By CBR Editor Brian Gallagher
The President of Croatia, Ivo Josipovic is in the UK for a three day visit. He has met with the Queen, David Cameron (pictured above) and the Minister for Europe David Lidington as well as others.
On his first day he met with a small select group from the media, including myself. This was an opportunity to ask him questions, which obviously veered towards relations with the UK, the imminent accession to Europe and so on.
What follows is a summary of a number of his responses to various questions by those present, as well as brief analysis of some of his comments.
My own interests were in the relations between the UK and Croatia, and I asked him about the relationship between the UK and Croatia – which in the past has not been very smooth. He chose to answer this by emphasising the many changes in Croatian society, clearly suggesting that such positive changes had led to a warmer relationship: Socialism to capitalism, one party state to multi-party, and the EU accession process helping Croatia to improve in areas such as human rights and the fight against corruption.
I was also interested in what strategy there is to improve UK-Croatian trade specifically. The President referred to reforms being carried out; but that such reforms were not only in regards for UK (investors) but elsewhere too. He did seem to feel that Croatian entrepreneurs “should be more active”, emphasising that it was not his job to sign deals for them.
Pressing him on the issue, he said that an entrepreneurial culture had not developed, due to “several decades of socialism”. It would appear that he thinks that Croatian capitalism needs further development.
Of course, the President made some interesting responses to questions posed by the other participants, in particular in regards to Europe. In relation to the UK’s current stance of possible EU renegotiation, he pointed out that it was not surprising as there were different views in Europe. He felt that there would be more rather than less Europe in the future – the common market should be strengthened and perhaps more military cooperation too.
However, he did say there needed to be a readiness to rethink the whole concept. As was remarked in the meeting, this was not very far from the UK position . Some of Josipovic’s thinking is likely to be welcomed by David Cameron – although perhaps not the military aspect.
One issue the President was firm on was that of corruption. He was quite adamant that Croatia has moved forward on this and the situation cannot be compared to the past – “ (we)cannot turn the clock back”. He was asked about a recent Ernst & Young survey in which Croatia – and Slovenia – came amongst the highest for corruption in Europe. “No, Croatia and Slovenia are not so corrupt” was the blunt answer.
It was certainly very clear that the President was strongly pushing the message that Croatia has made great strides on dealing with corruption – even if others have their doubts.
In terms of what Croatia has to offer, he referred to sectors such as healthy food and Information and Communications Technology but made particular mention of the military industry – pointing out that exports even went to the United States.
‘Regional cooperation’ came up as well. Josipovic was asked if Croatia saw itself as leader in the South East European region. Hastily he said that was not the phrase he would use – partnership is how he would describe it.
It was clear that he did not want Croatia to be associated with the various problems that beset some of those countries. Given that many – including himself – still talk in regional terms, it was very interesting indeed that there was this element of distancing. Given Croatia’s need for more western investment, this is a wise move on his part.
It would be fair to say that President Josipovic’s overall message is that Croatia has come a long way in its path to the EU, in particular dealing with corruption. It is likely that the poor reception of Romanian and Bulgaria by the EU after their accession may well be playing its part here – with Croatia seeking to reassure the UK that it will not be a problem member.
In the evening there was a Foreign Office reception for the President. Minister for Europe David Lidington MP gave a speech which contained the most positive remarks I have heard from a British minister on Croatia. He even quoted Margaret Thatcher on Croatia. Given that the Foreign Office had not welcomed her support of Zagreb during the war this was quite something. It does seem that President Josipovic’s message is getting through – and being well received.