European countries must strengthen cooperation in order to maintain Europe's technological sovereignty, the Croatian-German Economic Forum heard on Monday, with Croatian Economy Minister Darko Horvat saying that Croatia was ready for the first big investment in the auto industry.
The forum was organised by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK) and the German-Croatian Chamber of Industry and Commerce. It brought together representatives of 60 Croatian and German companies from the service, energy, transport, finance, tourism and telecommunication sectors.
Horvat said the Croatian economy was continually growing by 3% but that it was not enough. In order to ensure bigger growth, which Germany needs too, and be able to confront the trade war between big economies such as the US and China, we must be part of the same concept, and strategic documents and regulations in Berlin and Zagreb must be virtually identical, he added.
Only through joint initiatives and talks can we give the Croatian and German economies the chance to grow faster than their surroundings in the next few years, Horvat said.
He expressed gratitude for the opportunity given to Croatia to join soon the European Battery Alliance, which was initiated by Germany.
Horvat said that Croatia was ready, thanks to a good workforce and reforms, to accept the first big investment in the auto industry, adding that the government was willing to invest in the necessary infrastructure for this investment.
Those are the kind of investments and jobs that Croatia needs, he said.
Croatia will do everything to eliminate administrative barriers, to reduce non-tax levies, to make the cost of labour competitive and to finally start attracting investors that create the kind of jobs for which young people are emigrating from Croatia, Horvat said.
Croatia has drawn up new legislation for investors and is ready to adapt it if major investors accept the invitation to invest in Croatia by the end of this year or early the next, he added.
We are in a new digital era characterised by political, technological and economic transformations, and the market economy continues to grow, which entails growing competition, making it necessary to constantly work on keeping one's position, said German Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier.
Europe must keep its technological sovereignty in the future, he added.
Speaking of areas of cooperation between Croatia and Germany, he highlighted industry 4.0, innovations, the use of hydrogen in transport, and the production of batteries for the auto industry. If all batteries came from Asia, one third of our added value would disappear, he said.
Given that Croatia will chair the EU in the first half of 2020 and Germany in the second, Altmaier said the two countries must closely cooperate in the economy to raise their cooperation to a higher level.
He said Croatia must assume the role of a mediator regarding the Balkans and the EU integration of North Macedonia and Albania because, he added, that was a common interest.
HGK president Luka Burilovic said Germany was the world's fourth largest economy and Croatia's key trade partner, the third largest foreign direct investor in Croatia and a significant partner in the export of services.
"Therefore it is not surprising that we are closely watching every move in the country known as Europe's driver as well as the measures it plans in order to neutralise any negative impact," he said.
According to Burilovic, current economic trends in Europe and the world in the first half of 2019 have not impacted the German demand for Croatian products. Croatia recorded a 6.89% rise in exports, while imports went up 5.99%.
The German economy is crucial for Croatia also because of the many Croats living and working there, Burilovic said, adding that it is estimated that they bring about €1 billion to Croatia via banks or direct transfer.