Prime Minister of Croatia

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Distinguished President of the Parliamentary Assembly, distinguished Secretary General of the Council of Europe, distinguished members of the Assembly, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is a distinct pleasure and honour to address you today in this historic European institution, which brings together parliamentarians from all corners of Europe. The founding fathers of the Council of Europe envisaged this hall to serve as a parliament of Europe. Although their dreams seemed idealistic back in 1949, in a Europe divided and still healing the wounds of war, without their ideas and activism we would not have come so far in overcoming the challenges and rising above the dangers.

Strasbourg is not only a seat of European institutions; rather, it is a symbol of how a difficult history and old quarrels can be put aside in a united Europe. This remarkable city has served as a source of inspiration for Croatia since we attained statehood and commenced the process of adhesion to international organisations. The European idea, and commitment to abide by its standards and values, guided us in our request for membership of the Council of Europe.

On my way to this session I was reminded that even before Croatia acceded to the Council of Europe Lujo Tončić-Sorinj, an Austrian politician and a Croatian national, acted as the Secretary General of the organisation. I am certain that he, himself proudly European, would have enjoyed the fact that one day the country of his ancestry, Croatia, would take a seat at this pan-European table.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am addressing you today as the Prime Minister of the Government of the Republic of Croatia that came to power in December last year following general elections. Let me reiterate that my government espouses all the ideas that the Council of Europe stands for: multilateralism as the core of our foreign policy; a state based on the protection of human, civil and minority rights with the rule of law at its foundations; independent judiciary; gender equality; tolerance and non-discrimination; solidarity; and prevention of corruption.

The President of Croatia, Ivo Josipović, delivered his address before this Assembly two years ago and presented a comprehensive view on the transformation of Croatia and the consolidation of its democracy. Today I can proudly state that during the past two years Croatia has continued along its path of further democratisation, which resulted in fulfilling all preconditions to achieving one of our major national goals, membership of the European Union. Along with completion of EU accession negotiations, co-operation with neighbouring countries was further increased and contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security was strengthened.

The main task of the Croatian Government is to create a stable and prosperous country, placing strong emphasis on accountability towards its own citizens. We strive to build a society in which the principles of social justice and solidarity prevail, as well as respect for minorities, regardless of their ethnicity, sex, belief or choice. The new government has continued to make further progress in preventing corruption, fighting organised crime, reforming the judiciary, prosecuting war crimes at the Croatian courts, and co-operating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. All these issues have been subject to ongoing monitoring by the EU, and the government is in constant close communication with our European partners, and with civil society in Croatia.

I use this opportunity to call on all parliamentarians present from EU member states that have not yet ratified our accession treaty with the EU to work with their governments and with their colleagues in national parliaments to conclude the process in good time, so that Croatia can become the 28th member of the EU on 1 July 2013, as is envisaged by the treaty.

As we prepare for EU membership, we remain realistic, conscious of the challenges in the EU such as the economic and financial crisis, and the rise of populist rhetoric and extremism among some of its political parties. I welcome the fact that you included in your deliberations the debate on the impact of the financial and economic crisis on our societies and democracies. That proves that the Parliamentary Assembly is keenly aware of the enormous responsibilities that European citizens have entrusted it with.

As I will be attending the meeting of the European Council tomorrow I am aware that, although the issues of fiscal discipline and economic governance feature prominently on our agenda, the bearings that these issues might have on the future of Europe as our common home, and on its values and standards, should not be overlooked.

The foundation on which this Organisation is built is its relevance and credibility. That was tested some time ago when the Council of Europe and its parliamentarians played a critical role in admitting a large number of countries, including mine, to membership, thus helping us to develop further our European vocation and commitment to European ideas, and to stabilise the continent democratically. It is precisely due to that ability to remain relevant, and to rise up to the challenge, that the Council of Europe has become the bearer of the European torch in furthering individual freedoms and human rights. Maybe the concept of human rights has been invented elsewhere, but no other organisation has developed such a comprehensive structure to safeguard them.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, last year in Croatia we celebrated 15 years of our membership of the Council of Europe. Throughout that journey, we have come a long way from dealing with our traumatic past resulting from the war to presenting the country as a reliable member of the European community of nations.

With our own determination, and assistance offered by organisations such as the Council of Europe, we crossed a threefold transition: a transition from a communist one-party system to a multi-party democracy; a transition from an imposed conflict to post-conflict peace and stability; and a transition from a centralised planned economy to a free-market economy, which is becoming increasingly competitive on the European stage. All three transitions were accompanied by overall economic and societal changes in a relatively short time span. I know that many of you coming from countries with similar historical background are familiar with these transitions and their inherent consequences. At the end of this process, Croatia not only benefitted from the expertise and membership of the Council of Europe, but that membership served as a vehicle of transformation for the entire region.

I am particularly pleased that our partner and ally in south-eastern Europe, Albania, is at the helm of the Committee of Ministers, and we wish it all the best in its endeavours. The region has been given a chance to prove its full potential. In particular, I appreciate the focus of Albania’s presidency on diversity and promotion of intercultural change.

Now, all the countries of the region are fully fledged democracies and members of the Council of Europe, with the exception of Kosovo. The ongoing bilateral and regional co-operation, which not only includes political co-operation but spreads to justice and home affairs, defence, trade, economy, energy and transport, points to the fact that it is owned and driven at the regional level. The troubled legacy of the conflict in the 1990s is often best reversed by concrete and resolute measures that testify to the commitment of regional leaders to work together to create conditions for a better future. Here I refer to the closure of the issue of refugees and displaced persons at the recent regional conference in Sarajevo. All four involved countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia – have made sincere efforts and were assisted financially by the international community to find durable solutions to that prolonged problem. That is proof of the maturity and responsible nature of the countries concerned.

Distinguished parliamentarians, let me turn to Croatia’s view on current trends in the Council of Europe and challenges ahead. Croatia strongly supports the ongoing reform process launched by the Secretary General to make the Organisation, in his own words, “more relevant, more effective and more visible”. We share the opinion that, in the new European architecture, the Council of Europe should focus on the area of its proven excellence. In that respect we welcome streamlining of the activities and financial resources around three fundamental pillars – human rights, the rule of law and democracy, which represent the core business of the Council of Europe.

Ensuring the long-term effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights remains another important challenge, which requires full commitment and support of the whole membership of the Council of Europe, with a view to preserving its pivotal role and unique character among the human rights protection mechanisms worldwide.

The European Court is trusted by our citizens, and Croatia has always been a strong supporter of the Court and the Convention mechanism. The right of individual application represents, in our view, a cornerstone and a key element of the Strasbourg mechanism. Preservation of the right of individual application represents a key element in ensuring the access of all individuals to the Court.

It is our firm view that the important legacy of the Strasbourg system lies in its direct impact on the promotion and protection of each and every individual in Europe. The adoption of the Brighton Declaration and its dynamic follow-up in the coming months would certainly give a new impetus for the effective application of the European Convention on Human Rights and indispensable reform of the Court, with a view to ensuring, through our joint efforts, the viability of this unique system of human rights.

As a member of the Council of Europe and an EU accession country, Croatia also strongly supports the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights. In our view, that remains essential in the context of achieving full coherence of the Strasbourg mechanism of human rights protection, as well as in the context of avoiding possible loopholes in human rights protection in Europe.

Croatia has ratified all core treaties relating to the protection of human rights, having often drawn inspiration from the Council of Europe’s work in this field. Croatia strongly supports the ongoing efforts of this Organisation to perfect the pan-European area of human rights and to ensure wider acceptance of the standards set out in these instruments, including in those states on our continent that are not yet members of the Council of Europe.

Ensuring protection of human rights in all parts of Europe remains one of the important goals of the Council of Europe, as a true pan-European organisation. The central mission of our Organisation – to promote core values across the European continent – cannot be fully realised if non-member states and respective territories and peoples in Europe are left outside.

In that respect, Croatia supports the pragmatic 2010 Recommendation 1739 of the Parliamentary Assembly, aiming at promoting direct and significant contact between Council of Europe staff and Kosovo authorities at all levels, focused on targeted and concrete co-operation and projects. This would benefit the strengthening of standards of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Kosovo, and represent an additional contribution to the attaining lasting peace and democratic stability in south-eastern Europe.

Croatia is following with great interest and appreciation the active engagement of this Organisation in some of the countries in the region. Croatia recognises the key role that Council of Europe plays in the process of consolidation of democratic stability in the region. We support the existing assistance programmes and encourage the Council of Europe to continue providing its expertise to help those parts of the region in which it is most needed.

There have been positive developments in the regions in the past decade, evidenced most notably by a prevailing readiness to settle outstanding open issues peacefully, in a true European spirit. As an example, let me remind you that Croatia and Slovenia reached an agreement in 2010 to resolve a long-standing border dispute through arbitration. At the same time, we must acknowledge that there are some worrisome signals indicating that certain countries and their leaders have not yet made a sincere effort in confronting the past.

Regardless of these isolated instances, the positive momentum in the region must not be further compromised. Countries and peoples in southern Europe have reached a solid level of mutual trust and reconciliation. This has to be further strengthened in order to preserve the security and prosperity of the region and Europe as well.

We expect the region to receive an additional boost by the European Council’s decision to open accession negotiations with Montenegro at its meeting tomorrow. The validity of the EU project – Magnet Europa, as Konrad Adenauer called it – which in the aftermath of the Second World War started as a peace project with its enlargement policy tool, is still holding its relevance.

In this context, I would like to stress that the one significant achievement of the European integration project, which has probably made the biggest difference when compared to other instances of political union in the past, is cohesion, or, more precisely, reducing regional differences in the level of development and well-being. Unlike former Yugoslavia, where the difference between the richest and the poorest region remained virtually constant in the 70 years of its existence, the European Union is a successful example of using cohesion policy to bring underdeveloped states and regions more in line with the EU average.

With this in mind, we support our neighbours in the European Union bid, firmly convinced that it will represent the best framework for their overall development. Croatia has been actively assisting them in transferring our negotiating knowhow and creating a network of bilateral agreements on Euro-Atlantic partnership.

Let me inform you that I have chosen Bosnia and Herzegovina as the first foreign destination in my capacity as a newly elected Prime Minister of Croatia, which demonstrates Croatia’s commitment to the preservation of its sustainability and territorial integrity, and to the equality of its three constituent peoples on the entire territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Croatia shares the longest borderline with Bosnia and Herzegovina. In recent months, my government has been actively working, in partnership with the EU officials, to allay fears that after our accession to the EU this border will become a dividing line, given the magnitude of our common interests. We see a lot of potential further to exploit this opportunity for increased cross-border co-operation and exchanges to the benefit of citizens of both countries.

The implementation of the Sejdić-Finci judgment in Bosnia and Herzegovina represents one of the challenges ahead not only for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but for the Council of Europe and the credibility of its Convention system. We hope that political dialogue and readiness for compromise will produce concrete results allowing the full implementation of the judgment.

Croatia sees the implementation of the Sejdić-Finci judgment as a part of a wider set of necessary constitutional, legal and institutional reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including those in electoral legislation. The reforms would lead to a more functional state in which the full equality of three constituent peoples and all citizens will be guaranteed and practically implemented at all levels, thus ensuring the long-term stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We highly appreciate the Council of Europe’s response to the developments in the southern Mediterranean and other neighbouring areas through its “Policy towards neighbouring regions”, which is the most obvious proof of relevance of our Organisation and its capability to anticipate and address, adequately and in a timely fashion, social and political challenges in Europe and beyond.

In that respect, the Parliamentary Assembly deserves a special mention, both for its early response to the vast upheavals in the Arab world and for dynamic co-operation already established under the Partnership for Democracy arrangements.

Bearing in mind the fact that the development of societies based on respect for democracy, rule of law and the protection of human rights remains the sole guarantee of the long-term peace and stability in our neighbourhood, we firmly believe that the Council of Europe, through its legal instruments and proven expertise, may provide, within a demand-driven pattern, significant assistance in facilitating the necessary reforms to our neighbours on their way to democratic transition.

As a future EU member with particular experience in post-conflict rehabilitation and democratic transition, Croatia stands ready to share this experience not only with our immediate neighbours, but with other fragile and post-conflict societies, including southern Mediterranean countries. Croatia acquired particular experience and knowledge in areas such as the return of refugees and displaced persons, confidence building, protection of the rights of national minorities, strengthening the judicial system, and co-operation and partnership with civil society. EU accession negotiations could serve as an important tool for institution building in any country, offering particular benefits for post-conflict and transitional societies.

As part of the overall efforts aimed at supporting democratic processes and transition in the European neighbourhood, one session of this year’s Croatia Summit, which will be held in Dubrovnik on 6 and 7 July, will be devoted to partnership and institution building in the southern Mediterranean.

In conclusion, allow me once again to pay tribute to the excellent work done by the Council of Europe in general, and the Parliamentary Assembly in particular. I congratulate the newly elected Deputy Secretary General, Ms Gabriella Battaini Dragoni, and wish her all the best in discharging her important duties.

I pay tribute to all the people who laid the foundations that make this great Organisation work. As a left-liberal politician, I shall now quote a good solid Conservative. The eminent politician and visionary, Winston Churchill, said of the Organisation back in 1949, “The dangers threatening us are great, but great too is our strength.” The dangers gave way to the challenges of the day, but the rest remained the same. As always, we should continue to build on our strength and shared vision.

Thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Thank you very much, Mr Milanović, for your interesting address. Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you now. I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds.

The first question is from Mr Volontè on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr VOLONTÈ (Italy) (interpretation)

said that he welcomed the Prime Minister and thanked him for his continued European policies. The EPP had supported Croatia through the accession process, but he was concerned about the proposed amendment changing the Croatian radio television law, which he regarded as appropriate in its current state.

Mr Milanović, Prime Minister of Croatia

If my understanding is correct, you were asking me about the preparatory work in the Croatian Parliament on amendments to the media law regulating the status of the national broadcasting service. I understand that that is a matter of the utmost concern to you. In the long-standing process of the European negotiations, we have encountered a number of chapters and benchmarks, the media question being only one of them. We have been tasked with making changes, and the work has been unprecedented in comparison with all previous accession processes.

The media law is not part of the acquis communautaire, so the European law does not have to be directly transposed and is not directly applicable. The Croatian media law has been passed, and the model was established 10 years ago, in 2002. It was remodelled and amended a year and a half ago. Our position is that the institution remains ungovernable. The Croatian national television institution remains one of the pillars – albeit not the most important one – of our identity. Nothing on Croatian television is more important to me than the information and news programmes.

In the political arena, the biggest concern – unfounded and incorrect, in my view – is that the government will influence and tamper with the editorial content of the information programmes. There is long-established competition in the market in that area, so the situation is nothing like that of the late 1990s when the public were being informed through only one channel. Now, there is a plethora of channels and competition is strong. I do not harbour a single ambition to interfere with that.

National television in Croatia is not just daily news; it is drama and cultural programmes as well, and commercial concerns show no interest in those programmes. If we do not establish the correct system to finance and monitor such programmes in the national broadcasting company, those services will evaporate. They will cease to exist. For me, that is the greatest concern.

Lord ANDERSON (United Kingdom)

In what ways is your country using its own experience technically to help your regional neighbours for preparing for EU entry, and can Croatia help to resolve the name dispute over Macedonia?

Mr Milanović, Prime Minister of Croatia

The first question relates to the traditional, and expected, health of the new EU member states in the adjacent regions. The second one relates to the altogether different issue of the name dispute over Macedonia. In my meeting with the President of the Parliamentary Assembly in his office a short while ago, I told him that we stand ready to co-operate, to extend our advice and to extend our hand to those countries. We have already traded with Montenegro the whole package of translated European documents – the whole acquis – in languages that are highly mutually intelligible. What serves us, serves Montenegro as well. Beyond that, we stand ready to co-operate and give advice, but not to mentor or hold tutorials. We are not interested in doing that. Given the sheer volume of our economic operation and the reliance of Croatian exports on those markets, my expectation is that the co-operation will be strong and in all our mutual interests.

On Macedonia, frankly, I do not think that the demeanour and attitude displayed towards Macedonia regarding the NATO accession some years was necessarily fair. The country was left on the sidelines, with the dispute unresolved. She was left to her own devices, but the issue will have to be addressed shortly. There again, we are not a neighbouring country of hers and we are not in a position to prescribe solutions. At some point, however, a solution must be reached, otherwise we will flunk the exam. The exam involves bringing Macedonia closer. She has been standing on the sidelines for the last three years following the NATO discussions, and that is not fair.

Earl of DUNDEE (United Kingdom)

Prime Minister, while Croatia’s progress with EU entry requirements has been timely and impressive, chapter 8 on the removal of shipbuilding subsidies and chapter 23 on the reform of the judiciary remain outstanding issues. In the light of your country’s current action plan, which further stages of progress will have been reached this autumn, when EU member states that have still to ratify Croatia’s accession treaty will be scrutinising your performance in their national parliaments?

Mr Milanović, Prime Minister of Croatia

Scrutiny of this process is something that we stand ready for – that is what I am here for. You are all national parliamentarians too, and you will be raising your hand or withdrawing your support when Croatia’s European Union accession agreement appears on the agenda of your parliaments.

You asked about the judicial system and the shipyards – again, not a typical or key issue, but one of paramount importance that speaks volumes about the functioning of the state. The judiciary is an ongoing process, in which the finest and most binding complement is trust in the system. You can appoint as many judges as you like, but if trust is not deeply embedded in the system, it will not be considered reliable or attractive for foreign investments. It will not work. The current European financial crisis is first and foremost a crisis of confidence and trust, and only after that a crisis of quality – a lack of ideas and so forth. We are doing our best. We are a liberal, left-leaning government. We know what human rights are. We are extending the area of freedom everyday in Croatia, and it is not always met with applause and cheering – indeed, to the contrary. So, this is a hard and longstanding process.

The ship-building industry is the bedrock of Croatian material culture. We are a country that extends over different climactic, geographical and cultural regions. We are a small nation, but we are very much stretched geographically, with a coastline that stretches over close to 2 000 km. There have been a number of shipyards, traditionally employing local people, allowing them to learn skills and pass them from one generation to another, but now we have reached the terminal point at which some of them will have to terminate their activity and cease to exist, although some will continue, under the very strict terms prescribed and agreed upon in the European accession treaty for Croatia.

My government has inherited, if not a mess, then certainly a conundrum of issues, which have been dragging on for 20 years. We have to bring it to a close and resolve the whole package in little more than six months – our first six months in office. The task is not insurmountable but it is hard. So, one shipyard – by the way, the oldest – has been shut down. I will not be cheered by the voters for that, when most of the shipyards represent our political constituency, but that is something that nobody will ask me for or about. Unfortunately, some shipyards will be closed and some already have been – it is very bad news for us – and the others will have to restructure, a process that is already under way. There is one profitable state-owned shipyard that is not part of the package, but the others will have to merge, or else – you know.

However, we are doing our best to preserve what is the bedrock of Croatian material culture. Rijeka, the northernmost big port in Croatia, was the imperial port of Austria-Hungary, and is the biggest besides Trieste. It is also the place where the first torpedo in the world was produced, at the beginning of the 20th century, and distributed worldwide. It is also where more than three dreadnoughts were built for the Austro-Hungarian fleet, so Rijeka was Austrian but is also Croatian. That is our identity. It is very hard when we have to give up on that, but the rules are very clear and we have to play by them.

Mr JAKIĆ (Slovenia)

Prime Minister, I congratulate you and your country on the achievements you have made in your path towards the European Union, particularly given the Commission’s positive assessment for Croatia this year. According to the Commission’s report, there are still some shortcomings in respect of the judiciary and fundamental rights – you have just answered these points – but also in respect of justice, freedom and security, which I am confident will soon be addressed. Can you please tell us what measures your government has undertaken to make good on these shortcomings?

Mr Milanović, Prime Minister of Croatia

As you mentioned, I have already addressed the first part of your question, at the request of your colleague. Maybe something further could or should be added. It is a long process, at the bedrock of which lies trust and confidence. We are on that path; I am quite confident about that. We will also have one of the longest land borders among all EU states with a non-EU member state. The Croatian-Bosnian border is 1 000 km long, and it will cost money to monitor it. As I said, we are working hard. We have good faith and the best intentions. We have achieved a lot so far. We have been exposed to unprecedented scrutiny – deserved but unprecedented – and the number of areas that the EU and the Commission showed a particular interest in scrutinising far exceeds anything seen so far, so the same or an even higher standard will be applied to all new aspiring states. I hope that satisfies you.

Mr L. KALASHNIKOV (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

said that Croatia was very attractive to tourists and had a number of bilateral agreements in place with regard to visas. Now that it was joining the European Union, arrangements would have to be stricter, although there may still be some flexibility. How did Mr Milanović intend to implement new measures with regard to visas?

Mr Milanović, Prime Minister of Croatia

Let me go back 20 years, which might demonstrate the perspective of my country at that time. We were in the midst of the ravages of the war – we were the object of aggression – but we were not for one moment exposed to the European visa regime. It is a weird fact, but it is a fact. So, in 1992 and 1993, when the war was raging in our country and when, by conventional wisdom, we should have been considered a risk country, Croatian citizens were free to enter the United Kingdom without visas. We were free to enter Italy with just our IDs – without passports. It is a strange but true fact. Visas were introduced briefly in the late 1990s, but they were taken away a few years later. All the other countries were far more scrutinised in that respect, and the regime was harsher for them. Once Croatia is a new member, we will have to play by strict rules. We know what the Schengen regime is and we have signed up to it, so we cannot apply a specific, tailor-made regime.

Concerning Russia and Ukraine, which are countries from which an increasing number of tourists, who are welcome guests, come to Croatia, previous governments have introduced, and we have pursued, if not a bizarre, then an interesting visa policy. Now we are here to act; this is the first year of my administration. We would, in principle, have a visa waiver system for Russians and Ukrainians during the summertime, but then reintroduce visas for them in October, which hardly makes any sense to me. This year the Ukrainians and Russians will be free to enter Croatia without visas during the summertime, as though they were trusted during the summertime, with that trust dwindling in October, when visas are reintroduced. Once we become EU members, we will have to play by the Brussels rules. There is nothing I can do about that, but what I have described has been the practice of my country up to this year. If that clarifies the situation for you, I am content with that, but there is not much we can do, because the rules are quite strict.

Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova)

Prime Minister, Croatia is set to become the 28th member of the EU. I congratulate you on this great achievement. As you probably know, my country, Moldova, is striving to join the European Union. How do you see the extension of the European Union and, given your experience, what chance do you think countries such as Moldova have to join the European Union in the foreseeable future?

Mr Milanović, Prime Minister of Croatia

I thank you for the question. Well, you have to work hard. The standards are extremely high, and we have experienced that in one of the longest, if not the longest, negotiation processes in history. We have been talking back and forth for six and a half years – a long period, perhaps a bit over-long – and in the process we learned a lot. We have been exposed to harsh scrutiny and high standards not only in the application of the strict acquis directives and regulations, but far beyond. That is something that lies ahead of you as well, but when the time comes, we will be here to assist you. In the meantime, you have to be patient. Something extraordinarily important should be extrapolated from the process: patience. You need patience but do not be naïve.

Mr GRUBER (Hungary)

Mr Prime Minister, first what are the latest developments in the implementation of the constitutional act on the rights of minorities? Secondly, how can Croatia contribute to the energy security of central eastern Europe? What is the added value of the liquefied natural gas terminal at Krk island in terms of the diversification of the region’s gas pipelines? Thank you.

Mr Milanović, Prime Minister of Croatia

The first question is on the implementation of the constitutional law on the rights of minorities. Actually, 20 years ago, when Croatia was internationally recognised as a sovereign state, that law was one of the fundamental preconditions for the international recognition of Croatia. It has been a long time since then, and we think that it is doing fine and going smoothly, because Croatia is a country of Croatian peoples – of Croats – and the constitution has been written that way. That is also my political platform. I should never lose sight of the fact that we and our ancestors have lived and are still living on soil that has been inhabited by other cultures and peoples, to whom we owe a lot and from whom we have learned a lot, and vice versa. So it is a country of Croatian people, but it is also a country of all ethnicities, religions and faiths that wish to hold other views. They have every right to exercise such diversity and their differences. That is the foundation – the bedrock – of my coalition’s and my party’s policies and programmes for an open and liberal society. I can say that we as a party attract a large proportion of the minority vote in Croatia, but that should not be taken for granted. The representation of the members of the minorities in my government is probably the highest ever, but that did not happen intentionally. It was spontaneous, because the party and the programme beforehand attracted not only Serbs in the first place but others. Such an outlook and policy builds further trust, but it is not an overnight process. It takes time and confidence between Serbs and Croats in Vukovar, which was ravaged by war – destroyed, razed to the ground – to bring them together on the same political platform and regional council. That speaks volumes regionally. For me, these things matter even more than the strict implementation of the constitutional law on the rights of minorities, which in my view is doing just fine, but beyond that there is something: it is the cultural heart of our society. My party in our coalition is not a strictly ethnic party – it is a party of citizens – and our platform includes Croats, Serbs and the others, and it works in practice.

On energy security, Rijeka is a very deepwater port. You know that the Chinese have to go to the Yangshan islands just 30 miles off the Yangtze estuary, to find a spot where the depth of the water exceeds 20 metres. So Rijeka port, with the Brsica refinery, is predestined to serve as a container port and as an energy port. The liquefied natural gas terminal is perhaps my government’s most important strategic project. The area for co-operation is open. So somebody may see it as strategic in relation to the position of Russia and the East, but we see it as being strategic for Croatia. That project must go rolling on, and so must the railway from Rijeka to Vienna and Budapest. In bringing those projects to maturity, we rely on European capital and money. Whoever makes an offer on good terms is welcome for business. For us, it is a business issue.

Mr GAUDI NAGY (Hungary)

Mr Prime Minister, Hungary and Croatia have a long common history. We lived in the same state for 900 years. We supported the accession of Croatia to the EU. Many Hungarians who live in Croatia fought for it to become a free country. Please help them to live in better conditions, because they live in the poorest region of Croatia. What would you suggest to Serbia, which is striving to become a member of the EU but is not inclined to ensure the territorial autonomy of the Hungarians living in a part of Serbia, according to the norms of the Council of Europe?

Mr Milanović, Prime Minister of Croatia

If there is one neighbouring country with which Croatia does not have a single open issue, it is certainly Hungary. Over the past 20 years, relations between Croatia and Hungary can be described as impeccable – perfect. Border issues are non-existent. Minority issues are non-existent. I can confirm your statement that the Hungarian minority mostly live in the least-developed and most war-affected region of Croatia. However, I must stress at this point that the Hungarian minority has the right to direct representation in the Croatian Parliament, which is a standard not necessarily exercised elsewhere in every single country. So we have intrinsically good standards. Many minorities have direct representation on lower census and turnout figures. They get direct representation in the Croatian Parliament. For the Social Democratic or Conservative representative to get elected to the parliament and exercise the full rights of a parliamentarian it takes 20 000 votes on average, whereas some minorities can make it into the parliament with 300 votes. That certainly makes a difference, and it shows Croatia’s standards. I am not pressing any country to implement that, but we have it. I will not be tampering with Serbia and its territorial arrangements, the status of minorities and the territorial autonomy of any minority in Serbia. They have the autonomous province of Vojvodina, which regained part of its autonomy compared with its status in the 1970s and `80s, when its autonomy was abolished by Slobodan Milošević. Vojvodina has traditionally been home to Serbs, Hungarians, Germans and Croats among others. It is a multinational, multilingual and multicultural region. It is a central European melting pot. Well, in fact, it is not a melting pot because everyone retained their identities, which have flourished together but separately. Serbia is just about to form its government. The Government of Serbia makes a difference because the role of the president is honorary but not quite concrete in terms of internal and foreign policy. Once we see who rolls the dice in Belgrade, we can talk.

Mr HAUGLI (Norway)

Prime Minister, today, this Assembly is debating the state of democracy in Europe and how the rather negative attitudes towards minority groups are exploited for political purposes. Sexual minorities form one such group, and I want to congratulate you on your statement on securing fundamental rights for all. How do you view the situation for sexual minorities in Croatia, particularly when it comes to partnership law and violence, including police violence?

Mr Milanović, Prime Minister of Croatia

Our political programme stipulates that we will further extend freedom and equality for LGBT couples. We might not necessarily grant them the status that they enjoy in some Nordic and other European countries, but we will certainly go beyond the current standard. That has been our pledge, and that pledge will be fulfilled.

When I make my statements, I always bear in mind the future, the past and tradition. The tradition of a society, be it Christian, Islamic, Catholic or whatever, is not necessarily the best reference. Traditionally, husbands were allowed to beat up women. That was part of the tradition, not just in my country, but elsewhere. That was a very bad tradition. Things change. It takes time, but we will change the law and implement new standards, and we will talk and talk and talk. That is what the rule of law is all about. It is not just button pressing; it is about permanent conversation to do with the spirit of the law, what the law really means and what it stands for. It is about the element of trust and confidence. It is a lengthy and complicated process, but we think we are on the right and just path.

Only yesterday, two lesbian girls were beaten up in downtown Zagreb on board a tram for exposing their sexual affinity in a very mild and benign fashion. They were approached by a thug and he punched one of them. Such a thing has not happened in Zagreb for a very long time, and Gay Pride attracts very little attention. In Rijeka, there is no march at all, because there is no interest. It is fully open and liberal.

As you might know, in Split, another Croatian city that is very close to my heart, identity and ancestry, the situation is slightly different. If we strike too harshly against opponents who are not getting our message, we might just be paying lip service to the cause. We must do things slowly, permanently and diligently, step by step. Then things will change. Things are already much better in Split this year than last year. Last year, there was a police incident and a mob attacked the march. It did not bode well for my country politically, but things are changing.

Croatia is a country of diversity – a country of the Mediterranean, central Europe and the north, culturally and even in human appearance. It is a small nation, but very diverse.

Mr NIKOLOSKI (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”)

Croatia will be the second country of the former Yugoslavia to become a member of the European Union. As you know, we received our candidate status together in 2005, but unfortunately Macedonia has not started the negotiations because of the Greek veto. We have the same problem with NATO, because Greece is not respecting the decision of the International Court of Justice.

Do you believe that the model that you used with Slovenia to resolve the open issues can be used in our case to start negotiations and then resolve the problem? How can you and Slovenia be advocates in that process?

Mr Milanović, Prime Minister of Croatia

I do not think that the two cases should necessarily be compared. We had a border dispute with Slovenia, not an identity dispute. Identity-wise, the lines were drawn long in the past. It was about the border and maritime delimitation. Eventually, after 20 long years, we have resorted to the solution that should have used in the first instance. We have wasted 20 years. What we – thank God – did in 2011 should by all accounts have been done in 1991, but it was not, because there was a lot of nervousness, despite the ambition to resolve the issue. The issue was used in internal political squabbles on both sides, and it served as a mighty tool for political manipulators year after year. Now it is before the Arbitration Commission, which has a very strict role in setting maritime delimitation. Getting it to the commission was not easy in itself, because we had to agree a set of rules by which the arbitration should operate. However, if you are really committed, it can work – and it has worked, even beyond my expectations, which were quite conservative.

We do have open issues with some other neighbouring countries. I do not completely rule out the possibility that we will resort to arbitration with Serbia, for instance. We will not press or push Serbia on the border issue while it is on its path towards EU membership. That is not a carrot that we wish to hold in our hand. We intend to be fair, because it is a very complex issue. It is not “take it or leave it”. We do not want to abuse our position as an EU member – if you abuse it, it is not nice.

The issue between Macedonia and Greece is an identity and name issue. It is quite weird to me. I really do not have the right advice for you. I have just said what I meant and meant what I said – it has been naturally unfair to Macedonia for the whole international community to leave the country on the sideline for two and a half years due to its own indecision. I am aware of the ruling of the International Court of Justice, but it cannot be forced upon Greece, so you will have to talk further. I know that my answer is highly irritating to you, but that is reality.

Mr IVANOVSKI (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”)

The rule of law is one of the main values of the Council of Europe. Furthermore, you mentioned in your speech your dedication to fighting against organised crime and corruption. I congratulate you on that. You have made excellent and remarkable progress in fighting against crime and particularly against political corruption, and you have increased institutional capacity. How can you transfer your positive legislative and political progress against crime and corruption to the other Balkan countries, especially Macedonia, where a lot of the criminal practices of the former Croatian governing party are being copied by the Macedonian governmental parties?

Mr Milanović, Prime Minister of Croatia

I do not necessarily share your views. Ever since the trials commenced in Croatia, I have refrained from any comments, because the matter is sub judice. I have been a very strong critic of the previous government and ruling party, but I have been silent during the trials, because I want the matter to be peacefully resolved.

I avoided the phrase “fighting against corruption” for the most part during the campaign and the drafting of our programme, because it is about more than that – the prevention of corruption. I believe that that was the phrase I used in my speech. When the point comes at which you have to fight corruption, that implies that its influence and presence in society are overwhelming. That is a very bad fate.

You prevent corruption through practice, through legislation and through anything else you can. By setting examples personally and through the whole system, we can ensure that corruption simply does not appear. Once it is embedded into the system, it is too late to resolve it quickly. It takes years. Croatia was not necessarily infested with corruption, but in some circles it was a way of life. Now, it will stop.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

That brings to an end the questions to Mr Milanović. I thank you most warmly on behalf of the Assembly for your address and for the remarks that you made in the course of questions. I wish you all the best, and we hope to see you very soon here or in Zagreb.