Prime Minister of Croatia

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 27 April 2004

Thank you very much. Distinguished President of the Parliamentary Assembly, distinguished Secretary General of the Council of Europe, honourable members of the Assembly, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great day for the Prime Minister of Croatia to be in Strasbourg. I am grateful for the opportunity to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the eldest among the international parliamentary forums worldwide. I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the opportunity of sharing with you some of my reflections regarding the development of my country and its European agenda.

Allow me to pay tribute to the excellent work done by the Council of Europe in general, and the Parliamentary Assembly in particular, in the promotion of democracy and the rule of law, and respect for human and minority rights throughout our continent. Its contribution to a new, undivided Europe has been of immense importance. In that context, I take the legacy of this Organisation as living proof that common European ideals, principles, standards and values are not merely an idea but have a concrete and lasting impact on today’s Europe. With this in mind, I express my belief that since 1996, the year when it acquired membership of this Organisation, my country, Croatia, has also made a contribution to the promotion of our common European values.

This contribution was properly recognised just a week ago when my Minister for Foreign Affairs, in this very town – in the hall of the European Parliament – was presented with the opinion with a clear recommendation that at the June meeting of the European Council, Croatia should be granted the status of candidate for membership of the European Union. In a very short time – barely eight years – we have come a long, long way. We all feel proud of every step taken along that road, from the implementation of the twenty-one commitments that we voluntarily signed up to in 1996, to the opinion of the European Commission.

For the whole of Europe and its citizens, Strasbourg has a particular significance. It is not only the seat of the European institutions but the very symbol of a new, united Europe and its first steps and growth, based on common principles and values. Strasbourg also bears special significance for my country. Some eight years ago, Croatia became a member of the Council of Europe in the aftermath of war, with all war’s grave consequences for its economy and society, its people, its individuals and their personal destinies. Membership of the Organisation then represented proof of Croatia’s ability to become a member of the European family of nations and values.

A week ago, a new perspective was opened for my country in its approach to the European Union. This represents not only an important step forward in this process but a clear obligation and sign for Croatia to continue its development and the acquisition and implementation of European standards, norms and principles.

Following the general elections last November, a new government was formed, and I have the honour to lead that government. We have fully accepted the challenge and responsibility that the voters entrusted to the Croatian Democratic Union. As a party whose programme is based on European democratic values, our agenda is first and foremost oriented on democracy and the European vocation. We are determined to lead Croatia towards being a fully democratic and prosperous state, worthy of all its citizens.

My government’s main priorities remain the acquiring of membership of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. In the light of the opinion, we are committed with even stronger determination to pursuing these goals. We do not see eventual membership of the Euro-Atlantic organisations as an end in itself, but as a means of ensuring our active and concrete contribution to the strengthening of democratic stability in Europe.

My government is fully committed to sparing no effort in strengthening democratic values and principles, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the development of an adequate framework for the full enjoyment of these rights and values by all its citizens. We have clearly proven in practice our unequivocal commitment to protecting the specific rights of all persons belonging to national minorities, with full respect for the application of the so-called “preferential measures.” The validity of this policy is confirmed by the support of the representatives of national minorities that my government enjoys in parliament.

The government made an important contribution to the creation of adequate conditions and has undertaken the necessary measures – including the allocation of significant financial resources – for the return of refugees and the reconstruction of property damaged as a result of war. All those issues have been of specific importance for the creation of a climate of tolerance and prosperity within the country. My government wishes to turn a new page – to look towards the future and to offer an opportunity to all its citizens for a better life, unburdened by national disputes and wrangling with a past long gone.

We remain firmly committed to the continuation of our co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia – the ICTY. Let me stress that this co-operation, as an important part of respect for, and implementation of, Croatia’s international obligations, has significantly evolved, and has been very positively assessed by the prosecutor of the tribunal. Positive evaluation of Croatia’s co-operation with the ICTY was also confirmed in the European Commission opinion of last week. Our accession to the European Union being a continuous process in the adoption, acquisition and implementation of relevant standards has made us fully aware of the need to strengthen our capabilities in order to enhance and develop the overall framework of the functioning of our society as a whole. Significant efforts have been taken to improve and strengthen the efficiency of the Croatian judiciary, in line with the evaluations of relevant international bodies and the European Commission.

Once candidate status is granted to Croatia, and we hope and believe that that will happen by mid-June, our approach to the European Union will undoubtedly require further reforms, harmonisation of numerous laws, regulations and practices with the acquis communautaire, in order to achieve full compatibility with European Union standards. We are ready and determined to embark on that process with full devotion – not only the government, but citizens and the public in general as well.

Fully convinced that the opinion is an historic, but still only one big, step forward in this direction, Croatia, as a future candidate, is ready to continue on its journey to the European Union. Understandably at this time, Croatia is ready to continue full steam ahead.

Mr President and honourable members of the Assembly, Croatia’s relations with neighbouring countries and the furthering of regional co-operation comprise yet another vital set of my government’s priorities and strategic goals. Enhancing and deepening relations with our neighbours is key to the development of democratic stability in our part of Europe, in which we have a very distinct lasting interest. For history has given my people many different roles. Now, Croatia, as a fully independent country and a fully qualified candidate for membership of the European Union, stands ready to assume another high responsibility, which can only benefit our own nation and the region itself – that of bringing more of Europe to its South-East and that of serving as Europe’s bridge to the South-East.

Croatia stands ready to foster its relations and cooperation with all its neighbours, and is convinced that some of the current obstacles could clearly be overcome in the near future, especially in the context of existing European perspectives.

As a member of the Council of Europe since 1996, Croatia has actively contributed to the work of this Organisation. On numerous occasions and with unrestrained energy, the Council of Europe has confirmed its pivotal role as the torch-bearer of the culture of democratic values, respect for the rule of law and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. As I have already said, the significance of the admission of my country to the “family of democratic European nations” has also been confirmed in practical terms in the light of our achievements in democratic development, the adoption and implementation of relevant democratic standards and the strengthening of legal frameworks for the protection of human rights and the rights of national minorities.

Since its early days in the Council of Europe and its embarking on the “road to European democracy”, Croatia has passed through numerous important stages. All have left their mark on the strengthening of its democratic system. Through those changes and developments, Croatia has always relied on the constructive help of this Organisation. Even if evaluations and remarks concerning the implementation of a fairly extensive list of twenty-one commitments undertaken in respect of membership of the Council of Europe have sometimes been critical or less than positive, we have always regarded the remarks and evaluations of the Council of Europe as objective expert opinion and part of our joint efforts for the consolidation of Croatia’s democracy.

At last, that has resulted in concrete and tangible developments. The process and sentiments have undoubtedly been similar in almost all the countries that have in the last fourteen years passed along the road from totalitarian regimes to established democracies. At last, in a few days, they will become members of the European Union. At this point, I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to all ten countries and their peoples on this historic achievement. At the same time, I would like to say that Croatia is following the same path. On this road, we count on the support and assistance of the Council of Europe.

I would therefore like to thank all officials and members of the Council of Europe, both the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers who have contributed to this cause. My thanks are particularly extended to: the Secretary General, Mr Walter Schwimmer; the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr Peter Schieder; previous presidents of the Parliamentary Assembly, Ms Leni Fischer and Lord Russell-Johnston; the Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr Bruno Haller; the rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly on the implementation of the commitments undertaken by Croatia, Mr Jaskiernia and Ms Stoyanova; and the rapporteur on the post-monitoring dialogue, Ms Durrieu, to name but a few. Allow me also to thank all other officials and members of the Secretariat of the Council of Europe who have been actively involved in the development of co-operation between Croatia and the Council of Europe.

In shaping the new Europe, we see, as I said, the pivotal role of the Council of Europe in providing for the wide dissemination and strengthening of common European standards in the field of democracy, the rule of law and the promotion and protection of minority and human rights. The Council should remain a vigilant fortress in defence of those values, which are common to all Europe. Democracy, the rule of law and human and minority rights are the heritage of our history, and they should also be guidance for our future – a Europe based on unity, common principles and the co-operation of us all.

To conclude, Croatia is treading once again an historic path. Its people, political forces and the government are looking towards Europe. In achieving that dream, we count on your support. Thank you, Mr President. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.


Thank you very much, Mr Sanader, for your most interesting address and for your kind words about the Council of Europe. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to thirty seconds and no more. Colleagues should be asking questions and not making speeches. I will allow supplementary questions only at the end and only if time permits.

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

Mr VAN DER LINDEN (Netherlands)

Mr Prime Minister, can you explain a little more about how you see the relationship between Croatia and its neighbours, especially Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the future?

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

Thank you for your question Mr van der Linden. I can illustrate our relationship with our eastern neighbours, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro, by the fact of the presence last week of Mr Walter Schwimmer, the Secretary General, in Sarajevo. Until last week, Croatia was an observing member of the SEECP – the South-East European Co-operation Process. A few weeks ago, my government took the decision, which I presented at the Sarajevo Summit, that Croatia be a full member of that association, so we consider our relationship with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro of essential importance for our common future. Let me stress again, as I mentioned in my speech, the positive opinion. We do not perceive that positive opinion as essential only for Croatia but for the whole region.

The sooner Croatia becomes a full member of the European Union and Nato, the sooner Serbia and other countries will follow our example. So I was very pleased to receive expressions of congratulations during the meeting at Sarajevo on Wednesday last week. I therefore believe that our bilateral relations both with Bosnia and Herzegovina and with Serbia and Montenegro will be enhanced by the fact that Croatia is now stepping towards the European Union. However, we do not forget that we have to live in the region with our neighbours, and we will share a common European future.

Let me conclude by saying that, if we translate such things into the field of foreign policy, we have two priorities. The first is to approach the European Union and Nato, and the second is to enhance, strengthen and deepen our bilateral relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina and with Serbia and Montenegro and other countries in the region.

Ms DURRIEU (France) (translation)

Thank you for coming, Mr Prime Minister. Your country has made enormous efforts to promote reconstruction after the war, a task which it has had to fund entirely on its own.

I would like to know what you intend to do to accelerate the return of Serbian refugees.

Furthermore, you have mentioned the question of your co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal. How do you plan to proceed with regard to the specific case of General Gotovina?

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia (translation)

Thank you very much, Ms Durrieu.

(The speaker continued in English) First, we have very successful co-operation with the representatives of the Serbian minority in the Croatian Parliament. All in all, we have eight out of 152 members of parliament representing national minorities in Croatia. All of them support my government, and that is a big achievement.

They have signed a special agreement with the representatives of the Serbian minority – three out of the eight – who support the government. We have signed an agreement on the return of refugees and the repossession of properties. Let me also say that that created a big sensation in Croatia, after the outcome of the elections on 23 November.

Croatia has been independent since 1992. To show the improvement in the general climate of tolerance, co-existence and reconciliation in Croatia, let me say that I am the first Prime Minister or head of state to celebrate Christmas with the Orthodox community in Zagreb. My delegation included the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Speaker of the Parliament. At the time, I did not even know that I was the first Prime Minister or head of state to do that. That changed the general atmosphere in Croatia enormously. It was a very small step and a small civilised gesture, but it changed the general atmosphere in Croatia very considerably.

I did something similar when I went to celebrate new year with our Italian minority in Istra, and I spoke to them in Italian. We have excellent relations with the Italian minority and we have an agreement with Italy on the protection of minorities. Again, that has contributed to an overall atmosphere of greater tolerance and mutual respect. For that reason, let me say in answer to your question, Ms Durrieu, that I am proud of what my government has done in only four months to enhance the return of refugees and in respect of the repossession of properties.

With regard to your question about the co-operation with the ICTY, let me say that we committed ourselves to full co-operation with the ICTY – and the chief prosecutor reported on the co-operation with Croatia last week – before the commission produced the positive opinion. That was one of the preconditions. Croatia, as with all other countries, has to comply with the Copenhagen criteria and with the acquis communautaire, but in addition to that we have three political obligations, three political criteria: the return of refugees, co-operation with the Hague tribunal and the reform of the judiciary. In all three fields, we have made essential steps. That has been perceived in that way in the opinion as well, otherwise the positive avis would not have been produced. Thank you.

Mr MILOJEVIC (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Thank you very much, Mr President. Mr Prime Minister, will Croatia give fair compensation to displaced Serbs – pre-war tenancy right holders – for the apartments that were sold to third parties? Does Croatia intend to simplify the private property repossession procedure, which is currently too complex? Thank you.

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

I cannot agree that the process is too complex because we have made essential improvements to the process in the past four months. The fact is that we have created a special committee, which is in charge of realising and implementing the agreement that I have signed on behalf of the government with representatives of the Serbian minority in the Croatian Parliament. That is the process, and we will do our utmost to facilitate the return of all refugees and the repossession of all properties. We have set a specific date for the return of those houses and apartments that have been inhabited until now by the Croats who were expelled from the Republika Srpska and Yugoslavia during the war.

The problem, as I should inform all parliamentarians here in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, is that the Croats who were expelled from Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro during the war are now in those houses. I, as the Prime Minister, guarantee that all those places will be repossessed by the Serbian refugees who are now returning. At the same time, no Croat will stay. We would also like to encourage the Bosnian Government and the Serbian Government to invite the Croats who left or were expelled at the time to Croatia to return to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to Serbia and Montenegro. However, if they do not do that, we will find new solutions for the Croats who are unable to return to Bosnia and to Serbia. No Serbian refugee will go without those repossessions.

Mr RAGUZ (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Congratulations, Mr Sanader, on the impressive result that you and your country have achieved. Croatia is a signatory to the Dayton Agreement. How do you envisage the future of the peace accords in the context of the uncertain European future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially in view of the position of its three constituent peoples?

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

The Dayton Agreement will be ten years old next year in 2005. It was signed in 1995, when we all knew that it was not an ideal agreement, but it was important because it stopped the war. That is the greatest achievement of the Dayton Agreement: no war activities continued after it. I should like to thank the governments of the European Union countries and especially the Government of the United States of America. Their work led to the peaceful solution and the signing ceremony in Dayton and in Paris.

Ten years have passed. In the past two weeks, I have met the High Commissioner, Lord Paddy Ashdown, twice – in Sarajevo and Zagreb. I also met representatives of the three constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Among others, I met President Tihic, Mr Sehovic and Minister Ivanic. If Paddy Ashdown, those in government and the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina asked me to define our position, my simple answer would be, first, that Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are friendly countries. We share the longest border in Europe. We want Bosnia and Herzegovina to find a way of maintaining the quality of life of all three constituent peoples – Serbs, Bosnians and Croats. We are therefore prepared to contribute to all the international community’s efforts to find a stable and prosperous solution after ten years of the Dayton Agreement.

The agreement has been amended several times by previous high commissioners. Again, I emphasise that although it was not ideal, it was essential for stopping the war ten years ago. Now it is up to the Bosnian citizens to treat its constituent peoples well and to seek more co-operation with the international community. Croatia will participate in those international efforts. We do not pursue an individual approach to Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is in our interest that Croats remain in that country. An unpleasant development occurred in the past year and the Croats are leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina. The international community should therefore find a way, with the presidency and both entities, of retaining the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We must find an approach that can satisfy the vital interests of all three constituent peoples.


Recent Serb- Albanian clashes in Kosovo, in which twenty-eight people were killed and more than 600 injured, appear to have initiated processes in Serbia’s social and political life that might have far-reaching consequences for the region. That tendency is highly dangerous because as the ethnic-political conflict takes on a religious character, it might become regionalised, or even perceived as a clash of civilisations. Both phenomena have already been observed. In Bosnia, there were attacks on an Orthodox church and a mosque. In the Sanjak province, Muslim activists attempted to mobilise Muslims of Slavic origin living in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia. How would you describe current Serb-Croat relations in your country? Can the activity of a pan-Serb movement be observed after the recent events in Kosovo?

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

Thank you for your question. We in Croatia are following the position in Kosovo with great interest and anxiety. We have condemned the recent violent events and acted with the international community to prevent escalation. Croatia considers United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 as the basis for finding a solution in respect of Kosovo. That framework, with the activities and efforts of the international community, should lead to developing stability in Kosovo. The future status of Kosovo should be determined through joint efforts to create a stable and sustainable environment, infrastructure and economy, which will result in the overall strengthening of democratic institutions. I cannot provide an instant solution, but I am sure that an international presence is required and that a dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade is needed now and in future.

Ms PETROVA-MITEVSKA ("The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”)

My question was partly answered at the beginning of our proceedings. I welcome Croatia’s participation in the South-East European Co-operation Process. The countries involved in that process, including my country, the Republic of Macedonia, are interested in developing co-operation among member states. What is your vision for regional co-operation under the auspices of that process, especially in the context of the integration of countries from south-east Europe?

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

Thank you, Ms Petrova-Mitevska. First, I congratulate your country on the first step in your application for membership of the European Union. We are both participants in the action plan for Nato membership. We believe that the Istanbul Summit will mean a clear prospect of Nato membership for your country, our country and Albania.

On the South-East European Co-operation Process, I thank you for your congratulations on the decision. We believe that it means that we can contribute to overall stability and co-operation in our region. By accepting the positive opinion, all of us in Croatia are convinced that we will do our utmost to reach the positive decision in respect of the European Council about our status as a candidate country and to set a clear and precise date for the start of negotiations. Such a development would not mean that we would become fugitives from the region. We will work with you and other countries. We consider ourselves to be a bridge – even a leader. We are trying to show that everything is doable, and that, if we take the necessary steps in reform to achieve the highest European standards and values, we can succeed.

In answering your question, I should like to take the opportunity to extend my gratitude to the European Union for its decision in Thessaloniki last year, when it opened the prospect of European Union membership to all countries in our region. Croatia is the first, and Macedonia and others will follow. In the process of achieving full membership we should co-operate more. Our state secretary will visit Belgrade to set an agenda for better relations. I had a good meeting with your Prime Minister, and we will see whether he will achieve his goal for the President, Mr Branko Crvenkovski. We have already discussed my visit to Skopje. I am sure that with more co-operation we will decrease this area of instability in Europe, which is of concern not only to us but to the whole of Europe.

Ms ZAPFL-HELBLING (Switzerland) (translation)

Prime Minister, thank you for your address. I should like to mention the fact that you were re-elected chairman of your party last weekend by 99% of the votes. I think this is a clear vote of confidence in the consistent policy you have pursued for many years. You have thus enjoyed personal success in your efforts to democratise and stabilise your country.

You have already answered many questions in your address, but I should like to ask whether you can also commit yourself to ensuring that new European Union candidates, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, are fully respected by you, your policies and your fellow citizens.

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia (translation)

Ms Zapfl-Helbling, thank you for your question and your words of congratulation. Last Saturday, I was elected chairman of our party for the third time at our party conference in Rijeka. I am pleased about the high percentage of votes cast because although some political observers thought I was a “good guy” and pro-European, the rank and file were of a different opinion. By voting for me, the party’s rank and file – there were over 2 500 delegates at the party conference – showed that the reform policy I have been pursuing since I became party chairman four years ago in April 2000 is also accepted and approved by those at grass-roots level, the delegates and all the party’s organisations throughout Croatia. So this means there is no rift between the party chairman and the ordinary members.

Up to now, one issue that has been speculated on is whether what the party chairman, Mr Sanader, says is true or whether the Croatian Democratic Union is a different party after all. In the first ten years, the Croatian Democratic Union was the party that led Croatia to independence. Today, it is a reformed party. We have carried out a number of reforms in the last four years. For example, we have introduced the principle of subsidiarity into the party and done a great deal more besides. We are open-minded towards other centre and centre-right parties, and this has been recognised by the European People’s Party. Mr van der Linden has spoken on behalf of the EPP today. We have had observer status for two years now and in two days we shall also become an associate member of the European People’s Party.

The party therefore stands four-square behind me and all these reforms. I spoke at our party conference in Rijeka on Saturday about Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, the return of the refugees and co-operation with The Hague Tribunal, and the delegates not only applauded but also elected me by this very large majority. So I view the future with great optimism. Croatia plans to go along two political paths at the same time, firstly in the direction of the European Union and Nato and secondly in the direction of relations with its neighbours. We want good neighbourly relations with Serbia and Montenegro. We are developing a joint co-operation agenda with Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia in particular. There are still a few problems and open questions to be resolved, but the willingness to co-operate is there.

Reconciliation calls for courage. Since the war, which will be ten years behind us next year, it has been necessary to develop a pan-European outlook and future for all peoples and for all the states of the former Yugoslavia, and Croatia intends to make an important contribution both to this and to reconciliation. I mentioned a small step in my address and will repeat it here: I was surprised at what a big impact the Prime Minister attending an Orthodox Christmas festival had. For me, this was a small gesture. I went there with my wife to make it clear that I was not only attending as Prime Minister but also as an ordinary human being. The response in Croatia was tremendous. The atmosphere in the country is now completely different and we shall continue along our chosen path.

Mr JAKIC (Slovenia)

Prime Minister, congratulations on your positive opinion. Slovenia fully supports the Croatian aspiration and determination to participate in European integration, which is important for further political and economic stabilisation of the region. Mr Sanader, in your opinion, how and in which fields can Slovenia support Croatia in the process of integration in the European Union?

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

First, Mr Jakic, I congratulate you on your membership of Nato and the European Union on Saturday 1 May, which will be an historic day for your country. As a friendly neighbouring country, we are with you in spirit and congratulate you on your achievements in all fields. I am sure that Slovenia could be an advocate for Croatia’s membership of the European Union and Nato. Who knows better than Slovenia the situation in Croatia? For the information of other parliamentarians, we have some ongoing issues, but we have agreed that we would like to solve them bilaterally. If not, we can go for international arbitration. However, none of those issues can disturb our friendly relations, and I thank you for your question. I am sure that the Slovenian Government, including Prime Minister Rop and Foreign Minister Rupel, along with parliamentarians in the Assembly, the European Parliament and Nato, will advocate membership of Croatia, because they, like our friends and neighbours in Hungary and Italy, know better than other Europeans the situation in Croatia. My answer in concreto is that we would like the benefit of your experience. Minister Zuzul has excellent relations with Minister Rupel, and we agree that we can benefit from the expertise of your representatives who negotiated with the European Union and Nato. We appreciate your experience in achieving full membership of both associations.

Mr BUDIN (Italy) (translation)

I have two questions, Prime Minister. The first concerns the disputed fishing and ecological zone in the Adriatic. Do you agree on the need for multilateral management in the Adriatic, and if so what form should it take?

My second question is the following. You mention reconciliation. In addition to everything else, do you believe symbolic gestures of reconciliation can have a moral value and help in the joint shouldering of responsibility for the past?

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia (translation)

Thank you for those two questions. As for the first, I believe this decision on the Adriatic is consistent with European practice.

In two or three meetings I have had with Prime Minister Berlusconi, I have said that we in Croatia understand Italy’s interest in fishing, so we need to ensure both that the law adopted by the Croatian Parliament is respected, like any other law, and that a solution is found to accommodate Italy’s position. Croatia’s fishing fleet lacks the capacity to catch all the fish in the Adriatic anyway, so if, above and beyond Croatia’s catch, there is room for our Italian friends, why not?

We have raised the matter also with Commissioner Fischler, who is prepared to assist in finding a solution. Besides, there is a climate of goodwill and friendship between Croatia and Italy, and we are hoping that Italy too will support us in our European ambitions.

I am afraid that I did not quite hear your second question. Would you be good enough to repeat it?


Yes Mr Budin, would you repeat your second question?

Mr BUDIN (Italy) (translation)

Alongside all the other measures you mentioned, do you also believe in symbolic gestures of reconciliation, in particular with Serbia of course, thanks to which each party can shoulder its responsibility for the past?

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia (translation)

Yes. I believe reconciliation, in terms not just of the last fifteen years, but of the entire period of twentieth-century European history, should enable all parties... I wanted to answer in Italian, but I cannot find the words. Anyway, I agree with what you said. In Croatia, among our neighbours and in the wider Europe there is a need to forget the past, without necessarily erasing it. We need, in other words, to close this chapter of the past and turn our minds to Europe’s future.

Ms AZEVEDO (Portugal) (translation)

Mr Prime Minister, you have provided a clear, thorough summary of the situation in Croatia. However, can you give us more information about the economic situation, particularly the market economy, another very important criterion that was defined in Copenhagen?

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

Thank you for your question, Ms Azevedo. Croatia’s economy is not as satisfactory as we might have hoped, but we have had macro economic stability since 1993. Commissioner Verheugen said in the European Parliament that “Croatia is a country with a stable macro-economic environment and monetary system”, which is much more advanced than some of the European Union accession countries.

We have problems. We have high unemployment, a budget deficit that is beyond the European Union limit and growing foreign debt, which we are trying to address. In spite of those difficulties, Croatia is on the best path not only to comply with the Copenhagen criteria in a democratic sense with the acquis communautaire, but to have economic certainty. In our negotiations with the European Union, the preparation of the Croatian economy will show that we will be competitive once we are within the European Union. I am optimistic that we can compete with the most advanced economies in the European Union and that we will prepare ourselves for that.

Mr BERISHA (Albania)

I congratulate the Prime Minister of Croatia on his address and especially on what he has achieved in four months. He has made concrete steps towards establishing a reconciliatory process. Taking into account the fact that Croatia has been subject to aggression, the Prime Minister has taken some crucial steps.

My question is no longer necessary because it was about the Dayton Agreement. Once again, I thank the Prime Minister for his address.

Ms HADZIAHMETOVIC (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

I take this opportunity to congratulate Prime Minister Sanader on the speed and manner with which the Croatian Government has led the country in the past few years. You talked about competition in the region. How do you see relations there in the light of your new commitments?

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

The direct answer is that we will pursue the European approach. By accepting this opinion and by enhancing the status of the country, Croatia will advocate Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership of the European Union. Indeed, we will do that for all our neighbours. We will also advocate Europe in our neighbourhood. We believe that the European Union has sent a clear signal to all countries in our region that every country can make similar progress towards European Union membership, not only by implementing and fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria, but by sharing European values. In the light of the new positive development of this avis, we can advocate European Union membership to our neighbours, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro, and also advocate our views in the European Union.

Mr FIGEL’ (Slovakia)

Thank you, Mr President. Congratulations, Prime Minister Sanader, not only on the avis, but on the realities that are changing in your country, and especially on the momentum, the climate and the consensus that are visible in the country – I was there last week. You need to preserve that, for domestic reforms, for external relations, and for European integration – and you can count on Slovakia’s support and sympathy. My question is to what extent that climate, momentum and consensus are shared by all political parties, and especially by society.

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

Thank you, Jan, for that question. Let me first congratulate you and your country on the historic achievement of becoming a member of Nato and the European Union. I had the honour of attending, together with your Prime Minister and the Prime Ministers of seven of the Nato accession countries, the celebration party in Washington. Before answering your question directly, let me first say that Slovakia has shown how quickly and successfully one country can join both those important associations. When journalists throughout Europe ask me how quickly Croatia could finish negotiations with the European Union, the answer is very simple for me: I always cite the example of Jan Figel’ and Mikulas Dzurinda, who did a great job for their country. Your question gives me the opportunity to extend our congratulations to you once again.

The answer to your question is that in Croatia we have – thank God – an overall consensus not only throughout all the political parties from left to right, but throughout the Croatian public. As you said, it is important to maintain that momentum. For instance, the difference in public support for the European Union and for Nato is about 30% – the European Union is supported by about 80% of Croatian citizens, but Nato by only about 50%. That was probably the case in other countries acceding to Nato, too, so we should carry out more public awareness work with regard to Nato. We do not need much of a public awareness programme for the European Union, but we fully agree with you that we should keep the momentum going.

In the coming few months – six months, perhaps – we expect the Council to set a date at the end of this year or the beginning of 2005. We hope that we shall be able to follow your example and negotiate all the chapters of the acquis communautaire in a few years, while increasing public awareness and clarifying and promoting European values and the reasons why Croatia should become a full member of the European Union, even though we already have between 76% and 80% public support in all quarters.

Mr CEKUOLIS (Lithuania)

Dear Prime Minister, the Lithuanian parliamentary delegation joins in all the congratulations that you have heard today in the Hemicycle. My question is about your domestic economic affairs. What is your government’s position on the prospective speeding up of the privatisation process in Croatia? Do you intend to privatise any of the infrastructure in the near future?

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

Thank you for your question and for your congratulations. May I extend to you our congratulations on your historic achievement of being a member of Nato and the European Union? I also congratulate the other Baltic countries.

Privatisation is a process of major importance for me, for my government and for the whole of Croatia. Because we lost some years during the war, we are, unfortunately, in a different position from that of other transition countries such as yours, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovenia. Because we had the war, the terrible aggression and the occupation of Croatia, we have lost five, six or even seven years – who knows how many? – not only during the war, but afterwards, too, because we had a lot of regions to reconstruct and recover. Now the process of privatisation is going well. We are privatising some of the infrastructure companies, and also, bearing in mind some similar cases in Ireland, the United States and Finland, we are offering not only direct privatisation but, in some fields, a public-private partnership. That means that if anyone would like to join with the shares of the government in the company now, in a few years – if the project is successful – we would be able to privatise. Always, even in such cases, the final goal is to privatise the company, but with the introduction of a public- private partnership, we believe that we can achieve more successful privatisation in a few years’ time.

Mr JARAB (Czech Republic)

Prime Minister Sanader, let me, too, congratulate you on the positive and successful course of development of your country, and offer you our support on your way to joining the European Union. The autonomy of universities is one of the major requirements of the Bologna Magna Charta Universitatum, to which the University of Zagreb is a signatory. Yet I understand from two visits to the university as a member of an advisory expert team that, according to the legal documents in force, the university’s autonomy is very weak because the institution is split into some thirty autonomies of individual faculties, which enjoy the status of legal entities and the right to negotiate their budgets directly with the ministry. Is not that fragmentation an unnecessary legal obstacle to your largest institution of higher learning achieving its full potential?

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

First, I thank you for your congratulations, and I congratulate you on your achievements, as I have congratulated other countries acceding to the European Union and Nato. In your case, I am talking primarily about the European Union, as you have been a member of Nato for a few years.

We are fully committed to the Bologna process, and there is no reason to question that process. The University of Zagreb has full autonomy, and there is no possibility of any government interfering with its decisions. The university’s full autonomy has been granted, and will be preserved.

Mr TOSHEV (Bulgaria)

Thank you, Mr President. Mr Prime Minister, welcome to the Council of Europe Chamber, and congratulations on your electoral success. I wish you a successful mandate as Prime Minister of Croatia, and you enjoy our support in the European development of your country. My question refers to civil control over the security services. What are your achievements until now, and what are your commitments in that respect?

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

Thank you for your congratulations and for your support. We have very intensive and dynamic bilateral relations. Yesterday, our two ministers for European integration signed an agreement on our co-operation in Zagreb. Let me say clearly that in Croatia a law on the security services has set up a committee of private people who are outside parliament. Thus we have a parliamentary committee which controls the whole security system, but also a committee of citizens – outstanding personalities in Croatian public life – who have control of the security system. That is transparent and in accordance with the best European standards. The law was passed under the previous government and some initiatives are now being taken to amend and improve it; but we are fully committed to transparency in control of civil society.


That brings to an end the questions to Mr Sanader. I thank him most warmly on behalf of the Assembly for his address and for the remarks he has made in the course of questions. I thank the ministers and high officials accompanying him. Thank you for coming and all the best to you and to Croatia.