Croatian President criticizes European Union sanctions against Hungary

Croatia’s president said on Friday that EU efforts to uphold democratic norms in member states threaten to tear the bloc apart, and condemned EU efforts to financially punish Hungary for its alleged breaches of rule of law norms.

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President Zoran Milanovic made the remarks during a press conference in the Hungarian capital Budapest following his talks with his Hungarian counterpart Katalin Novak. Milanovic echoed repeated Hungarian criticism of the European Union, saying the bloc was overreaching its powers over member states and that this excessive control had precipitated Brexit and prompted the United Kingdom to exit.

Hungarian President Katalin Novak, right, greets Croatian President Zoran Milanovic, left, with military honors at Parliament House in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, January 20, 2023.
(Noemi Bruzak/MTI via AP)

The EU should not become the “United States of Europe,” he said, adding that the EU’s actions against Hungary — which has frozen billions of euros in funding for Budapest over corruption and rule of law concerns — threatened to devastate the 27 member states. Mass.

“This kind of approach (between the EU and Hungary) is very disturbing,” he said, warning that “Hungary is today, tomorrow it will be a bigger country that will need to be ‘taught a lesson’.”

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Milanovic won Croatia’s presidential election in late 2019 as a left-leaning liberal candidate, a contrast to the conservative government currently in power in the EU’s newest member state. But he has since turned to populist nationalism, criticizing Western policies towards the Balkans and Russia.

Milanović thus gained a reputation as pro-Russian, which he denied. However, in recent months he has publicly opposed Finland and Sweden joining NATO amid the war in Ukraine, and training Ukrainian forces in Croatia as part of EU aid to the embattled country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, speaks as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, and Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov attend a meeting with senior military officers in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, December 21, 2022.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, speaks as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, and Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov attend a meeting with senior military officers in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, December 21, 2022.
(Sergey Fadichev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via Associated Press)

While the heads of state said they condemn Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and support its territorial integrity, Milanovic said he, like Hungary’s government, does not support sanctions against Moscow, and described the conflict in Ukraine as a proxy war between Russia and the United States. States.

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“The question is how much (sanctions) will hurt us. They hurt Europe,” Milanovic said. “We have succeeded in bringing Russia and China closer together. In whose interest is this? All these questions must be answered by me, especially by those who make those decisions in my name. I demand an answer.”

Hungarian President Katalin Novak, right, and Croatian President Zoran Milanovic hold a bilateral meeting at the Presidential Alexander Palace in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, January 20, 2023.

Hungarian President Katalin Novak, right, and Croatian President Zoran Milanovic hold a bilateral meeting at the Presidential Alexander Palace in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, January 20, 2023.
(Noemi Bruzak/MTI via AP)

Novak said on Friday at the news conference that she welcomed Croatia’s January 1 entry into the 27-country Schengen Area, Europe’s border-free zone.

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With Croatia’s entry into the region, the border fence separating Hungary and Croatia was subsequently dismantled, a change Novak said would increase tourism, ease travel between neighboring countries and move the EU’s external border to the south.

Novak also called on Ukrainian authorities to respect the rights of the ethnic Hungarian minority in western Ukraine’s Transcarpathia region, where she said Hungarian flags had recently been removed from public institutions in what she described as a restriction of minority rights.

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