Croatia and Bulgaria agree that the two countries need to be dedicated to creating a new, strategic dimension in their relations by strengthening cooperation in key areas, from security and defence to science and culture, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said on Tuesday after she met with Bulgaria's President Rumen Radev.
"President Radev and I agreed that Croatia and Bulgaria have to base their cooperation on a long term, strategic dimension of their relations. We see this strategic cooperation and potential in all key areas: security and defence, European and regional issues, the economy, but also in tourism, education, and science and culture," Grabar-Kitarovic said.
The two countries, she said, are allies in the European Union and NATO and share a lot of stances concerning European issues such as cohesion and the multi-annual financial framework, migrations and EU enlargement as well as foreign policy and security issues.
"Both countries want to become part of Schengen. Here we are cooperating within the framework of FRONTEX (...). Croatia is investing a lot of effort in effectively patrolling the longest EU border on land," said Grabar-Kitarovic.
She recalled that the two countries are also cooperating within the Three Seas initiative, assessing that cooperation to be of "strategic interest."
As far as economic cooperation is concerned, it is increasingly developing, the president said and underscored that last year foreign trade between the two countries had increased by 38%.
She underlined that Croatian companies were interested in energy projects but also in infrastructure construction projects, particularly in road and railway trasnport.
She recalled that the two countries are also part of the China+17 format and said that Croatia and Bulgaria will continue to develop their relations with China as well as the European Union's relations with China.
"In that regard, today we signed a joint letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping in which we called for the establishment of a direct Beijing-Sofia-Zagreb air route," the president said.
She added that it was particularly important that Croatia and Bulgaria demarcate the area of Southeast Europe and that the two countries have similar stances about the region, which still is not part of the EU and NATO.
"We intend to cooperate even more deeply and in coordination on issues related to Southeast Europe. We will motivate the Euro-Atlantic journey of these countries based on a strict but just approach. We advocate the European prospect of these countries," she said.
President Radev said that his visit is the continuation of dialogue between the two countries in all areas and confirmed that economic cooperation was growing, but far from the potential that exists.
According to Radev, cooperation in trade, the economy, tourism and science is particularly important for the stability and prosperity of Southeast Europe.
Not only do Croatia and Bulgaria have to, they are obliged to work on the closest cooperation possible so that they can give countries in the region a positive example, and we have to work on the European integration of our region, Radev said, while Grabar-Kitarovic recalled that the European prospect of Southeast Europe would be one of the priorities of Croatia's chairmanship of the Council of the EU next year.
Radev also advocated a deeper European integration of Croatia and Bulgaria and convergence between Europe's north and south and east and west.
He touched on the question of the Schengen Area and recalled that both countries had fulfilled all the technical requirements, expressing hope that the EU will stand by the rules it has set.
He said that Croatia has to find a way to better absorb money from European funds, adding that there is no secret to Bulgaria's success in absorbing funds (97%) and that this required a strategy and vision. According to Radev, the hardest thing was to teach the local administration how to do their job efficiently.
With regard to migration, he considers that that issue must be resolved at the EU level and in tight cooperation with countries migrants were coming from.
He too advocates even stronger cooperation within the China+17 platform.
Grabar-Kitarovic and Radev met officially last year in April when Croatia's president conducted an official visit to Bulgaria.