Croatia defies EU on arrest warrant

Former prime minister Zoran Milanović is unlikely to perform strongly enough to win an absolute majority.

Croatia, who joined the EU on 1 July, is already entangled in a major conflict with the European Commission. In late June, Zagreb changed its legislation, not allowing the European Arrest Warrant to apply for crimes committed before 2002.

Commission Vice President Viviane Reding wrote to Zagreb, warning that the country could lose EU funds if it did not change its new law.

But Croatia, which recently became the 28th EU member state, does not appear to want to take any risks that the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is used against top military and officials who participated in the Yugoslav wars. A deadline to respond to Reding’s letter expired at midnight on 24 August.

On 28 June, Croatia passed a law dubbed Lex Perkovi? limiting the application of the EAW to crimes committed after August 2002.

In a letter to Justice Minister Orsat Miljeni? at the end of July, Reding wrote that Croatia’s amendment of the law was not in accordance with European legislation and should be corrected.

Croatia’s government will not make a decision on Lex Perkovi? in the next weeks, but the country’s justice minister will reply to Reding’s letter, the Croatian prime minister, Zoran Milanovi?, was quoted as saying by the website on 24 August.

“The European Commission has never discussed this topic, however, our minister [Orsat Miljeni?] will answer the letter by the European Commissioner. One thing is certain, the cabinet will not be making decisions on the matter in the next few weeks,” Milanovi? said at a news conference after he held a trilateral meeting in Graz with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and Slovenian Prime Minister Alenka ?Bratušek.

This matter is not being discussed in Europe and Faymann learned of it accidentally, Milanovi? further said. The EAW is applied differently depending on the member state, he added. He said Austria, as an older EU member, is eligible for exemptions and time limits, while Croatia and Slovenia are not entitled to such derogations.

“Croatia is not trying to dodge the warrant, and it respects the EAW, but it will request a discussion on the matter to be held by the European Council,” Milanovi? said.

Mina Andreeva, spokesperson to Commission Vice President Viviane Reding, said today (26 August) that the EU executive had not received a reply from the Croatian authorities to her letter.

“The European Commission deeply regrets that the Croatia has not responded to our urgent call with regards to implementation of the European arrest warrant,” Andreeva stated.

She added that the fact that the Croatian national legislation had been changed three days prior to accession was “a breach of trust” with regard to the other member states, which have ratified in good will and trust Croatia’s accession treaty, and was “not a minor issue” for the Commission.

“This infringement of EU law goes into the very heart if European judicial cooperation,” Andreeva said. She announced that Reding would bring the matter to the attention of the entire college of commissioners at their meeting on 4 September, and to the justice and home affairs ministers at their next meeting on 7-8 October.  

Asked by EURACTIV to comment if it was possible for Croatia to have a special arrangement on the application of EAW, Andreeva said that when this piece of EU law was negotiated, before the enlargement wave of 2004-2007, some older members included declarations to limit its application. But this possibility had only been open to the member countries negotiating the law. Moreover, Croatia did not ask for any transitional arrangements or op-outs with regard to EAW, she underlined. 

Croatia fought for its independence from the former Yugoslavia in a war which lasted from 1991 to 1995. Atrocities were committed by both sides during the fratricidal conflict.

Some of the questions that still burden bilateral relations, include the fate of the people who disappeared during the war, the return of Serbian refugees who left Croatian during the war, war crimes, the division of the Former Yugoslavia's property, and mutual lawsuits for genocide.

Serbia filed a lawsuit for genocide against Croatia at the International Court of Justice on 4 January 2010, a move seen as retaliation to an earlier lawsuit lodged by Croatia. Serbs' claims of genocide refer to Operation Storm in 1995, while Croatia's accusations are instead linked to Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing. Later, the two countries took steps toward reconciliation.

>> Read: Serbian, Croatian MPs meet to boost ties

Subscribe to our newsletters