The bilateral relations, based on the principle of good neighbourly relations, are very good, and have been cultivated by frequent bilateral contacts in the past years.
Greece and Croatia have established diplomatic relations in 1992, but they definitely became even closer since Croatia’s accession to the European Union in 2013, days H.E. Stavros Tsiepas, Ambassador of the Hellenic Republic to Croatia.
How would you assess the bilateral relations between Greece and Croatia?
They are very good and are deepening every year, politically, economically and culturally. In the segment of culture, for example, the two countries will stage museum exhibitions in both capitals on the occasion of Croatia’s undertaking the Presidency of the Council of the EU, in the first half of 2020.
Our political relations have undoubtedly been further strengthened since Croatia’s accession to NATO and the European Union but also through our effective cooperation in many regional forums and organizations, such as the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP), the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC), the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian (EUSAIR) and the Quadrilateral Scheme of Cooperation Between Greece, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. From an economic point of view, there is significant potential for growth in various sectors and mutual interest in expanding our cooperation, as recently validated by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Croatian Chamber of Economy in Zagreb. Last but not least, in the field of cultural cooperation, the Ministries of Culture of our two countries are working actively on exchanging archaeological exhibitions which will take place in both capitals during the first Croatian Presidency of the European Union Council in 2020.
How much has Croatia’s accession to the EU contributed to boosting these relations?
The fact that it now belongs to the same European family has not only given a common vision and scope, but has facilitated people-to-people contacts and business cooperation, particularly in the context of EU programmes. In this respect, Greece has clearly stated that it is willing to provide Croatia with the valuable know-how and technical assistance, given its high track-records of EU absorption funds.
Now that Croatia has important accession funds at its disposal, this will also provide opportunities for cooperation, given that, as it appears from official EU documents, Greece has one of the highest records of absorption of EU funds.
What are the key international issues on which the two countries are cooperating?
The priorities of the cooperation between Greece and Croatia, both as South-East European countries and members of the EU and NATO, is the enlargement of the European Union and the Euro-Atlantic integration of all Western Balkan countries, which will secure consolidated stability and democracy and will boost the economic well-being of all the peoples of the region.
The key international isssues the two countries cooperate on are the political, economic and security situtation in the EU, NATO and in the region of Southeastern Europe, especially in relation to the EU enlargement in the Western Balkans.
More specifically, the two countries are members of the EU and NATO and at the EU level, together with Romania and Bulgaria they participate in the so-called Quadrilateral Cooperation for Southeastern Europe. At the regional level:
Our countries also cooperate closely in tackling current global issues and challenges that might affect our neighbourhood, like, for instance, in the framework of the Centre for Security Cooperation (RACVIAC) for SE Europe, based in Rakitje.
Both countries are members of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP), which, as defined in its Charter, has the following main objectives: enhancement of political and security cooperation; fostering economic cooperation; enlargement of cooperation in the fields of human dimension, democracy, justice and combating illegal activities. The SEECP has 13 participants from the SEE region, which are also participants in the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) Board.
How much can Greece and Croatia contribute to improving security through the process of co-operation in Southeast Europe?
Both countries participate in RACVIAC, an international security coooperation organization with members coming from all over SE Europe and observers from North America and other European countries. Greece currently holds currently the Presidency of the Multinational Advisory Group (MAG) of RACVIAC (starting from 1st November 2018 and lasting one year). Greece and Croatia also actively participate in the SEECP process which has boosting security cooperation as one of its main goals.
Most of the problems facing our countries nowadays transcend state borders: issues like climate change, refugee and migrant flows, terrorism, transnational organized criminal networks that profit from human trafficking, drug smuggling, contraband trade in small arms and light weapons, to name but a few, are all issues that cannot be adequately addressed by each state’s authorities and agencies, regardless of their resources and training. Such issues require international attention and concerted efforts by all affected so as to be tackled in a most effective manner. In this context, regional formats of cooperation, like RACVIAC, or like the above-mentioned SEECP process, have proven to offer significant added value.
What is your position on Croatia’s inclusion into the Schengen zone?
Cooperation, both at the bilateral and at EU level, can take place in the context of Croatia’s preparation to fully apply the Schengen acquis. The various EU bodies and Council groups, including FRONTEX, give ample opportunity for that.
We should note that when Croatia satisfies the relevant criteria and is able to fully apply the Schengen acquis, upon recommendation by the Commission, the Council of the EU will make the final decision regarding the full-fledged membership of Croatia in the Schengen area. An expansion of the Schengen area in Southeast Europe will definitely improve various exchanges, including tourist exchanges, and the general cooperation on security.
What new perspectives has the cooperation between the two countries within the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative opened up?
The Adriatic and Ionian Initiative (AII) (established at the Summit on Development and Security on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, held in Ancona (Italy) on 19th/20th May 2000) counts eight members today: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. As the Ancona Declaration states, the purpose of the initiative is to strengthen regional cooperation in order to promote political and economic stability, thus creating a solid base for the process of European integration. The goal of facilitating the EU enlargement in the Western Balkans was set from the very moment this institution was established. To this end, Greece is cooperating with all members, including Croatia, in order to enhance the goals of the initiative.
7. What is your assessment of the cooperation between the two countries when it comes to the migrant crisis?
The two countries cooperate at the EU level, Council of the EU and working groups and at the Frontex level. However, this cooperation is not always direct, since our two countries do not share common borders. Thus cooperation with neighbouring countries in the region becomes of utmost importance.