I am proud of the fact that I have known this country since its re-birth and that I have witnessed its important progress. I believe that Croatia has fantastic development opportunities for its society and economy, amplified by the opportunities offered by the Single Market.
It is not that common that an ambassador gets to know a country in which he will later serve, as a child, then live in the country during the hardest period in its recent history, and then witness the re-birth of the country and its successful accession into the European family. H.E. Mr. Lars Schmidt, Ambassador of Sweden in Croatia, has witnessed all these moments. Additionally, and under his watch, the already good relations between his home country and Croatia became better than ever before.
At the end of his tenure in Zagreb, he shared with the readers of Diplomacy and Commerce his memories about the fantastic changes Croatia went through, recent developments in the diplomatic relations between Sweden and Croatia and his personal impressions of the country and its people. At present, Sweden and Croatia cooperate within the EU system in numerous fields, and contacts between officials and citizens of the two countries have been rapidly developing. “The most important thing is to keep talking to each other because we can do well together in many areas”, says H.E. Mr. Lars Schmidt. The ambassador has a very special message for his compatriots, who are just starting to discover Croatia: “Croatia is very diverse, and there is something for everyone – not only on the coastline during summer. There is so much more to explore.”
How will you remember your days in Croatia?
During the homeland war, I was here as a member of the UN forces and later, in Brussels, I followed the negotiation process and the interim period until EU and Croatian leaders signed the accession treaty and Croatia became an EU member. I am proud of the fact that I have known this country since its re-birth and that I have witnessed its important progress. I believe that Croatia has fantastic development opportunities for its society and economy, amplified by the opportunities offered by the Single Market.
What were the most important bilateral activities that improved the relations between Sweden and Croatia during your mandate?
I am proud to say that the bilateral relationship between Croatia and Sweden has never been so good, with the rapidly developing contacts between our officials and citizens. We had an exchange of state visits, with President Grabar-Kitarović visiting Sweden in 2017. Gripen’s comprehensive offer, which Sweden presented in the procurement of combat planes, was also one of the milestones, as well as focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship while offering Croatia contemporary solutions.
Croatia is a hit tourist destination for the Swedes in 2018. According to the relevant surveys and the current sales figures, Croatian destinations are recording a boost in sales. This is a continuation of the positive trends noted during 2017 when there were 312,000 arrivals and 1.7 million overnight stays of the Swedish tourists, which, compared to 2016, was a 16% hike in arrivals and 13% in overnight stays. A direct flight between Zagreb and Stockholm was re-established as a useful addition to charter flights that link Croatia and Sweden during the tourist season, but also very useful for business people travelling to either country.
How did Croatia’s membership in the EU affect the bilateral cooperation between the two countries?
Even before Croatia formally became an EU member, Croatia and Sweden were prepared for legal harmonisation while creating opportunities for trade and economic cooperation. Now, we are cooperating in numerous fields within the EU system, and Croatia is our important partner. There is much that we agree on but there are differences as well. The most important thing is to keep talking to each other because we can do well together in many areas. The EU is about finding common ground and moving forward together, as a union, with shared responsibility.
How would you rate the cooperation between the two countries in the security area? What topics are in focus at the moment?
Croatia and Sweden have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on defence cooperation, and we are working together both bilaterally and multilaterally. There is also a close cooperation on other aspects of security, such as counterterrorism and organised crime.
What would you single out when it comes to external trade and investment opportunities?
In general, I think it is encouraging to see such a strong economic exchange between the two countries which is very cutting-edge as well, and involves innovative companies. Over 50 Swedish companies in Croatia employ 5,000 people and generate close to 500 million euros in annual turnover. The successful long-term cooperation between the two countries is embodied in Ericsson Nikola Tesla, which holds a strategic value in our economic relations now and in the future.
The value of the Swedish exports to Croatia last year was 126.5 million euros, while the Croatian exports to Sweden amounted to 113.5 million euros. This year, we established the Swedish Business Club with a goal of bringing together the promotion of Sweden and Swedish companies under one roof, and with the focus on the Swedish values. We hope that the Club will also act as a two–way channel for bolstering commercial and trade relations between our countries, as well as a mechanism for sharing knowledge, standards and ideas.
What would you recommend to the Croatian policy makers when it comes to future cooperation with Sweden?
Croatian decision makers, just like ours, consider the future of their citizens as a priority. In terms of Sweden, we are experienced in having an open economy where change is a positive factor. Change cannot be stopped, and the state must support those people who are negatively affected by specific events such as a factory closing. Training, supporting SMEs or similar measures need to be put in place. I hope that Croatian politicians will continue to boost free trade.
How has your image of Croatia changed since you first came here? What would you recommend to your fellow citizens to see?
I first came to Croatia with my parents when I was a child and the country looked just like my neighbourhood, not very far from where I came. Then I was here during the homeland war, and moved to Croatia with my family in 2013. All in all, Croatia has gone through tremendous changes over a relatively short period of time.
You have entered the EU which increased your export to the EU member states and created an opportunity for your citizens to travel more, and study and work abroad. You built a great road infrastructure, re-established the very successful tourism industry and you remain wonderful and welcoming people. Croatian hospitality is an export commodity!
I would recommend to the Swedes coming here not to spend all their time on the beach, but to investigate the interesting history you can see in this country, and the beautiful nature in other parts of the country other than the coast. Croatia is very diverse, and there is something for everyone – not only on the coastline, in summer. There is so much more to explore.
8.What do you see as major similarities and differences between Croats and Swedes?
The long history of bilateral relations, the very successful and well-integrated Croatian diaspora in Sweden and the friendship between our countries shows that there are more similarities than differences. We perceive Croatians as a well-educated, talkative and friendly nation, which I can confirm from my own experience too. We often agree in foreign relations matters but sometimes we are on other sides of the table. However, our diversity should not be a source of division among us, but rather it should enable us to enrich each other. I like Croatian curiosity, so use it!