Interview with the Croatian Foreign Minister, Tonino Picula, for the TV station Telma

Interview with Minister Picula on the occasion of his taking part at the US-Adriatic Charter Ministerial Conference that took part from 26-28 September in Orhid

We all know that good economic situation does not necessarily follow good political relations. What can we do to overcome this trend in relations between Croatia and Macedonia? Through better and more extensive economic co-operation. Once we achieve that, this stop being an issue in our bilateral talks. As regards Croatia and Macedonia, I think we have achieved a lot. Not only have we signed all the agreements necessary for a wholesome development of our relations, but, according to the documents available to me, the exchange of goods seems to be growing each year. In relation to 2001, the exchange of goods grew by 9 percent, which is very encouraging. We should stimulate business people to come and look for business opportunities, and harmonising relations with the EU is sure to remove some obstacles in the economic co-operation between these two countries. I am an optimist in regards to this segment of our relations.

What do you think, does the co-operation between the countries in the region benefit Croatia, or does it, as many people think, present a burden to your country on its way towards the EU? I must point out that Croatia seems to be forcing the “regatta” approach for entering the EU. I do not think that one excludes the other. One should bear in mind that the EU is a regional organisation that with time became probably the most successful European political project. Regional co-operation is a vital part of approaching the EU, but the “regatta” approach accentuates the fairness of the whole process. First of all, we must end this painful period of reforms in our countries to gain legitimacy for joining the EU. The “regatta” or individual approach rewards those dedicated to reforms and not afraid to make political risks, who often end up in political conflicts at home. So, regional co-operation does not present any particular burden to Croatia, but we want for each country to get a chance to earn its status by itself.

What are the key problems in the region that need to be solved as soon as possible for these countries to get the green light for entering the EU? How do you comment the views that the EU is not yet ready to really push the region forward by giving them access to the more serious structural and financial funds? First of all, we need to take the carrying out of these reforms seriously in order for us to be considered as potential candidates, and one day even new EU members. I take this responsibility as an internal problem. We very well know what we have to do, and that is end an awfully dramatic and prolonged transition period in Croatia. What are the problems? Some of them we inherited. We are talking about an age long economic backwardness and isolation from all the main developments that constituted today’s EU and its success. We have had some problems that vehemently appeared during the last decade – Milošević’s aggressive politics and wars have certainly sidetracked countries in the region from participating in the Euro-Atlantic integrations during the 90’s.

Is Kosovo and its unresolved status the key problem on the way towards the EU? Kosovo is indeed a serious problem, but it is not the only one that needs to be solved, because it affects all other processes. We have to be realistic. The key players on the international political field have not come up a solution to remove Kosovo from the agenda. But I would like to see that problem solved by the countries in the region, for which there are a historical and geographical reasons to have that as their priority. I think that kind of initiative would be more than welcome in the region.

Do you think that the apologies from presidents Marović and Mesić are the beginning of new friendly relations in the region? I think that that was an expression of the continuous trends in relations between Croatia and Serbia in the last three years. If we have not made progress in so many areas, that apology would not have been possible, as well as president Mesić’s acceptance and reply. That act also created a sort of an obligation to solve the remaining issues. like the border along the river Drava, fate of the missing and captured persons, and the return of the refugees and their property. This apology is, in fact, an expression of the political responsibility for the process of improving the relations between Zagreb and Belgrade, that I am sure will end to the satisfaction of both sides in the shortest possible period.

On a scale from 1 to 10, where does Croatia, and where does Macedonia stand on their way towards the EU? The only numerical scale I respect are years. That means our time slot is 2007, the next EU enlargement. We want to finish with our reforms by 2006, so that we could enter the EU in 2007, but we will not despair if that happens a year or two later. I think Macedonia has set itself a similar goal, and I wish our Macedonian partners and friend the best of luck and I hope they will be as successful as we are.