The Hungarian Connection – Croatia’s Quiet Relationship

Last month the Hungarian Prime Ministers made some comments in relation to Croatia joining the EU, saying that Croatia should not be kept waiting to join the EU. Hungary is of course taking over the EU presidency in January for six months. The Hungarian ambassador to the EU has just said that it wants accession talks with Croatia to conclude before the end of their presidency.

These are not just diplomatic words; Hungary has a close relationship with Croatia that is often overlooked.

The two countries have quite a historic link, due to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is a much longer link than that of the Yugoslav years, and has lead to today’s excellent relations. During the Croatian Homeland War, Hungary gave support to Croatia, not least due to Hungarian minorities in Croatia and Vojvodina coming under Serbian attack. Today’s excellent relations could be considered ironic as during the Austro-Hungarian time Croats resented the ‘Magyarisation’ efforts by Hungary.

Hungary is an important economic partner. Whilst it is not a huge export market for the country, although exports increased this year,  Croatia receives a large number of tourists from Hungary. In 2009 this numbered 323, 368 arrivals, coming in at 9th of countries from where tourists to Croatia originate.

A major economic – and indeed strategic – link is Hungary’s MOL stake in the Croatian oil company INA, some 47%. Both companies have cooperated in oil exploration projects near their border. However, this stake has proved not to be without controversy – with investigations taking place in Zagreb in relation to the sale of shares to MOL.

Political relations are close – the Croatia and Hungary even occasionally hold joint cabinet meetings. Hungary and Croatia, along with Bulgaria jointly recognised Kosovo’s independence together. Hungarian MEP György Schöpflin has said that Hungarian public opinion is more pro-Croatia than pro-Slovenian in regards to Zagreb’s dispute with Ljubljana over the Bay of Piran.

This is clearly a close and important relationship – but it is often overlooked by an international media more concerned with Croatia-Serbia relations. The Croatia-Hungary relationship is altogether more important, and will no doubt play a strong role when Hungary assumes the EU presidency.

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