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21st May 2022

Croatia on EU collision course over arrest warrant

  • Croatia faces possible EU sanctions less than two months after joining the bloc (Photo: JasonParis)

The European Commission is on collision course with Croatia after the EU's newest member state ignored demands to scrap laws exempting crimes committed during the Communist era and war crimes from the scope of the European Arrest Warrant.

Croatia became the 28th EU member state when it joined the bloc on 1 July.

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Just three days prior to their accession date the Croatian parliament adopted changes exempting all crimes committed before 2002 from the scope of its implementation of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

The dispute is believed to have been sparked after the German government issued an EAW to extradite Josip Perkovic, a former director of the Yugoslav-era Croatian secret police, in connection with the assassination of a Croatian defector in Germany during the Communist-era. The amendments could also exempt crimes committed during the Yugoslav civil war in the early 1990s

In a letter dated 29 July to Croatian justice minister, Orsat Milijenic, Viviane Reding, the bloc's justice commissioner, set out the commission's position that the amendments were in clear breach of EU law.

The EAW, which has sparked controversy in a number of EU countries, requires member states to arrest and extradite criminal suspects identified by other EU countries.

Speaking on Monday (26 August), spokesperson Mina Andreeva told journalists that the commission had not received a reply to Reding's letter, adding that Croatia's stance amounted to a "breach of trust" on an issue which "goes at the heart of judicial co-operation in the EU."

Andreeva also rejected suggestions that the EAW should not be applied in full to Croatia, noting that Croatian officials had not raised the issue or the possibility of securing an opt-out from parts of the law during negotiations.

She added that the issue would be raised by the bloc's justice commissioner Viviane Reding at meetings of the EU commissioners and justice ministers next week with a view to further action, including the possible imposition of sanctions, in the coming weeks.

For her part, Reding has already raised the prospect of sanctions using Article 39 of Croatia's accession treaty in the event of "serious shortcomings" in its implementation of EU law.

Possible sanctions could include the withholding of EU funds, such as cohesion funds or money related to justice and judicial reform such as the training of judges.

The complexity of the EU's legal framework means that the commission has no power to launch formal infringement proceedings against Croatia before 2015.

Under the Lisbon treaty the EAW, which was agreed by EU governments in 2002 as a 'framework decision,' cannot be treated in the same way as conventional EU laws until the end of a transition period in December 2014.

Croatia becomes 28th EU member state

Croatia became the 28th member of the EU at midnight on Sunday, less than 20 years after gaining independence from Yugoslavia.

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