Prime Minister of Croatia

Speech made to the Assembly

Monday, 2 October 2006

Distinguished President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr van der Linden, Secretary General, members of the Assembly, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to address the Assembly. I thank Mr van der Linden for his introductory words.

Today we mark the 10th anniversary of the Republic of Croatia’s membership of the Council of Europe – a key European institution that promotes and safeguards democracy, the rule of law, human rights and parliamentary co-operation at European level. Those are noble principles which we all share in our common and successful European house.

I am particularly proud that on this important occasion, ten years after Croatia’s accession to the Council of Europe, I am able to say that we are a member of this permanent family and share its principles. Some of you may recall that we started the journey with 21 commitments set out by this body in 1996. Now we are a candidate for the European Union. I am proud that my country achieved this much in the period of one short decade. I am sure that you all share my delight, as it is also beneficial for the Council of Europe and for Europe in a broader sense.

Croatia will continue to have a great interest in the activities of this Organisation and to provide a constructive contribution to its topical agenda, including the promotion of the Council of Europe’s specific areas of excellence, such as reform of the European Court of Human Rights and, in particular, strengthening co-operation with the European Union and other international organisations.

Let me briefly set out the main achievements that my country has accomplished since joining the Council of Europe and on its path towards EU integration. Croatia has shown commitment to carrying out all necessary reforms without bypassing any stage in the process, but rather completing each with substantiated results. Advances in internal reforms strengthened the overall capabilities of our country.

This raised our international political and economic profile and made us more attractive to foreign investment.

However, the main goal of the reform endeavours is, and will continue to be, our desire to improve the social landscape of our country and the quality of life of our citizens and to create favourable circumstances and conditions for growth and investment. Accession- driven reforms thus almost become a catalyst for finalising the process of transition. Committed reform implementation contributes to our credibility as a true partner of the EU, whose partners are willing and capable of sharing and promoting the common values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. By definition, countries that aspire to join the EU must not be an economic burden or a security threat. That must be the guiding principle when discussing our responsibility, but also when discussing the future of the EU’s enlargement.

Ladies and gentlemen, if we keep in mind our European history – our history was characterised by confrontations, by wars, by genocide, by bloodshed and by tragedies – and if we, want to avoid such a future and to shape our European future in another way, there is no alternative to European unification. When confronted with the notion of new EU members, many people tend to think of the aspiring countries as they are now, not as they will be at the end of the process: more competent and capable in every sense – from the protection of human rights to having strong administrative capacities, as well as the ability to implement the most advanced environmental standards. Such a transformed country adds value to the EU and complements existing EU assets.

Croatia’s experience has proven that the very opening of accession negotiations with the EU is a particularly important stage in the accession process. It clearly indicates that a country has positively fulfilled the necessary criteria, proved its maturity and has definitely become a trusted partner. Prior to being given EU candidate status, Croatia had to provide tangible proof of its full co-operation with the ICTY, as you just mentioned, Mr President. Croatia did that, thus reaffirming its credibility. The accession negotiations, which are proceeding successfully, provide us with a time frame and a set of standards by which to measure our progress.

Ladies and gentlemen, certain challenging issues are in the focus of our efforts to take forward the acquis truly to reach European standards. Among those, I should like to underline that the reform of the judiciary has so far been dealt with successfully, often with assistance from the EU and member countries but also from the Council of Europe. For instance, it involves the modernisation of the land registry system and reducing the backlog of court cases. The fight against corruption and organised crime is another priority. Therefore, the government adopted the action plan and the national programme to deal with this in an efficient and transparent manner in the coming years. Considerable efforts are also being made in the area of human rights and minority rights protection, which is closely related to the issue of the return of refugees.

In Croatia, we also started a comprehensive reform of all levels of education, aimed at modernisation and compatibility with the EU standards and the Bologna Process, as well as with the direction set out in the Lisbon Agenda. The upgrading of energy and transport infrastructures has been done in part through successful regional co-operation and EU financing. Reform of the defence system and security services is well under way in accordance with NATO and EU standards and the highest democratic principles. Those are just a few examples to illustrate our ongoing undertakings.

Croatia has made notable achievements in the economy that ensure stable industrial and GDP growth of 4.4%, a low inflation rate, export growth, a rise in foreign direct investment and other positive macro- economic indicators – for instance, a reduction in the budget deficit from 6.2%, as we took over responsibility for the country in late 2003, to 2.9% this year. This all indicates that we are approaching the fulfilment of the EU Maastricht criteria at a steady pace. We still have to complete the privatisation process, scale down unemployment, improve exports and ensure that our business sector is able to participate fully in the European common market.

Extensive investment from EU countries shows that Croatia’s investment climate has been increasingly evaluated as positive, augmented by political stability, an adequate legal framework, the transparency of its implementation and a greatly improving administrative infrastructure.

The European integration process has also put into focus other important aspects of the development of European societies, such as regional co-operation, cooperation in the fight against new security threats, the development of civil society and many other areas. Croatia has so far proven its capability to influence other countries in the region through its positive example of high achievements, as well as through its active engagement in regional co-operation, and therefore to solve the remaining political issues.

Co-operation in the South-Eastern European region is efficient when it is open, balanced and responsive to the needs and interests of the region itself and based on European principles in a way that is conceived to emulate the co-operation within the EU itself. In this regard, the remaining open issues in South-Eastern Europe must be settled in a manner that increases our stability and secures the continuation of democratic and economic processes. That is a challenge not only for the countries of the region, but for the international community as well, as it requires its focus and contribution.

A synergy of bilateral and regional co-operation will guarantee the continuation of democratic reform processes in South-Eastern Europe, thus ensuring durable stability in the region. A truly authentic network of new relations in South-Eastern Europe exists today. To a considerable extent, it is based on pillars related to EU integration, the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe and the stabilisation and association process. But other regional supportive associations are also involved in such success. For instance, the CECP, which is currently under the chairmanship- in-office of Croatia, is an indigenous process that enables us to realise our common goals, thus strengthening co-operation and good neighbourly relations, with the aim of consolidating democracy, stability, security and economic prosperity in the region, combined with the ambition of European integration.

We should not forget other regional co-operation initiatives, such as the Central European Initiative, the Adriatic-Ionian initiative or the quadrilateral, which is also currently chaired by Croatia. The countries of the region also successfully co-operate in security and defence policy areas as well as in the fight against organised crime. The fact that Croatia has established open visa regimes with all Western Balkan countries in our neighbourhood shows not only that the political climate has changed and that the level of mutual trust has been raised, but that we have improved our administrative and security capabilities based on an adequate legal framework and its efficient implementation.

We also note positive developments in the area of economic and business co-operation. A free trade regime exists throughout the region through a network of bilateral agreements, but we are now successfully working on modifications to the Central European Free Trade Agreement – CEFTA – which will soon become operational. The wider South-Eastern European region already has an integrated power system and the focus is now on the development of road and rail infrastructures in line with the European corridors.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me now briefly outline the present situation in the region in relation to the Europe-Atlantic integration process and touch on the issues that still remain open but can be tackled and solved only within such a framework.

First, I would like to congratulate Romania and Bulgaria on their forthcoming accession to the EU. They have proved that hard work, commitment, responsibility and credibility pay off. They are ready to ensure their peoples’ future progress, as well as contributing to the strengthening of the region and of the EU and playing a constructive role in global affairs.

“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” has deservedly earned EU candidate status, having held several elections in a democratic manner and without major upsets in its political stability. Albania is moving strongly forwards in the right direction, as its stabilisation and association agreement is in the process of ratification. This further underlines the necessity to continue with reforms and to further Albania’s input on issues such as regional stability and co-operation.

Bosnia and Herzegovina are conducting accession and stability agreement negotiations, although progress has temporarily been slowed down not only by the general complexity of internal relations but by the recent pre-election dynamics. The focus must be on the future constitution, and the co-ordinated assistance of the international community, in order to secure regional stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That will be vital. The equal status of all three constituent peoples – Serbians, Croatians and Bosnians – should be guaranteed.

The necessary processes involving Serbia and the Serbian people should also be strengthened and supported, but all those processes must be guided and assisted by the international community. They also need to be supported by other countries in the region. As neighbours, we have a vested interest in shaping the long-term stability and security architecture of our region. The process will also need the support of the Council of Europe and of the EU.

Croatia is following with great interest and appreciation the active role that the Council of Europe is playing in some of the countries in the region. We support whole-heartedly the existing assistance programmes, and we encourage the Council of Europe to continue providing its expertise to help those parts of the region in which it is most needed. I firmly believe that, through joint efforts, we will be able to avert any lapses to the past, to keep the present energy of change and advancement and to secure a deserved place for our part of Europe within the broader European family of nations and values. Croatia can contribute constructively to these efforts through its own example and through its own commitment to co-operation based on democracy and the European vision.

In the European Union, as well as in other European institutions including NATO and the Council of Europe, one principle in particular needs our attention. It is that each country should be treated according to its own merits. With regard to our co-operation within the South-Eastern European region, let me reassure you once again that Croatia will be proactive and engaged in its negotiations with the European Union. The negotiation process is well under way, and we believe that we can finish it within the next two-and- a-half years.

Let me assure you that we are conducting a two- track policy: one is towards the EU and NATO, with a view to accession as soon as possible by meeting all the relevant criteria and implementing the acquis in Croatia; the other involves helping our neighbours on their way into the European Union and NATO. No European country should be left behind in the European institutions. That means that they should become full members not only of the Council of Europe but of the European Union.

On behalf of my delegation and of my fellow Croatians here in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe today, I am very happy that we are celebrating our 10th anniversary. I remember when, 10 years ago, René van der Linden was a rapporteur for Croatia to the Council of Europe. We have worked together very successfully, and I would like to express my gratitude to him today. Now he is the President, but then he was the rapporteur working on Croatia’s case. I thank him very much for the work that he did at that time as well as the work that he is doing today.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, we believe in Europe’s future. We in Croatia know what it means to go through difficult times. All of you will remember the shelling of Dubrovnik, the destruction of Vukovar, and what happened in Srebrenica. All of you will remember what happened in Kosovo. There is no alternative to co-operation except a new confrontation.

In Croatia, we all know how difficult our past has been and how difficult the history of all European countries has been. Let us work together to ensure that this outstanding, important and great institution, the Council of Europe, becomes even more important for all Europeans. We believe that its present role is not being fully implemented and that it deserves an even more important role. Having said that, we are not comparing the Council of Europe with the European Union. As you know, we are aiming for membership, and I have spoken about that in regard to the European Union. However, I believe that the Council of Europe plays an important role and that it should be even more important than it is today. Thank you very much for your attention.


Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister, for your most interesting address. You showed your commitment to Euro-Atlantic cooperation and described your role in regional co-operation, especially in regard to the Council of Europe. We are doing our utmost to give added value to the European Union. I am sure that the Council of Europe has to play that role in order to avoid the creation of new dividing lines in Europe. We have to stick to the core values, and we are doing that in an excellent way.

I call Mr Evans from the European Democrat Group to ask his question. Written questions are also possible.

Mr EVANS (United Kingdom)

Mr Prime Minister, I am grateful to you for your contribution, and I congratulate you on the advances that you have made at political, social and economic levels. You said that no European country should be left behind within the European Union structures. As the President said in his introduction, there are concerns about Bulgaria and Romania coming in, and you mentioned a number of other European countries that have applied to become full members of the European Union. Do you have a message for those countries that are fearful of further enlargement?

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

Yes, I do have a message. Let me stress something that I did not mention in my speech. In negotiating the accession of Croatia, we have become aware of the fact that the EU faces certain problems, including the constitutional treaty. There was also a huge debate last year on the financial perspective, and we should analyse the reasons behind that. There is also enlargement fatigue and the question of absorption capacity. People ask what “absorption capacity” means, because the EU is not going to absorb us, it is going to integrate us.

Realistically speaking, there are problems within the EU. I am going to quote René van der Linden, the President, who said in our joint press conference an hour ago that the EU is asking huge reforms of the upcoming member states – Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and others – and for them the ability to implement them.

We believe – and I strongly advocate this – that the European Union for its part should complete its reforms by the end of 2008, and we hope that that will happen. If it does, I see no problems for Croatia and future members once all criteria have been fulfilled and all chapters negotiated, which is what Croatia is currently doing. In Croatia’s case, the processes complement each other. We believe that the EU could and should finish all its debates on the constitution by the end of 2008, as has been foreseen, and we believe that we can finish our negotiations with the Commission and member states by that time as well.

I want to say something about opinion polls in Croatia. There is a Eurobarometer that shows the attitude of European citizens to new member states. The latest polls show that in all member states, including two new ones, the attitude towards Croatia is very good. There is no enlargement fatigue in relation to Croatia. I am grateful to all citizens in the member states who perceive Croatia in a positive way.

I think that all of us, especially parliamentarians and more especially the executive, should think about why the referendum on the constitutional treaty failed in France and the Netherlands. Two “no” referenda are a big problem for all of us: not just for France, the Netherlands and the European Union, but for Croatia. However, we can learn from that and communicate to our citizens what it is all about.

Croatia is soon to celebrate the 15th anniversary of its independence. On 15 January 1992, the EU recognised Croatia, and in three months we will celebrate the 15th anniversary of its international recognition. Young people who were born at the end of the 1980s do not remember Yugoslavia; to them, Croatia is the fact – the reality. They do not understand when we speak of Yugoslav communism, Titoism and Tito’s dictatorship. To them that is history – it might as well be the 19th century. What we must communicate to them are the values. We must explain why Croatia should be included, why we want to become a member of the European Union and why it is important for the EU to continue its enlargement. A united Europe has no alternative. I believe that a communication strategy is very important.

I am optimistic for Croatia, and for some of our neighbours in South-Eastern Europe. I repeat that if all goes well, as the EU has foreseen – if all the open issues relating to the constitutional treaty are dealt with by the end of 2008, and we conclude our negotiations at roughly the same time – a couple of months will not play a major role -I do not envisage any problems for Croatia.

Mr EVANS (United Kingdom)

Let me simply say that I want to see Croatia become a member of the European Union as soon as possible. Good luck.


Prime Minister, you mentioned regional relations and regional stability in your speech. I should like to hear your view on Western Balkan stability and the development of good neighbourly relations and policy in the context of determination of the future status of Kosovo.

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

Let me first state our position – not just the position of my government, but the position throughout the political scene in the Croatian Parliament. We wish Serbia and all neighbouring countries also to become members of the European Union and NATO as soon as they meet all the criteria.

Croatia is a candidate country. We are negotiating with the European Union. Let me reiterate that there will be no soloist policy on Croatia’s part in relation to Serbia and Kosovo. We want to assist the European Union and the international community with our knowledge. As Serbia’s neighbour,” we can contribute because we know the history, we know the mentality, we know the language, and we know all the specific issues and aspects of that part of Europe. Of course I have my personal opinion, but I will not give it today. I will give it to our European partners, and to those who are very much in charge of the issue. We know how important it is to Serbia and Kosovo. What we want is more dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade.

Mr FASSINO (Italy) (translation)

I should like to thank you, Prime Minister, for your statement, with its decidedly pro-European overtones. Our acquaintance goes back many years and I know that you are one of the leaders of Croatia who has fought most, and indeed one who is still fighting, for Croatia, the Balkans and South-East Europe in the European Union. I have two questions. Firstly, ten years on from the Dayton Accords and after the important elections in Bosnia in recent weeks, how do you see the prospects for Croatia’s role in consolidating the process of stability and democracy in Bosnia? Secondly, how does your government intend to support the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia? Thank you.

Mr Sanader, Prime Minister of Croatia

Let me begin by saying I believe the Dayton Accords were a major success, not only for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but for the international community, since they put an end to the war. They were not perfect – life is not perfect, as we all know – but they achieved their purpose. It is for that reason that the Dayton Accords will be granted a special place in the history books.

Today, eleven years on from the conclusion of the 1995 accords, we need to look at how they are working. I have heard it said in various quarters that they are no longer adequate. In that case, we will need to reform the constitution, but no reform can be considered acceptable unless it is accepted by the three peoples making up Bosnia and Herzegovina, who must be allowed to obtain and retain equal status.

Above all, the international community, the Council of Europe and the United States – as highly active brokers of the accords – need to work together with the representatives of these three peoples to enable Bosnia and Herzegovina to throw off its political shackles. The other issue we should not forget is Kosovo and how it impacts on Bosnia and Herzegovina. We must await the results of the elections that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina yesterday, some of which are already starting to trickle through.

Now that the attention of the international community is focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, we must not forget this part of Europe. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia are our neighbours, so we want things to work out. We are prepared to work together with the international community to assess whether the Dayton Accords still meet our present and future needs, or whether they are in need of reform.

As for co-operation with the International Tribunal, it is an issue that does not concern just one country, be it Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia or Montenegro: it is an issue each country has an obligation to address. Croatia has an obligation to co-operate with the tribunal under its own rules of law. We did not co-operate with The Hague because the European Union asked us to, but because there is a law in Croatia which states that anyone accused of an offence must answer the charges.

If a country is to take the implementation of its own laws seriously, it must do so in all cases and not simply because it is enjoined to do so by the European Union.


Would you like to put a supplementary question? That is not the case.

That brings us to the end of questions. I thank you warmly, Mr Sanader. We will see each other later at the presentation of your gift to the Council of Europe on the 10th anniversary of your country’s membership.