document on a strategic partnership to be signed by Plenković and Macron underlines France’s clear support to Croatia’s accession to the euro area as well as the Schengen area. France also supports Croatia’s admission to the OECD, the Croatian source said.
The idea behind the new agreement on strategic partnership is for Croatia to “become a privileged partner to France in this part of Europe,” the source said.
The other elements of the strategic partnership refer to economic relations and cultural, scientific, academic, and administrative cooperation.
Croatia is one of the two EU members, the other being Hungary, which Macron has still not visited since the start of his presidential term.
The French president will end his visit with a dinner, to be organized for members of Croatia’s public, cultural, scientific and sports life, after which on Thursday afternoon he travels to Rome, where he will sign an agreement on strategic partnership with Italy, while on Friday he is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis in the Vatican.
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