If F-16’s Remove Visas for USA, Do French Rafale’s Put Croatia in Schengen?

Lauren Simmonds

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Darko Bicak writes on the 4th of October, 2020, the fighter procurement project, which is ongoing and should be completed by the end of this year by selecting bidders and signing contracts, could finally abolish visas and double taxation for Croatia with the United States, but still leave us outside the Eurozone and Schengen – but maybe, just maybe… it could be the other way around. If American planes equal the removal of American visas, do French planes equal Croatia in Schengen?

Although after the collapse of last year’s tender, and then with the arrival of the coronavirus crisis, it seemed that there would be nothing to come of the new squadron, in just a few months the situation has completely changed and it is now almost certain that Croatia will finally procure the long-talked-about fighter jets.

However, the very choice of a military aircraft could, in addition to the inevitable financial burden, bring us a number of other undesirable political and, consequently, economic effects. We’re witnessing that every day, and it was the case with the last tender. Various military experts and enthusiasts deal with all of the different aspects of Croatia’s procurement of such aircraft, which has reached the level of controversy that football has, with everyone having an opinion on it all. The selection proposal should be made by the interdepartmental commission, but the fact is that this existed in the previous tender, but their views were subordinated to a decision which had already been made by the Ministry of Defense.

Therefore, it is to be expected that this decision will also be political, not professional. In fact, the profession can say very little indeed in this situation because these are aircraft that meet the technical and tactical needs of the Croatian Air Force (HRZ). Thesedays, who has better acceleration is ultimately less important because these are platforms whose equipment and functionality will depend on not merely financial capabilities but political conditions. The US and Israel have F-16s, as do Taiwan and South Korea, Jordan, Pakistan and Venezuela, but in each individual case it is a completely different aircraft.

A political, not a professional decision…

Regardless of what Croatia orders, it will almost certainly not be the same package of equipment and weapons as the home air forces of the USA, France, Sweden and Israel, but a custom Croatian model. Of course, it doesn’t matter if it is a new plane, or one which is 10 or 40 years old, but the strategic, political and economic implications are much more important.

The purchase of military equipment of this value, measured in billions of US dollars, is never just a purchase of weapons but also a first-class political decision on a strategic partner which will result in decades of ties. How much Israel can be our political, economic and military strategic partner for the next 40 years is difficult to say. Most would say you need to build a fair relationship, and that’s it. On the other hand, among the bidders are some countries that really are or perhaps could become strategic partners for Croatia in the long run.

There is no need to waste words on the United States because it is clear to everyone that it is the most powerful economic, political and military power without which little in the world can be solved. They offer the well-known F-16, one of the most powerful and widespread fighter jets in use today. The Americans are now much more serious about the Croatian tender, and the abolition of visas is sitting on the table, as is the long-sought agreement on the avoidance of double taxation, which creates headaches for many Croatian entrepreneurs, particularly those in IT.

The new Rafales are too expensive

On the other side. there is France, which became the most powerful country in the EU following Brexit, and which surprisingly offered Croatia its Rafales. This is the first time that the French have offered their used fighters, and they haven’t offered us new ones due to their price of around 220 million euros per aircraft – a stretch indeed. It is definitely an aircraft that is in all respects in the range of the latest F-16, and some analysts say that it is better and even closer to the F-35.

France could be an advantage, or a weight, for the glittering, star-spangled ambitions of a Croatia in Schengen, and then of course the Eurozone. Will France “take revenge” on Croatia if it fails to choose their used Rafales? Will it purposely place stumbling blocks and obstacles in the way of Croatia in Schengen or using the euro? Maybe. There are always cases of otherwise friendly EU nations taking a dislike to things Croatia aims for within the bloc.

There is also Sweden, which is not as powerful as the USA and France, but is an economically extremely strong country and an influential member of the EU, and economically it can offer a lot through “offset” and later through the EU. Although many “experts” consider their Gripens to be inferior to other offered aircraft, the Croatian Air Force would certainly not have any problems with them.

However, Sweden is often mentioned as a politically unreliable ally because it often shares lessons with others because of its high standards of democracy and human rights, which tend to fall on either deaf or unwilling ears.

The fact is that there are interests in the international arena, not friendships, and the situation is constantly changing. If American planes mean no American visas and French planes might mean Croatia in Schengen, who knows what turning either of these offers down might result in? Perhaps nothing, but the possibility of France spitefully enjoying its new role as the EU’s most powerful nation isn’t entirely beyond the realm of imagination, either.

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