Johanes Hahn urges Croatia to lift border blockade with Serbia


European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Johannes Hahn said in Belgrade on Friday he was very concerned about the situation at the Serbian-Croatian border and called on the Croatian government to reverse its decision to block the border, saying that this was in the interest of the Western Balkans as a whole.

Addressing a joint press conference after meeting with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, Hahn said he had personally seen the line of trucks along the motorway leading to Croatia, stressing that the situation could only be resolved only by simply lifting the blockade. “There is no alternative.”

He said that the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the Schengen agreement were clear under what circumstances temporary border control measures could be imposed, specifying that they must be temporary, proportionate and non-discriminatory. He noted that the measures by the Croatian authorities were not proportionate and were definitely discriminatory. “That’s why I urge the Croatian government to change their decision,” the commissioner said.

Hahn told Serbia that it could rely on the EU for assistance in the refugee crisis, saying that the European Commission was in close contact with the Croatian and Serbian authorities to resolve the border blockade as soon as possible. He thanked Serbian citizens for caring for the migrants and refugees, adding that such behaviour should inspire everyone else.

Hahn said that the refugee crisis was an international and not just a European problem and that the situation should be stabilised in the regions.

Hahn condemned the statement by Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic about fences being erected “towards Barbarians, the Serbs,” saying that such language was unacceptable for ordinary people, let alone state officials.

Milanovic told a press conference on Thursday that Hungary was “building a wall towards the Barbarians, towards Serbia,” describing how Hungary regarded its neighbours. “Ask Austrians! It has never occurred to them to build a wall towards Hungary, and Hungary is building a wall towards the Barbarians, towards Serbia.”

Vucic said he believed Serbia had deserved to open negotiating chapters with the EU by the end of the year and that he had received “encouraging messages” from Hahn in that regard. Speaking of his government’s economic performance, Vucic complained that the Serbian economy was greatly affected by Croatia’s unilateral decision to close the border.