Vienna Summit and Alpback Forum Fall Short In Solving Europe’s Refugees Crisis

Left to right: Croatian prime minister Zoran Milanovic, Albanian prime minister Edi Rama, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian president Heinz Fischer at the Western Balkans summit in Vienna on 27 August 2015. 'Finding an EU-wide solution to the greatest movement of peoples since the second world war is an urgent priority.' Photo: Georg Hochmuth/EPA

Left to right: Croatian prime minister Zoran Milanovic,
Albanian prime minister Edi Rama, German chancellor Angela Merkel
and Austrian president Heinz Fischer
at the Western Balkans summit in Vienna on 27 August 2015.
‘Finding an EU-wide solution
to the greatest movement of peoples
since the second world war
is an urgent priority.’
Photo: Georg Hochmuth/EPA


I’m aware it was high-Summer hot weather on 27 August 2015 when the highest representatives of the Western Balkan countries met with some high EU officials and high representatives of some EU member countries, such as Austria, Croatia, Germany, Italy and Slovenia at the Vienna summit. Given the boiling refugee and illegal migrant crisis taking place in Europe at the same time one would have thought, despite the hot and lazy Summer weather, the grand, air-conditioned, opulence of the Viennese Hofburg would have set conditions conducive to clear and decisive thinking on solving some of the logistical issues of the refugee crisis, at least.
But, ‘nah’ – while almost all leaders, come high representatives, spoke of the crisis, mentioned it, Western Balkans countries spoke mostly of infrastructure and money.


The Viennese Hofburg

The Viennese Hofburg

This year’s Vienna summit is part of the Berlin Process, a five-year process marked by yearly summits in order to underline the commitment to EU-enlargement towards the Western Balkans region. The focus of the initiative is on those countries of the Western Balkans that are not yet EU-members: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The EU-participants at the Summit are those countries, which have committed themselves to organise summit meetings: in addition to last year’s and this year’s organisers Germany and Austria, these are France and Italy. The process is also strongly supported by Slovenia and Croatia. Last year’s summit took place in Berlin on 28 August 2014 and gave important impulses for progress in the areas of regional cooperation, economy and the rule of law.
The refugee and illegal migrant crisis has through this Summit also demonstrated that the notion of EU enlargement is alive, as is regional cooperation. Although, the signal for the latter was quite weak because one could not but notice that in an enormous humanitarian crisis such as the one evolving and brewing in Europe it’s “every ‘man’ (country) for himself”!
Nevertheless, the refugee and illegal migrants crisis seems to have paved the way for the intensification of regional cooperation even if it is clear that EU enlargement is going nowhere for the foreseeable future. But even this “intensified” regional cooperation driven by the refugee crisis has its shaky foundations in mixed and confusing messages from different countries suggesting priorities are still individualised and far away from a collaborative, solidarity-filled, unified milieu in which one inevitably finds a certain consensus as to how to move forward.
Serbian Prime Minister Vucic said that he did not consider the EU to be like an ATM (to milk money from) but rather as an organisation with which Serbia shared common values. Alas, Vucic made sure he placed Serbia at a higher value to EU countries because of the “praiseworthy” (he said) way Serbia is treating the refugees! He said (almost repulsively alluding to Hungary) Serbia would not be building fences to keep refugees out.
No, Serbia isn’t building walls and fences to keep refugees out, it simply fails to deliver its international obligation as a sovereign country in ensuring that refugees and illegal migrants do not head, stampede on perilous journeys towards Schengen countries without firstly being processed. Serbia contributes nothing to the refugee and illegal migrant crisis, it panders to their destination preferences even though majority have not been processed nor identified as being entitled to refugee status.
Unlike Serbia’s Aleksnadar Vucic, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama suggested that it is money from the EU he is after and consequently funds are on the way for the building of highway linking Albania, Kosovo and Serbia. Either way, both Prime Ministers emphasised the need to support infrastructure but I am not convinced that it’s EU that should bear the brunt and the costs of this refugee and illegal migrant crisis just because the refugees say the words to this effect: “we are going to EU, to Germany and will get there one way or another”! Clearly, the UN as the worldwide organization has failed by doing nothing much so far to bring order to this situation dangerously running amuck. Politics are taking centre stage while people in need of help suffer.

The burning issue of refugee and illegal migrants dominated the Vienna Summit. This is the problem the EU and the Balkan leaders face. Tens of thousands of people crossing the border from EU member Greece and entering Macedonia, which is not a member of EU. They’re taken to Serbia’s border and swiftly cross Serbia to the Hungarian border with the help of Serbia’s authorities. Then they reach Hungary, which is busy building a fence on the border with Serbia and, inside, busy refusing or slowing down the process for refugees moving towards the border with Austria. At the Vienna Summit Serbia’s foreign minister Ivica Dacic told the EU it was making “unrealistic demands”. “EU, you have a problem and you’re asking us, Serbia, to come up with an action plan for migrants. You should come up with an action plan first and then ask us to come up with our plan. I have to be completely open with you on this issue because we are friends”, said Dacic.

Trust a Serb foreign minister to say EU has a problem because the refugees already in Serbia say they want to go to EU! To my way of seeing things, Serbia has a problem and it’s politically twisting the issue to suit its agenda. I had always thought that the central matter for refugees is reaching safety! Choice of where that safety shall occur is a minor issue. Serbia is safe for them, so why does Serbia – and Macedonia – for that matter, not act as “grown-ups” and turn to the UN for solutions and problems rather than the EU? The EU countries are showing differing levels of willingness to help but they too, like the refugees, have a right of seeking safety and that safety, in this case, can only come by processing those who say they are refugees but, really, one doesn’t know that until checks are made. In the meantime food, shelter, health care, roof over the head, clothing are priorities for all. The likelihood is that great majority are legitimate refugees from war areas so one must tread with utmost sensitivity and humanity.

EU leaders agreed in Vienna that a new policy is needed. Germany’s foreign minister, Frank Walter-Steinmeier, noted that some EU member states refused to take more migrants. “You all know that there is a number of EU members who are against it. But I’m sure that without a fair distribution we risk the acceptance in those countries which are currently having to take in the majority of the migrants…“ Germany’s Angela Merkel has opened the doors for the refugees without limiting numbers; she says Germany can cope.
Macedonia’s foreign minister Nikola Popovski expressed the hope that the Vienna conference will lead to what he called a European solution to the problem. Many of the observers, says Deutsche Welle, are pessimistic that these talks will produce a breakthrough.

Ahead of the Summit, the European Commission released an additional €1.5 million in humanitarian funding to assist refugees and migrants in Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The aid will support humanitarian partners in helping with the provision of basic emergency services such as drinking water, hygiene, health care, shelter, and protection for refugees and migrants, improvement of the reception centres, and coordination and reporting on migration issues in the region. Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, said: “The Western Balkans are dealing with an unprecedented number of transiting refugees and migrants. The EU is stepping up its humanitarian aid to provide them with urgently needed relief. This is European solidarity at its core”.
The European Commission has previously granted over €90 000 in EU humanitarian assistance to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (on July 31 2015) and €150 000 to Serbia (on August 20, 2015) in response to this emergency situation. The funding went directly to the national Red Cross Societies of the two countries. Overall EU humanitarian aid to support vulnerable refugees and migrants in Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia now amounts to €1.74 million. And Serbia’s foreign minister Dacic still complaints while his Prime Minister Vucic ascribes all the “accolades” for refugee care to Serbia even if EU funds it! Very unfair!

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said that Croatia would gladly take its share of refugees as suggested by the EU distribution policy being developed. However, an action plan for this isn’t yet visible from Croatian government even though there are some buildings being prepared for that from EU funds. On the other hand, Croatia’s president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic believes that refugee quotas for countries to take in should not be “imposed by Brussels but indicated by countries themselves”.

I would also say that Brussels shouldn’t bear the burden but neither should individual countries – it should be UN at the helm and all countries to fall in with help.

From left: Austria president Heinz Fischer Sloveina president Borut Pahor and Croatia president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic at European Alpback Forum end of August 2015

From left: Austria president Heinz Fischer
Sloveina president Borut Pahor and
Croatia president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
at European Alpback Forum end of August 2015

Croatian President’s surprising statement at the Europe Alpback Forum in Austria (around the same time as the holding of the Western Balkan Vienna Summit) suggesting that EU should cooperate with Russia on solving the Syria issue raised quite a few uneasy eyebrows around the Globe. The West is considering bombing Islamic State strongholds in Syria and for a while has wanted to rid Syria of Bashar al-Assad believing that would bring stability to the country, Russia has dug its heels in and one simply does not expect Vladimir Putin will give up his allegiance to and alliance with al-Assad that easily. Furthermore, instead of offering assistance with refugees and illegal migrants flooding Europe from Syria, Russia is announcing the building of its military bases in al-Assad’s heartland! Al-Assad can certainly not serve as a partner in fight against terrorism and, hence, indications are – neither can his ally Putin. Perhaps Croatia’s President thinks there’s ‘westward’ hope yet when it comes to Russia’s intentions in the Middle East? We live and learn, often with great unease. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia – Slovenia Memorandum of Understanding: EU Accession – Blackmail, Smoke and Mirrors Conundrum

Zoran Milanovic, Prime Minister of Croatia   Photo:

Zoran Milanovic, Prime Minister of Croatia Photo:

The ratification by 27 EU member states of Croatia’s EU Accession Treaty involves assessment by those member states as to whether they are satisfied with Croatia’s progress in ensuring compliance with the completion of the remaining implementation of the commitments taken during the accession negotiations, and as required by EU’s imposition of monitoring of Croatia as condition to Croatia’s successful entry into EU membership on 1 July 2013.

Compliance with Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, Market Competition and Justice, Freedom and Security and any bilateral issues between countries is to my knowledge not included in the monitoring, in criteria upon which ratification of the Treaty is to be based.

However, somehow Slovenia has managed to impose its own condition if it’s to ratify Croatia’s EU Accession Treaty. This condition has to do with Slovenia’s push to weasel its way out of its responsibility towards Croatian citizens whose bank savings disappeared when Slovenian Ljubljanska Banka folded or packed-up (1991) in the process of disintegration of former Yugoslavia. (A new bank, Nova Ljubljanska Banka, was formed after the Ljubljanska Banka went bankrupt but it only took over the old bank’s capital, not its debts to foreign savers! One wonders where in the world, even in 1991, could it have been possible and proper without acting unconscionably to ignore creditors in bankruptcy proceedings!)

As it’s a matter of a significant amount of money (some 270 million EURO) Slovenia has been on a vicious path in stalling with the payment of money it owes to Croatian citizens. Slovenia has held a firm opinion that the matter of this debt it owes to the Croatian costumers of its Ljubljanska Banka should be dealt with as a matter of “succession from Yugoslavia”.
In other words, who gets what equity from the assets of former Yugoslavia?
The finalisation stage of State Succession for Socialist Federative Republic Of Yugoslavia (former Yugoslavia) doesn’t appear on the horizon, let alone being near. So, when it comes to paying out the money owed to Croatian’s whose savings went missing along with Ljubljanska Banka from Croatia, Slovenia’s thinking seems to bee something like this: we have equity in the assets of former Yugoslavia, so we’ll wait till the succession case is completed and then subtract the money we might owe from the value of equity coming to us from former Yugoslavia and if Croatia doesn’t agree with this we won’t ratify its EU Accession Treaty!

Lo and behold, this line of thinking is well known to the EU movers and shakers in Brussels, and yet none have come forward to make it clear to Slovenia that ratifying Croatia’s EU Accession Treaty has nothing to do with Slovenia’s problems and everything to do with Croatia’s performance on compliance with matters set by the EU.

On 7 March, Slovenia and Croatia had initialed a memorandum of understanding that should resolve this Ljubljanska Banka dispute. Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic and Slovenian State Secretary Tone Kajzer initialed the memorandum of understanding. The Prime Ministers of Slovenia and Croatia will sign the final agreement on Monday 11 March, as formal adoption of the agreement.
The Bank for International Settlement (BIS) took on an arbitration role on this dispute. Under the new agreement the Croatian government will suspend all court proceedings regarding savings …and the Slovenian government vowed that it will ratify Croatia’s Accession Treaty.
The two countries will continue active negotiations under the auspices of the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements.

Stefan Fuele, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, welcomed these news and said: “This is also a very good example how joint efforts in the area of good neighbourly relations bring benefits for both sides and provide basis to solve open issues.

Even blackmail seems to be good enough to achieve EU enlargement!

In trying desperately to convince the Croatian people of how good a deal with Slovenia, Croatia has achieved, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic appeared on Croatian TV evening news on 7 March.

His TV news program interview could perhaps have been palatable, despite his arrogant and antagonistic demeanour, had he not made a ridiculous mistake a lawyer should never make – and he is a lawyer by education:

Question: “A solution has been agreed upon with Slovenia, but the Opposition (Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ) warns of lack of clarity regarding the court proceeding that need to be frozen, they say that, at the end of the day, this could mean the abandonment of the court proceedings?

Zoran Milanovic reply: “ I haven’t seen that warning but I hope that they have read the twenty or so sentences in the memorandum, which does not contain the word ‘freezing’ anywhere, there is the English word ‘stay’ … that’s a big difference … so, freezing does not exist in law and I would like to hear about this from people who know what ‘stay’ means, what suspension means in proceedings of which that is a procedural instrument and everything else is clear, the memorandum is crystal clear, it’s good for them and it’s good for us…

In his evident rejection to entertain properly, duly, what the Croatian opposition was saying about the memorandum with Slovenia, Milanovic arrogantly emphasised in this interview that ‘freezing does not exist in law’! In his arrogant way, he condescendingly labelled the opposition of not knowing what they’re talking about when they interpret the word ‘stay’ in legal and practical terms!

Even though I am not a lawyer, I know that the word ‘Freezing’ had become a part of legal definition of ‘stay’ way back in 1985, when Canada’s Supreme Court adopted that word as part of defining ‘stay’ in Regina V. Jewitt case:

A stay … as defined in Black’s Law Dictionary (5th ed. 1979), it is a kind of injunction with which a court freezes its proceedings at a particular point, stopping the prosecution of the action altogether, or holding up some phase of it. A stay may imply that the proceedings are suspended to await some action required to be taken by one of the parties as, for example, when a non resident has been ordered to give security for costs. In certain circumstances, however, a stay may mean the total discontinuance or permanent suspension of the proceedings”.

So, the Opposition in Croatia (HDZ) was correct in its suggestion that the ‘freezing’ could end up as abandonment of the court proceedings in the long run. Which would be a disaster for the Croatian people whose personal savings are at stake.

But then again, perhaps Prime Minister Milanovic knows all this, as a lawyer and as the Prime Minister, and has adopted the usage of smoke and mirrors in order to avoid answering to the Opposition’s concerns and warnings. Using rhetoric of pretending to know better than the Opposition what the English word ‘stay’ means in legal terms, suggesting that the term is complicated – too complicated for you or I to understand, to mislead the public rather than to inform it! What a mess! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A..Ps. (Syd)

Guess who turned up at the SEE Europe Ministerial Conference  (on Assessing the EU’s enlargement in the Western Balkans) this week?

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