Gordan Grlić Radman : Crisis time strengthens European unity

The war in Ukraine has fundamentally shaken the order we have known for the last 30 years. Croatia, as a member of the EU and NATO, with its allies, helps Ukraine and Ukrainians to win in this war. Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Gordan Grlić Radman talks to Diplomacy & Commerce about the consequences of the war on Croatia, the region, defense plans within the EU and other current topics.




  1. What is Croatia doing to assist Ukraine in the context of Russian aggression?

Croatia continues to provide support and assistance to Ukraine, including by hosting Ukrainian refugees. So far, we have received over 13.000 Ukrainian citizens fleeing war, whose number is continuously increasing. We are providing them with full package of socio-economic care, and are taking efforts to integrate them into Croatian labor market. The Government has recently pledged further 100 million euros for assistance to refugees in Croatia as part of the Global Citizen – Stand for Ukraine initiative. This complements the financial and in-kind humanitarian donations that we have sent to Ukraine since the beginning of the war.

We have also shown our solidarity through supporting EU assistance measures to Ukraine and five EU packages of restrictive measures on Russia and Belarus, which have been adopted thus far. We welcome Ukraine’s EU membership application and support the country’s European path.

Croatia continues to condemn Russia’s aggression on Ukraine and calls for urgent cessation of all military activities as well the withdrawal of Russian troops from the entire territory of Ukraine. We have supported the joint EU engagement in support of Ukraine in the multilateral fora as well as the investigation of war crimes committed in Ukraine, hoping that perpetrators will be brought to justice.

  1. The document “Strategic Compass” was adopted in Brussels, which implies the establishment of an EU army of 5,000 troops by 2025. Has the war in Ukraine accelerated this process and how will it affect Croatia? What role does NATO remain in that situation?

Agreeing on the development of the Rapid Deployment Capacity is an important decision by the EU Member States and one of the main deliverables of the Strategic Compass.

It needs to be clear that this is not about creating a „European army“. Member States have and will continue to have their own armed forces. That is how NATO works as well – there is no NATO army, but Member States’ forces that operate under NATO command for a certain period of time.

As Europeans, we need to be able to work more closely together, in military matters just as much as in other areas. We need to be able to respond to imminent threats and to quickly react to stabilize a crisis, especially in our neighborhood. This is why reinforcing our military capability is necessary.

Implementing the Strategic Compass is a process that is just beginning. The deteriorating security environment is surely an incentive to move forward quickly. Member States, including Croatia, will discuss specific details of different strands of the Strategic Compass implementation. This includes the modalities of the RDC deployment and Member States’ engagement. While doing that, it will be important to ensure complementarity with NATO, to which the majority of EU Member States contribute with their forces and which represents a cornerstone of the collective defense in Europe.

  1. The document “Strategic Compass” also mentions Bosnia and Herzegovina and the constituency of the three nations. What exactly does this mean and why is it important?

The inclusion of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Strategic Compass shows the attention the EU gives to the current situation in the country. This was the result of continuous efforts of our Government to put the Western Balkans in general and Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular high on EU’s agenda. Now, it is necessary to use the “Compass” as a guide on the ground in order to succeed in attaining a secure, functional and prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Strategic Compass is an important step for the Union in its posture on the global scene. The document and ambition of the Compass goes beyond the neighborhood and looks at the bigger picture. Croatia reiterates that a stable BiH based on the Dayton Accords, including the three constituent people, is vital to achieve security, stability and functionality. Hence, mentioning the three constituent people in the final document is a strong message towards those in Bosnia and Herzegovina who seek to change these fundamental principles of the Dayton-Paris Peace Accords.

Croatia showed the willingness to be a strong advocate of BiH at the highest EU level. No country is more interested for a stable and functional BiH than Croatia. We are a well-intended friend that wants to help BiH to turn the page in order to focus on economic, energy and infrastructural projects. For instance, the Southern Interconnection Project would establish a new supply route for BiH, by linking BiH to the LNG Terminal on the Island of Krk, as well as reducing its dependency on Russian gas. Thus, the inclusion of BiH in the Strategic Compass has a broader geopolitical scope. Hence, we are glad that our fellow EU Member States have recognized this strategic importance of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  1. Recently, after many years of waiting, Croatia received an invitation to start negotiations with the OECD. What does this mean for Croatia, what do you expect from the next period regarding the negotiation process?

Croatia received the invitation to start the accession discussions with the OECD on 25 January 2022. The Accession Roadmap, which will be prepared for Croatia by the OECD, will set out the terms and conditions of the negotiation process. After the adoption of the Accession Roadmap, the official start of negotiations will be marked in Croatia in form of a kick-off mission.

The negotiation process for the membership in the OECD will involve in-depth technical reviews of Croatia’s alignment to the legal instruments, policies and standards of the Organization, which will be achieved in close cooperation with the OECD.

The reviews typically result in recommendations for changes to bring the country’s legislation, policies or practices closer to OECD instruments and best practices.

In order to better and more efficiently coordinate state administrative bodies during the accession process, the Government of Croatia established a Negotiating team for the accession with all relevant ministries and institutions included in its work. Coordination of the Negotiation team is within the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and myself as the Chief negotiator for Croatia’s accession to the OECD.

  1. You have warned several times about the possibility of further destabilization of the Western Balkans (Bosnia and Herzegovina) , due to the war in Ukraine. How do you think that destabilization can happen, what is Zagreb doing on that issue, and how far has it come with the reform of the election law, which is still a stumbling block in the relations between Bosnians and Croats?

Against the backdrop of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, it is vital to not allow malign forces to destabilize BiH and use petty politics inside BiH to plant seeds of instability. Therefore, we call on all parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina to continue their efforts to reach a political compromise on the Election Law. It is crucial to renew trust between Bosniaks and Croats in order to stabilize the Federation of BiH and make it the backbone of the country – as it was during the Homeland War and needs to be in the future.

Crucial for that is the change of the Election Law so that all citizens and each of the three constituent peoples, especially the Croats, can be legitimately represented and elect their own representatives. Without a reform, BiH is violating the European Convention on Human Rights and its own Constitution and Croats would again be denied their democratic right to elect those that they want. This takes the country into uncharted waters.

The EU and US should continue their engagement with local stakeholders and reinvigorate the talks between Bosniak and Croat leaders. Luckily, there is still some time left.


  1. Will the EU speed up the process of accession of the Western Balkan countries to the Union and in what way, apart from declarative support?

Croatia as country with EU’s longest external border has a vital interest to integrate and transform the countries of its Southeastern neighborhood. However, membership in the EU should not be the only goal, but also the transformative process.

Croatia went through a very challenging negotiation process, but it helped us to be who we are today. We are a functioning and stable democracy that diligently works on its economic development and plays a constructive role in European and international fora, closely aligned with our partners. Therefore, the countries of the Western Balkans deserve also this chance and to be a success story like Croatia is.

Yet, it is not a two-way street. Both sides need to deliver. The key is that the EU delivers when these countries do their homework. Thus, for EU’s influence in the region it is of crucial importance to immediately open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, but also with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. All these countries are an integral part of Europe and deserve a European future and Croatia will continue to support them.