23rd Oct 2016

EU tells Croatia to change law or face sanctions

  • Croatia amended the European Arrest Warrant a few days before it joined the Union (Photo: banspy)

The European Commission is threatening sanctions against Croatia if it fails to revert national amendments made to the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

Mina Andreeva, a spokesperson for EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, told this website on Wednesday (21 August) that Croatia has until Friday (23 August) before midnight to submit a deadline on when to scrap the changes.

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“We have explained on several occasions why legally this is wrong,” said Andeeva.

The dispute centres around the former director of the Yugoslav-era Croatian secret police, Josip Perkovic. German authorities believe the ex-spy is connected to a Communist-era assassination of a Croat defector killed in Germany.

Germany’s federal prosecutor issued an EAW over the summer to extradite Perkovic. The warrant is used to extradite people suspected of an offence from one EU country to another.

"So far we have not received any response," Marcus Koehler, spokesperson for Germany’s federal prosecutor, said in an email.

Croatia joined the EU club in July and along with it, all the EU laws that it is required to comply with, including the EAW.

But lawmakers, three days before Croatia became the 28th member state on 1 July, amended the EAW under the so-called “lex Perkovic,” which prevents them from extraditing anyone for crimes committed before 7 August 2002.

The EU, alerted by the amendments, has called upon the Croat authorities to scrap the law or face possible sanctions.

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding sent a letter in June addressed to the Croatian minister of justice, Orsat Miljenic, where she outlined her concerns over intentions by the parliament to amend the EAW.

“Two days later and three days before the actual accession they adopted the law,” said Andeeva.

Miljenic replied to the letter, stating they will co-operate but never followed through.

Reding then sent a second letter to Miljenic in July where she explained Croatia cannot insert derogations into the EAW.

She said the changes “observe neither the letter nor the spirit of these obligations and breaches EU law.”

Miljenic has yet to respond to Reding’s second letter.

In an interview given to Croatia’s Danas News on Monday, Reding said a clause in Croatia’s Accession Treaty gives the commission the right to take “appropriate measures in the event of serious shortcomings”.

Croatia, if it refuses to change the law, could face a country reporting mechanism not unlike those currently tracking Romania and Bulgaria. The commission can also suspend financial instruments that would restrict EU funding.

Croatia was entitled to bring up the issue or ask for clarifications during the accession negotiation process but never did.

“The ball is now in the court of the Croatians, we expect their answer and their commitment with a timetable for changing the law and if this is not forthcoming, then as I said, our legal experts are already working on what appropriate measures could be,” said Andreeva.

For its part, a contact in Croatia’s ministry of justice who wanted to remain anonymous, said authorities have yet to issue any official statements on the issue.

Despite naming the amended law ‘lex Perkovic’, the contact said it had no connections to Josip Perkovic.

“The date August 2002 is the date when the European Arrest Warrant was implemented,” noted the contact.

He would not explain why the warrant was amended in the first place.

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