In 2022, we connected the territory of Croatia with the Pelješac Bridge and we completed European integration with two major memberships – in Eurozone and Schengen.
As the youngest member of the EU, Croatia made history as the only country that became a member of Schengen and introduced the euro at the same time. In addition to achieving our most important goals, we continue to support Ukraine, but also our neighbors on the path to EU membership, says Gordan Grlić Radman, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs in the Government of the Republic of Croatia, for Diplomacy&Commerce.
- The year 2022 brought a number of important events in the world marked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, how do you see the further development of this situation?
As a member of NATO and the European Union, Croatia – which itself was a victim of brutal Greater Serbian aggression three decades ago – understands very well what Ukraine is currently going through, and we expressed full solidarity with them from the very beginning in their fight for freedom, democracy and the principles of international law. In May, I visited Kyiv together with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, where we personally expressed our support to President Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian authorities and the Ukrainian people. Also, in October, the Croatian Parliament co-hosted the First Parliamentary Summit of the International Crimea Platform in Zagreb together with the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. This meeting was organized at the right time, and clear messages of support for Ukraine were sent from Zagreb. Also, through their support for Ukraine, a vast majority of countries in the world have strongly committed themselves to the defense of the international order, which rests on the foundations of international law. As for our further involvement, we will continue to support Ukraine politically and diplomatically, i.e. we will continue to provide them with financial, humanitarian and military assistance as much as we can. It is also important to already start working on the plan for the reconstruction of Ukraine, together with our international partners and allies. This is where Croatia is ready to provide assistance, in particular, we can share our knowledge when it comes to demining, care for veterans, and experience in the peaceful reintegration of occupied territory.
2.How does the situation in Ukraine affect the situation in the Western Balkans? What are the challenges you face and what are the solutions?
Russian aggression on Ukraine caused tectonic political shifts on a global level, therefore there is no doubt that it has a very strong effect on the situation in the Western Balkans. Also, there is no doubt that a clear perspective of further Euro-Atlantic integrations is the only right path for the stability of countries in the Western Balkans. As for our position, we will continue to provide assistance and transfer of know-how in the implementation of necessary reforms. In this context, at the Berlin Process Summit, we clearly expressed the need for further strengthening of ties at all levels and cooperation in the field of energy, development of transport infrastructure, digital development and strengthening of human resources. The strengthening of energy infrastructure, transport networks and growth of the digital sector are factors that will certainly contribute to economic development, employment opportunities and innovations in the countries of the Western Balkans. Likewise, we clearly emphasized our strategic interest at this important meeting, which is the strengthening resilience of the Western Balkan countries and their progress on the way to the EU. However, when we talk about the progress of Western Balkan countries towards the EU family of states, it is important to emphasize that all candidate states have to be consistent and credible when it comes to joining the sanctions against Russia. So, if they want to achieve their European perspective, they must be fully aligned with the EU’s foreign and security policy. This was also the unanimous message from the Summit in Tirana, where the perspective of EU membership was confirmed for them, but also a perspective that is based on clear criteria and urgent political reforms.
3. Following on from that, how do you see the current political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the decision of High Representative Schmidt related to the electoral law?
The move made by the High Representative of the International Community for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian Schmidt, in which he used Bonn powers and changed parts of the electoral law that relate to the structure and functioning of the House of Peoples of the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the way of making decisions when electing the most important members of its executive power, is essentially the first step towards the reform of the electoral system and the return of B&H to the state of constitutionality, which is based on the Washington Agreement and the Dayton – Paris Peace Agreement. Our Government welcomed the action of the High Representative, and will also support all those political processes in the future that will ensure the equality of the Croatian people guaranteed by the Constitution and enable the legitimate political representation of the three constituent peoples in the collective bodies of government, as well as eliminate all other forms of discrimination in the electoral process. At this moment, we expect the fastest possible formation of B&H institutions, the continuation of the constitutional and electoral reform, and the continuation of B&H’s European path, where Croatia is absolutely ready to help with its knowledge and experience.
4. It is a generally known fact that Croatia is entering the Eurozone as of January 1, 2023, as well as becoming a member of the Schengen area, how significant are these two achievements for Croatia?
This Government has been working on joining the Eurozone and the Schengen area since the beginning of its term, because these two foreign policy goals were of strategic importance for the Republic of Croatia. And there is no doubt that these political achievements will complete our integration process into the European Union and result in additional advantages for Croatian citizens and our economy, as well as contribute to an even stronger international position of Croatia. For example, membership in the Eurozone will certainly contribute to a stronger position of our economy and its competitiveness, as well as greater resistance to economic crises. As for Schengen, Croatia went through a very demanding evaluation for membership in this circle of a majority of EU members, and fulfilled 281 recommendations in 8 areas of the Schengen acquis. In addition, with its Schengen membership, Croatia will certainly contribute to security of external borders of the European Union, and consequently to the security of EU citizens, as well as to migration management, and will enable complete freedom of movement for Croatian citizens within the Schengen area. By becoming a member of Schengen, our citizens also enter the largest zone of free movement in the world at a time when few member states were ready to discuss the expansion of the Schengen area, but we achieved this goal with our persistent work on fulfilment of the necessary conditions. I am sure that our Schengen membership is a great gain for the EU. I must emphasize that we are the only country to become a member of the Eurozone and Schengen on the same day. This certainly adds to our international reputation and it is an incentive for new investments in our country, because 80% of Croatian trade and 75% of visitors come from Schengen member states. In conclusion, I would like to remind once again how in this great year we connected the Croatian territory with the Pelješac bridge and completed our European integration with two major memberships – in the Eurozone and Schengen.
5. What is the current situation when it comes to joining the OECD?
In June of this year, the OECD Accession Plan for the Republic of Croatia was adopted in Paris and it was a great success considering the challenging global circumstances. After all, Croatia recognizes and shares the main values of the OECD – democracy and the rule of law, as well as social justice. Our accession process began in July, and the process of reforms and alignment with the best practices of OECD member states awaits us, but we are already very serious in our efforts to fulfill all the tasks that lie ahead of us. OECD represents a key platform for creating policies and exchanging initiatives that shape the global economy. Membership in this important organization also has a strategic importance for us because it will contribute to the further strengthening of our economy, but also to the most important thing – a higher standard of living of our citizens.
6. You were recently in Rome at the Mediterranean Dialogues, how important is cooperation with the Mediterranean countries for Croatia, given that it recently became a member of MED9?
The dimension of Mediterranean cooperation and strengthening of relations with countries belonging to the Mediterranean region is very important to us. We recently discussed the European neighborhood policy and the global food crisis during the conference in Rome, and I emphasized that Croatia strongly supports the preservation of stability in the region through comprehensive economic cooperation and the policy of enlargement of the European Union and NATO. In addition, I emphasized our ambition to become the energy hub of this part of Europe, but also beyond. In this context, the North Adriatic Hydrogen Valley project, a collaboration with partners from Italy and Slovenia, will certainly significantly contribute to energy diversification, which is of exceptional importance for the overall stability of the region. Clearly, the current energy crisis and the fastest possible transition to renewable energy sources can only be managed through stronger regional cooperation. We must be pragmatic and face the future. Therefore, the LNG terminal of 2.9 billion cubic meters on the island of Krk positioned Croatia as a regional energy hub, and thus contributed not only to our own energy security, but also to that of neighboring countries. And we made the decision to expand from 2.9 to 6.1 cubic meters of gas. Equally, the fastest possible development of the Ionian Adriatic Pipeline is an important step towards the diversification of European gas supply routes. We also discussed the important role of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations in response to the current food crisis at the recently held Second Ministerial Dialogue on the Food Security Crisis. We strongly support the UN’s role in a comprehensive response to this problem through cooperation with partners and international organizations. The current level of insecurity in the global food supply is a direct result of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world economy, disruption of supply chains, extreme weather conditions and global armed conflicts. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has worsened the food availability situation around the world to extremes. After these global experiences, there is no doubt that it is necessary to adapt the world’s food and energy systems in the future in order to prevent using them as a weapon or a means of blackmail