Washington, D.C., 1 May 2006
Neven Jurica became the ambassador of Croatia to the United States on June 23, 2004. Prior to assuming his current post, Ambassador Jurica was elected to the Croatian Parliament where he was Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee. As a co-founder of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Ambassador Jurica served as a Government Spokesperson, Member of Parliament, and HDZ’s Political Secretary. His diplomatic career includes appointments as a Croatian Ambassador to Australia, Bulgaria and Norway. Ambassador Jurica is an accomplished author of 16 books and numerous articles on literary theory; criticism, essays and poetry anthologies, and is a recognized Croatian poet. He spoke with the Transatlantic Monthly in April 2006 about Croatia, the Adriatic Sea Region, the European Union, and transatlantic relations.
Lembke: What is the overall importance of the Adriatic Sea region?
Jurica: The Adriatic Sea region is a historically rich and naturally diverse area in which three distinct regions come together: Central Europe, the Balkans and the Mediterranean Sea. All of them influence and to a certain extent condition Croatia’s geo-strategic position and outlook.
Indeed the geographic, cultural and historical diversity of the Adriatic Sea region — that we regard as a source of pride, a true and original treasure — has provided us with an overwhelming reservoir of natural as well as cultural heritage that is now being enjoyed by the increasing number of tourists who are coming to Croatia and our region.
As all the states of the Adriatic Sea region have also expressed their strong desire to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, this region should for all intensive purposes become a bastion of security and stability, ensuring their prosperity and development in the years to come. I would like to add here that due to historical and geographical reasons one should also consider countries further inland and southeast from Croatia — the landlocked countries of South East Europe that are not directly linked to the Adriatic — to be a part of Adriatic Sea region. Moreover, the countries of the Adriatic Sea region are all working at becoming members of the European Union.
Croatia has started its membership talks with the EU, while Macedonia has achieved the status of candidate country. Others from the region are at various degrees in their EU integrations processes, some having established institutionalized links with the EU and others still working at institutionalizing their relationship.
In the mid-term we hope that the Adriatic Sea — the deepest and most beautiful of all Mediterranean bays — shall become the first sea to be an entirely internal sea of the European Union.
The Adriatic Sea region still has enormous untapped economic potential that is now becoming increasingly apparent. In addition to traditional industries such as fisheries, ship building and tourism, the Adriatic region offers opportunities for advanced eco agriculture and Croatia alone holds Europe’s third largest fresh water reserves. Croatia recognizes that this great natural resource is part of a larger fragile ecosystem that needs to be protected.
There are several regional projects in which Croatia is participating, one of which is the establishment of a regional energy market initiated through the European Union.
Another area in which all the countries of the Adriatic Sea region realized needed strengthened cooperation was maritime transportation and reaction to maritime disasters — especially in the case of vessels transporting crude oil. Croatia is very serious about the protection of its natural resources, and let me say that we intend to keep the Blue Flags (an international exclusive voluntary eco-label for clean beaches and marinas) flying high on the Adriatic.
Finally, we believe that the Central European Free Trade Area (CEFFA) should be enlarged so as to include all the countries between the Adriatic and Black Seas, providing added impetus for increased trade and overall economic development.
Lembke: What is the role of Croatia in the Adriatic Sea region?
Jurica: After being the victim of aggression and an importer of security in the early 1990’s, Croatia has recovered sufficiently to become a net contributor to security in its region and beyond. Croatia is well into its membership talks with the EU having completed screening in 13 chapters of the negotiations, and is now working of its Fourth Annual Nation Program [ANP] of the Membership Action Plan for NATO.
In many respects Croatia is providing true regional leadership in all things related to integration into the EU and NATO. And this indeed should be expected from a country whose economy is performing at the level of the newly admitted EU countries, and which is growing, on average, at a healthy 4.5 percent per annum — proving that the implementation of hard but necessary reforms is the only way forward.
I would also like to mention that Croatia is cooperating with its regional partners Albania and Macedonia, who together with the United States jointly established the US-Adriatic Charter for Partnership, bringing together these countries and working in synergy to become ready for membership in NATO through joint exercises and the exchange of knowledge and expertise.
Croatia is also active in other multilateral initiatives on security and non-proliferation issues. In 2005 Croatia joined the Proliferation Security Initiative [PSI] launched by President George Bush in May 2003, as part of its effort to make the Adriatic region a region where the illegal transfer of weapons of mass destruction and other illicit materials would be eliminated.
In a practical measure to this end Croatia and the United States signed a reciprocal Agreement Concerning Cooperation to Suppress the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Their Delivery Systems and Related Materials by Sea [Shipboarding Agreement] on June 1, 2005. This Shipboarding Agreement will help facilitate bilateral cooperation in order to prevent the maritime transfer of proliferation-related shipments by establishing points of contact and procedures to expedite requests to board and search suspect vessels in international waters.
As a part of its effort in this regard, Croatia hosted a joint ARIEX naval exercise off the coast of Split in March this year, with the participation of 250 members of armed forces and civilian personnel from Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Poland and the United States.
Lembke: What implications will preparations by Croatia to become an EU member have for Croatia and Europe?
Jurica: The benefits of EU integration for Croatia and Croatians are abundant and clear. In addition to obtaining access to EU pre accession funds, accession to the Union will provide the needed impetus for finalizing the last of the reforms needed, which again should prove beneficial to all citizens. The experience of the new EU member countries has proven these trends.
However, integration into the European Union is also significant for Croatians on another level. You see, for Croatians, final integration into the European Union means the end of a century long walk through political wilderness, and a return to the European core where we can continue developing all aspects of our society and nation in the safety, security and comfort of a truly diverse Europe that cherishes its differences. Also, all our reforms and introduced policies should result in turning Croatia into an “Adriatic Tiger” — an economic powerhouse of growth and development that will move our region forward.
In integration standards Croatia is a relatively small and affluent country representing only one percent of the Union’s current population. Therefore it is safe to say that Croatia’s integration into the European Union should not be a great financial burden on the EU or its member states.
The political advantages of having Croatia integrated into the EU are manifold. By integrating Croatia into the EU Brussels is expanding Europe’s zone of political and economic security and stability while simultaneously eliminating Europe’s grey areas. By exporting stability the Union is preventing the import of instability.
Most importantly, by duly awarding hard work and investment in reforms, the Union will send a strong positive signal to all reformists in the Adriatic Sea region and South East Europe to continue with their efforts. The “soft power” of integration into the EU has proven to be the best possible motivation for the spread of democracy and free market economy. Finally, Croatia’s entry into the EU brings Europe one step closer to the goal of “Europe whole, free and at peace”.
Lembke: What are the foreign policy priorities of Croatia related to the EU and the wider Adriatic Sea region?
Jurica: As Croatia will be an EU frontier country in the Southern Mediterranean it shall also become a logical actor in the EU’s Barcelona process (Euro-Mediterranean Partnership), a key part of the Union’s Neighborhood Policy. Furthermore, as a future member of NATO Croatia shall also take part in that organization’s Mediterranean Dialogue. Both initiatives, together with the Mediterranean Initiative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have the common goal of strengthening security, stability and well-being in the entire Mediterranean basin through strengthening partnerships with Mediterranean countries, thus avoiding the creation of new dividing lines between an enlarged EU and its neighbors.
In our neighborhood, Croatia’s foreign policy priorities are clear: solving those remaining open issues with neighboring countries; completing the process of refugee returns and the reconstruction of property; attracting more greenfield and brownfield investments; and working on further improving regional infrastructure and seeing that the region is fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic community.
I will use this opportunity to announce the upcoming and very relevant high-level conference that my government and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader personally are hosting in Dubrovnik this summer that is entitled “Completing Europe’s Southern Dimension – The Values that Bind Us”.
Lembke: Can you elaborate on the main linkages in the transatlantic relations between Croatia on the one hand and the United States and Mexico on the other, and the diplomatic approach of Croatia in this regard?
Jurica: As the Croatian Ambassador to the United States of America, I would like to once again reiterate that Croatia’s determination to firmly anchor its destiny as a part of the European Union cannot be separated from its friendship and partnership with the United States.
As Croatia’s Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has said on many occasions, “Croatia refuses to choose between the European Union and the United States. It is in the strategic interest of my country to be part of the former and to be as reliable a partner as possible with the latter”.
Croatia firmly believes that the underlying values and principles that bind the transatlantic community together are the same and inseparable. We also believe that in order to face the global challenges and crises of the future, there is simply no alternative to a robust European and American partnership.
Croatia’s relations with Mexico follow somewhat different although also positive paths. Mexico is a very large country in which Croatia unfortunately does not have an Embassy. Our Washington Embassy deals with Mexican affairs, and in our work there we are helped by our Honorary Consul in Mexico City. Taking into consideration our logistic limitations, Croatian-Mexican relations are advancing very well.
Croatia and Mexico are currently working on several bilateral Agreements, while we are also trying to make Croatia recognizable as a distinct brand in the large Mexican market. I am pleased to inform you that I presented my credentials to President Vicente Fox on March 22, 2006.
Croatia applied for EU membership in 2003, and the European Commission recommended making it an official candidate in early 2004. Candidate country status was granted to Croatia by the European Council (the EU’s heads of state and government) in mid 2004. The entry negotiations, while originally set for March 2005, began in October of the same year. As of 2006, Croatia is undergoing the screening process, and the finalization of all chapters of the acquis communautaire is expected in 2008 or 2009, while the signing of the accession treaty could happen one year later.