Millions of dollars worth of aid depend on the expertise and efficiency of our negotiations team

Croatia's Deputy Foreign Minister talks about Croatia's prospects for entering the EU and the new circumstances that have occurred after the war in Iraq.

Q: The Council of Ministers asked of the European Commission to give its opinion on Croatia’s prospects of becoming a membership candidate. What should Croatia do? A: Be patient. The European Commission will in the next couple of months draw a list of some 4,000 questions that will be delivered to Croatian authorities. These questions need to be carefully studied and answered. The European Commission will then analyse them and hopefully by May pass an opinion about Croatia’s application. Why May? Because in May the Commission’s composition changes. It is very important for Croatia that its application be reviewed before May, by the “old” Commission, so that its processing would go as quickly as possible. With the Commission’s good will and the efforts of the Croatian authorities, I think this will prove quite feasible. Q: Do you think that Croatia should form a team of experts for the purposes of negotiating with the EU? A: All states that negotiated with the EU had a negotiations team, led by a chief negotiator. When I said that it is necessary for Croatia to have a stable and professional negotiations team, I meant that after the Croatian parliament adopted the Declaration on approaching the EU in which it unanimously agreed that approaching the European integration is Croatia’s national priority, we should now go a step further and decide that negotiating with the EU is to be set as Croatia’s number one priority, independently of Croatian political parties. On whether these negotiations prove successful or not depend millions of dollars’ worth of aid Croatia might get in the future. Therefore, I believe that the awareness of what is best for all will prevail and that it will be possible for the key political parties in Croatia to reach a consensus in the near future. Q: The EU has found itself in a new situation because of war in Iraq. Bonn and Paris have a better understanding with Moscow than with some of the EU members. Could this affect Croatia’s application? A: There are indeed some divisions within the EU. However, the cohesive forces that unite it are much stronger than those that divide it. It is in the best interest of all that these differences be overcome, and this is what I think is going to happen in the future. The divergence of opinions over Iraq will probably leave some scars, but it is not something that the Union could not overcome. Regarding Croatia’s application, I do not think that divisions within the EU will have any effect on it. Croatia’s position has always been that of principle and integrity, and has been respected by all Members, even those that did not always share our view. Q: It seems that it is the general opinion that the UN should have a key role in the post-war Iraq. How does Croatia plan to contribute to that? A: Post-war reconstruction of Iraq is a chance for the UN to reaffirm their position, as they are the EU’s favourite. Although there is no international consensus on this issue, it is in Croatia’s interests to share its views with the UN. What the UN can offer Iraq is, above all, the trust that the Iraqi people have in the UN as an impartial institution whose goal is to establish Iraq’s sovereignty as quickly as possible and help the Iraqi people take their destiny in their own hands and take control of their own human resources. The UN can also co-ordinate the aid from multilateral organisations such as the World bank, the IMF, and various other bilateral donators, and co-ordinate activities undertaken by other agencies in that field. Therefore, I think that both in political and organisational sense the UN are ideal for leading the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. Croatia has already offered 20 mil. kuna (about US$ 3 mil.) worth of humanitarian aid - no small deal considering its size and GDP. In this way Croatia has shown that it sympathises with the Iraqi people who have needlessly suffered because of Saddam Hussein. Apart from offering humanitarian aid, Croatia is willing to take active part in the reconstruction of Iraq, for the purposes of which the Croatian government has organised meetings with various Croatian companies. A consular office has recently been opened in Syria, which will also facilitate co-ordination between the economic subjects in Croatia and the situation on the field, and help estimate the necessity versus possibility of employing Croatian companies in Syria.