Ministarstvo vanjskih i europskih poslova RH

Press Release:

Rome, 24 February 2016 - FM Kovač: Only by acting together can Europe resolve current challenges

(Hina) - All challenges currently facing the European Union can only be resolved by concerted action of all the member states working together, Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Miro Kovač said during an official visit to Rome on Wednesday.

Addressing Italian government officials, diplomats and members of the student community in Rome on relations between Croatia and Italy and the role of Croatia in Central and Southeast Europe, Kovač said that the biggest challenges currently facing the European Union were the debt crisis, the possible withdrawal of Great Britain from the Union and the migrant crisis.

Kovač said that all member states should become more actively involved in dealing with the debt crisis and the problem of the effectiveness and "invisibility" of the European institutions.

Speaking of Brexit, or the possible departure of Great Britain from the EU, Kovač said that all other members states wanted Britain to stay in the Union, but added that it should not come at too high a price.

"The point is in solidarity, but in the solidarity of all, because no one should be given too many concessions because that would jeopardise the cohesion and stability of the European Union. That's why we should appeal to our British colleagues to take on responsibility for the benefit of their people and everyone else in the Union and to put that before their personal ambitions and benefits."

As regards the migrant crisis, Kovač said that it showed how all EU countries were interdependent. Without being specific, he said that in making their own decisions countries should be aware of the impact of their decisions on other member states.

"If someone wants to accept refugees because that suits their national interests, they should be aware that the refugees have to pass through other countries in order to reach theirs, which strongly affects those countries," Kovač said, noting that all those involved should cooperate more closely in order to reach a common solution.

Croatia will continue to be humane and will help refugees in their efforts to reach destinations of their choice, but will not become a hot spot for refugees because that might affect its tourist industry, the Croatian minister said.

Kovač said that a concerted action was also a key to the crisis in Syria. The EU should act on Syria's territory because its own security is at risk, he added.

"It is clear that all refugees cannot be stopped from arriving in the EU, but why wouldn't we send European forces to Syria to protect the refugees there?" Kovač said. He called for stepping up control of the EU's external border between Greece and Turkey as well as the border between Greece and Macedonia. He said that Croatian police, along with their colleagues from neighbouring countries, were already helping their Macedonian colleagues and "that seems to be functioning well."

"It will only be possible to resolve the problem in Syria if we bring all the main players to the negotiating table, if we are in it together," Kovač said, explaining that here he also meant Russia which was already involved in the Syria conflict militarily.

"Russia is an important country with a strong foreign policy. We need it as a partner in searching for a lasting solution in the Middle East, particularly in Syria," the Croatian minister said, adding that his impression was that an increasing number of EU officials were beginning to share this opinion.

Kovač stressed that Croatia wanted to have strong and stable relations with all the countries in its immediate and wider neighbourhood, recalling that he had already visited Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Hungary in an effort to improve relations.

"Croatia will be very active in Southeast Europe as its neighbourhood and we want to show that we are a responsible member of the EU," he said, noting that Croatia had expressed its full support for Bosnia and Herzegovina's EU membership application and would do the same for all countries in the region aspiring for EU membership.

He called for the greater involvement of the EU in that regard, saying that "unless the EU manages to sort its relations with Southeast Europe for the sake of its own security and stability, it will never be able to be a global player."

Speaking of Croatia and Italy, Kovač said that they were friendly countries with strong economic ties, but added that they should be more active on the political front and strengthen their bilateral relations. He noted that his visit to Rome was the first since the visit to Croatia of former Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, currently the director of the Italian Institute for International Organisations. Kovač delivered his speech there, with Frattini moderating the event.