June 20, 2019

European state of mind

By H.E. Ms. Andrea Gustović-Ercegovac, Ambassador of Croatia to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

After joining NATO in April 2009 and the EU in July 2013, we can say that our European integration project is reaching a completion stage. Our position is that of a European partner and a connecting country between Eastern, Central and Western Europe. Our focus is on what unites the EU today, and much less on what could divide us. We should jointly engage to ensure prosperity and security of our citizens.

Europe is going through a turbulent time with anti-immigrant populist politics becoming more prominent, Euroscepticism on the rise and Brexit imminent. The migrant issue is putting a lot of strain on the EU but also on its surrounding countries in the Southeast Europe. With all the instability in the region, we believe that the EU should take more interest and be more present in Southeast Europe.

We still have two more strategic goals that both come with a strong EU. Our commitment is to become a member of the Schengen area and part of the Monetary Union with Euro as our currency.

In this sense, Croatia is ready to meet all of the Schengen technical criteria by the end of this year and is striving to become part of the Schengen Area by 2020, when Croatia will, for the first time, preside over the Council of the EU.

As regards Eurozone accession, Croatia has achieved a relatively high level of convergence, and we are still to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM-2). In 2017, the Croatian government decreased its public debt to 78% of GDP, and aims to reduce the public debt further to 65% by 2021. In 2017, Croatia had a 0.8% budget surplus, as well as continuous GDP growth of around 3 % for many years.


Some facts about Croatia

Although the existence of Croatian state dates back to the Medieval times,

I shall skip directly to the modern times history. Croatia was part of Austria-Hungary until the end of World War I. In 1918, Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes were united in a state that later, after the Belgrade assassination of the Croatian parliamentarian Stjepan Radić, became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia under the hegemony of the Serbian king.

Following World War II, Yugoslavia became a federal communist state consisting of six socialist republics under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito. Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, after proposing Yugoslavia to become a confederation (the idea was refused by Serbs), and after a referendum in which 94% of the population declared itself in favour of independence. Croatia endured more than four years of Serbian aggression before the occupying Serb armies were expelled from its territory, with immeasurable damage to its economy and infrastructure (Croatia provided shelter to more than 720 000 refugees from neighbouring countries and the total sustained damage is estimated at approx. 30 billion USD).

The four million inhabitants of Croatia are Croats(90.4%), Serbs (4.4%) and other nationalities including Bosniak, Hungarian, Slovene, Czech, Slovak, Roma etc.The predominant religion is Roman Catholic 86.3%, followed by Orthodox 4.4%, and Muslim 1.5% religions.

The northern half of the countryis more densely populated, with approximately a quarter of the population residing in and around Zagreb.

Tourism is one of the main pillars of the Croatian economy, comprising 19 % of Croatia’s GDP. Croatia is a country of beautiful nature, with 19 parks of nature or national parks, the cleanest sea of the Mediterranean with 6000 km of coast, more than 1200 islands free of pollution or traffic, and 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Biking adventure tourism, hiking, sailing, organic food are parts of the Croatian natural orientation. At the same time inland Croatia is well-connected through a network of motorways. Investment in tourism and trade are growing, just like the number of visitors and the cultural exchanges among Croats and the Dutch. The Dutch are definitely discovering Croatia – 500 000 Dutch traveled to Croatia last year.

Regarding Croatian economy, 60% of the Croatian export is directed to the EU, while 12% of our exports is in the shipbuilding industry. We have a varied agriculture sector providing 11% of Croatian workplaces. The Croatian energy sector is well-developed, hydro energy accounting for 50% of all energy production, but we also produce 65% of our natural gas needs. Croatia is working to become a regional energy hub and is undertaking plans to open a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal to import LNG for re-distribution to Central and Southeast Europe.


Netherlands and Croatia

The Netherlands is the number one investor in Croatia with total investments reaching almost 7 billion €. Most investments are in the maritime sector, water management, agriculture and consultancy services. On the other hand, The Netherlands has also been a leading destination for Croatian capital, with investments reaching almost 3 billion €.

As political partners we cooperate well, with room for intensifying our cooperation even more. We have regular political consultations on all issues relating to both our bilateral interests, as well as to our common EU existence.

The Netherlands is a country that values innovative solutions, and has a sophisticated business environment. The Dutch are ahead of the time in a series of top sectors, such as life sciences and health, agriculture and food, high technology or creative industries. We could learn a lot from The Netherlands.

Before ending this text, I would like to share a personal wish: it is for the Royal family to visit Croatia and spend their holidays on the Croatian coast. I am confident that this would additionally strengthen our ties, to the benefit of both, Croatia and the Netherlands.


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