ZAGREB, June 27, 2018 – Croatia wants to turn a new page and develop political and economic relations with Serbia in such a way that outstanding issues are resolved with partners with whom it is possible to talk to, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in Strasbourg on Tuesday after provocations in the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe by a member of the Serbian Radical Party Alesksandar Šešelj, a son of convicted war criminal Vojislav Šešelj.
“This is obviously the continuation of the provocation yesterday that occurred after the speech by Deputy Prime Minister Marija Pejčinović Burić. I think that I clearly said what Croatia’s stance is about that and what we think of the Serbian Radical Party’s political objectives and their ‘achievements’ in the 1990s, and of convicted war criminal Šešelj. Croatia’s stance is clear and that is that we wish to develop relations with Serbia but in a way that we resolve outstanding issues, turn a new page so that we can develop political and economic relations. This is something from his party that doesn’t surprise me,” Plenković told reporters after a debate in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
Aleksandar Šešelj on Tuesday tried to disrupt the debate in the CoE parliament by provoking Plenković who retorted sharply that (Šešelj Jr) was a “living example of the proverb that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
“It’s not that usual that we have these kinds of provocations but this is an opportunity for exposure, like I said to members of the parliamentary assembly, to realise what is going on, about those policies and consequences they had for Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Slovenia. Our task is for that to not occur again. It is our duty to clearly define who our partners are with whom we can talk about our future relations, and who are they whose rhetoric, and obviously actions, cling to the past and in a very negative way,” Plenković said.
Addressing members of the Council of Europe national parliament members, Plenković spoke about the idea of a united Europe, about Croatia and its pathway to independence, the war and membership of the EU and NATO, the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, European Court for Human Rights, rule of law and human rights.
He said that “member states must fully implement Council of Europe standards.”
Speaking about the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, he said that that was an important tool in the fight against violence against women. That has been put in a broader ideological debate in Croatia. Croatia managed to ratify this convention. My government did that in full confidence that we are doing something good for our society, however, I believe that this entire organisation has to find a common solution to explain what this convention is. It is not useful to have a debate that contributes to division in society and directs focus to matters that aren’t the substance, he said.
Plenković spoke about Bosnia and Herzegovina and other countries in Southeast Europe and their European integration aspirations, which is something Croatia strongly advocates. He expressed strong support to Macedonia and Albania for the start of accession negotiations.
He said that Bosnia and Herzegovina deserves special attention and support on its journey to the EU and advocated the full equality of the three constituent peoples in accordance with European values which include a fair election law.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina is a strategically vital country for us because of its geographical closeness and historical relations of Croats as one of the three constituent people. Elections are going to be held soon in that country. We want stable institutions and for the country to function well and to give our support to the country on its European journey and we consider that we must not allow Bosnia and Herzegovina to be in the last carriage in the Southeast European train on its way to the EU. That is in fact the reason why Bosnia and Herzegovina was the topic of talk and in some other issues being debated and other meetings that I had here today,” he told reporters after the debate in parliament.
He said that he had discussed the election law in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the president of the Venice Commission Gianni Buquicchio. Representatives of the Venice Commission recently visited Bosnia and Herzegovina and discussed the implementation of the Constitutional Court ruling on preparations for the elections. “It is a shame that a compromise was not reached about changes to the election law. I believe that the election will be held according to the existing rules because there is still very little time left. We hope that that process will unfold in the best possible way and that the issue of the election law will once again be opened then,” Plenković told reporters.
During his visit to Strasbourg, Plenković met with the president of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Liliane Maury Pasquier, CoE Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland and addressed the assembly.
Plenković also opened an exhibition – “Croatia’s cultural heritage on the UNESCO list.”
He also met with the president of the Venice Commission Gianni Buquicch and president of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities Gudrun Mosler-Tornstrom. He ended his visit with a meeting with the president of the European Court for Human Rights Guido Raimondi.
Croatia joined the Council of Europe in 1996 and this year is the first time for Croatia’s Chairmanship of that organisation. Croatia’s priorities during its chairmanship include fighting corruption, protecting national minorities, favouring decentralisation, and promoting cultural heritage, Plenković said.