EU has “serious issues” with Croatia’s restrictions at Serbian border

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The European Union has “serious issues” with Croatia’s decision to restrict incoming traffic from Serbia in a row over migration flows, a spokeswoman said Friday, indicating that the move could be in breach of the bloc’s relations with Belgrade.

Thousands of migrants and refugees – many from war-torn Syria – have arrived in Serbia and Croatia in an effort to reach Western European countries. Disagreements over how to handle the people have stoked tensions in the uneasy relationship between Belgrade and Zagreb.

On Thursday, Croatia banned all Serbian-registered vehicles from entering its soil, after Belgrade imposed similar restrictions on trucks from Croatia.

EU foreign policy spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said Friday that the move “raises some serious issues about the compatibility” with EU agreements on closer ties with Serbia, adding that the European Commission will seek “clarifications” from Zagreb.

An EU member state since 2013, Croatia is bound by agreements the bloc has struck with Serbia in the process of the latter’s membership bid, including on trade and customs.

The refugee challenge must be “tackled collectively” Kocijancic said, adding that it must not have a “disproportionate discriminatory effect on trade and traffic.”

She said the bloc’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, had spoken by telephone with Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic early Friday.

Shortly after the EU warning, Milanovic said he was considering a lifting the border blockade.

“Milanovic: I am intensely discussing to lift today or tomorrow the border measures that Croatia had to impose,” the Croatian government tweeted from its official profile.

Croatia had called on Serbia to control the flow of people arriving on its soil and channel some of them north to Hungary, instead of sending all of them west, to Croatia. Budapest has been blocking off routes to its territory by erecting razor-wire fences.

The dispute has fanned nationalist rhetoric between Belgrade and Zagreb. The two countries fought a four-year war after former Yugoslavia fell apart in 1991.

As Europe experiences its largest influx of migrants and refugees since World War II, efforts to manage the crisis are testing governments and exposing divisions between countries.

The increase in migrant arrivals has been heavily affected by the dire situation war-torn Syria, whose citizens account for the largest group of EU-bound migrants from any one country.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday expressed willingness to include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in talks about a resolution of the country’s conflict, but the suggestion was met with skepticism by German foreign policy leaders.

The US, Great Britain and France have so far rejected talks with Assad.

The European Union will be faced with large migration inflows even if the international community managed the “miracle” of ending the conflict in Syria, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Friday.

“Let’s not delude ourselves,” Mogherini told La Repubblica newspaper. “Even if by miracle we were to resolve tomorrow the Syrian problem, Libya would remain an open and uncontrolled corridor to Europe, at least until we manage to rebuild a state there. And beyond Libya there is the whole of Africa,” she added.

Mogherini also said the bloc should be prepared to reform its asylum rules by majority voting, just as it decided earlier this week to redistribute of 120,000 asylum seekers overruling opposition from Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

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