Good momentum for further coperation

Political, economic and cultural relations between Croatia and Italy are increasingly strengthening. Areas in which we can strengthen and intensify our cooperation are ranging from migration issues to economic and trade relations, to education and research.

The relations between Croatia and Italy are strong and manifold, with many new opportunities for further cooperation, says Ambassador of the Italian Republic to the Republic of Croatia, H.E. Adriano Chiodi Cianfarani.

1) On the basis of the Memorandum of Cooperation concluded in 2009, a Ministerial Coordination Board, covering different areas, was set up. After a seven-year recess and, for the first time since Croatia became a full-fledged EU member, the Board met up at the beginning of this year. Why was this meeting significant for the cooperation between the two countries?

The traditionally strong political, economic and cultural relations between Croatia and Italy are increasingly strengthening. The meeting of the Coordination Committee presided over by the respective Ministers of Foreign Affairs, which took place last January in Rome, after over seven years since the last Committee, added further boost to this process.

On the bilateral level, the official visit of the President of the Republic of Croatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarović to Italy at the end of May enhanced this momentum.

On the multilateral level, the two countries are members of the EU, the NATO and also play a key role in various regional forums. 2018 is marked by the Italian presidency of the OSCE and the Adriatic and Ionian Initiative (AII) / EU Strategy for the Adriatic-Ionian Region (EUSAIR) and by the Croatian presidency of the Central European Initiative (CEI) and the Council of Europe. The CEI Ministers of Foreign Affairs Meeting held in Split on 11th June was the first visit abroad of the newly-appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prof. Moavero Milanesi. On that occasion, he had a productive bilateral meeting with the Croatian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mrs. Pejćinović Burić.

2) The Joint Declaration that was made after this meeting tackled numerous issues of concern for both sides. Can you tell us which topics do you consider the most important for further development of the bilateral relations and cooperation?

It is a comprehensive and elaborate document which reflects the two sides taking stock of the existing cooperation and identifying potential avenues for further common projects. Areas in which Italy and Croatia can strengthen and intensify their cooperation, ranging from migration issues to economic and trade relations, from education and research to environment, from transport to tourism, agriculture and fisheries. I am rather reluctant to establish priorities among these areas as they are all crucial for the development of our societies. I would like to mention, however, two fields which I consider as key. On the one hand, education and research: investments in the education of new generations and in research and innovation are investments in the future which can be extremely beneficial. On the other, migration has been for years an important issue of the European agenda: Italy and Croatia together can make a substantive contribution to the development of a European approach to the migratory phenomenon based on the common principle of solidarity and shared responsibility.

3) The two countries have a number of common positions in terms of defence policy. In which defence policy segments is the cooperation between our countries particularly pronounced?

Croatia shares with Italy the goal to strongly support and actively contribute to the efforts that the international community is investing in the stabilization process in the Region. In this regard, Italy is a key strategic partner for Croatia. Indeed, the Republic of Croatia is actively participating in KFOR in the Republic of Kosovo, a military operation which is currently under Italian leadership. Moreover, Croatia has recently decided to give its contribution in UNIFIL in Lebanon, offering an engineer company under the Italian Command in the Joint Task Force – Sector West.

The International Defence Cooperation also took place through a series of bilateral and multilateral activities related to the development of Defense Capabilities of the Republic of Croatia, through cooperation in strengthening stability, security and confidence in the Region, and through active participation in different international bodies, forums, organizations and initiatives. Among these organizations, we cannot forget the DECI project, Defence Cooperation Initiative, led by Italy, which includes the participation of Croatia together with Albania, Austria, Hungary, Montenegro and Slovenia. DECI is a perfect example of how cooperative work may help to solve problems, since the aforementioned Croatian contribution to UNIFIL has been planned under this new framework.

4) How would you rate the economic cooperation between the two countries and where do you see room for further development of economic relations and investments?

According to official data, Italy ranks as one of Croatia’s top partners in terms of bilateral trade and investments. Italy is Croatia’s top export market and the second largest import partner behind Germany. In 2017, bilateral trade exceeded 4,7 billion Euro, evidence of a strong presence of Italian companies on the Croatian market, which in turn has contributed to the high level of collaboration and exchange between the two countries. When it comes to investments, in 2017, Italy maintained its third position, behind The Netherlands and Austria. Italy’s share would be even bigger, if we consider that many Italian companies have invested in Croatia through their entities based in other countries.

Among the sectors in Croatia that have attracted most investments are the banking and financial sector, with two large domestic banks ZABA and PBZ being controlled by the two largest Italian banking and financial groups Unicredit and Intesa Sanpaolo, respectively. I would like to mention other important companies with a strong presence on the Croatian market, such as Eni, Edison and Saipem in the energy sector; Sol in the chemical sector; Olimpias, Calzedonia, Aquafil in the textile sector; Florian Legno in the woodworking industry; Danieli, Same Deutz Fahr, Ducati Energia, Wam, MEP and Adriatica in the steel and manufacturing industry.

5) What projects, especially those from the bilateral Croatia-Italy programme, have been contributing the most to the economic growth?

Italy-Croatia Cross Border Cooperation Programme is a very important bilateral initiative not only because it is aimed at stimulating cross-border partnerships but, more importantly, because it focuses on achieving tangible changes, thus contributing to the increase of the prosperity and the blue growth potential. In September 2016, a kick-off meeting held in Venice marked the official launch of the programme. In the course of 2017 calls for proposals for both Standard and Standard+ projects were launched.

Considering that the general goal of the project is for regional and local stakeholders from two countries to exchange knowledge and good practises, to develop and implement pilot projecs, to test the feasibility of new policies, products and services and to support investments, it is still premature to talk about the tangible effects that recently undertaken activities or those to be undertaken might produce.

However, if we consider, by random selection, only one project, such as MOSES (maritime and multimodal transport services) aimed to enhance the accessibility and mobility of passengers in the Adriatic area through the development of new cross-border sustainable and integrated transport services and the improvement of related infrastructures, it is clear that the full implementation shall have immediate impact and produce long-term benefits for the local community and the whole region.

6) How satisfied are you with the status of the Italian national minority in Croatia and what does the Italian government do to foster the rights of the Croatian minority in Italy?

The respective native national minorities, the Italian one in Croatia and the Croatian one in Italy, are often referred to as a bridge bringing the two countries even closer to each other. Many events have been recently a testimony to it. For example, just let me mention the visit by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Alfano and Minister of Health Mrs. Lorenzin to Pula in April 2017 as well as the visit to Rovinj and Pula by the Mayor of Rome Mrs. Virginia Raggi in March 2018 together with a group of high-school students from Rome. The delegations were always received in a cordial atmosphere by their Croatian counterparts and the local communities.

In this context, I would also like to recall that the representative of the Italian native minority, Mr Radin is the Vice-President of the Croatian Parliament; something that we should consider as a sign of appreciation for the contribution that the native Italian minority has always made to Croatia as a country.

7. In what segments can Italy and Croatia further their connection?

The relations between the two countries are already very strong and manifold. However, there is still potential for their further development. I would like to conclude by putting our bilateral relations in the common European context. In spite of the complex dynamics currently involving the European Union, I believe that Italy, as one of its founding Member States, and Croatia, as the latest State to join the club, in 2013, can help pave the way to reinvigorating momentum for the integration process; a process that needs to be in line with and mindful of the current expectations of the European citizens, thus reconciling their needs and concerns. In this framework, a successful Croatian term of the Presidency of the EU Council will be therefore critical.