Croatia has to catch up with its neighbours in central and eastern Europe who had joined the European Union much earlier and worked to implement their transition in peace, unlike Croatia, which was the victim of war in the early 1990s which set it back on its European path, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Wednesday.
Croatia has to catch up with its neighbours in central and eastern Europe who had joined the European Union before Croatia and worked to implement their transition in peace, unlike Croatia, which was the victim of war of aggression by Slobodan Milosevic’s regime in the early 1990s and which set it back on its European path, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Wednesday.
“It is important to know that in terms of economy, in 2004 – 11 years after falling to the lowest historical level in 1993 because of the war – we finally reached the level we were at in 1990 (before the war). We must keep that in mind, because that is the consequence of the war period and the cause of the (slow) pace of our economic growth,” Plenkovic said.
Plenkovic added that Croatia’s post-communist neighbours in central and eastern Europe had joined the EU in May 2004, while Croatia joined more than nine years later, in July 2013.
“And that is the difference, that is the gap that we have to close today, so that we can catch up with our neighbours who did not have to face that kind of situation, and who implemented their political, democratic, and above all, economic, transition in peace, and have received much more funding at a much different time, and managed to quickly catch up with Western Europe,” Plenkovic said in a speech at Zagreb’s Europe House after receiving the European Speech of the Year award given by the lobbying organisation European Movement of Croatia (EPH) which promotes European integration.
Plenkovic received the award for the speech he made in the European Parliament in Strasbourg in February, in which he presented his vision of Europe’s future. The award is presented every year on May 9, Europe Day, and represents the highest award by the EPH, the local branch of European Movement International.
Accepting the award, Plenkovic talked about the growing populism, and the rise in popularity of anti-establishment and anti-European parties, not just in Croatia but across all EU member states, and said it is up to responsible parties to act as a shield against these trends, and to advocate European values and propose solutions to political, economic and social problems that will receive the majority support of voters.
“In that regard, we wish to continue with structural reforms, and improve the business and investment climate in Croatia, which will additionally boost growth, continue the policy of fiscal consolidation, and also work to solve the large issues, which we mostly inherited (from previous governments) but which we still have to deal with – from demographic revitalisation, the issue of (citizens with) blocked accounts, and investment in the future, above all into education, so that young people have opportunities like their peers across the EU,” Plenkovic said.
Speaking about the advantages of EU membership, the prime minister said that Croatia will soon assume the chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, and will also assume the rotating Presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2020.
“We are entering a phase of maturity, where we are expected to show leadership and send proper messages and launch real initiatives, always with the goal of helping our neighbours, and encourage their European aspirations,” he said.
Plenkovic also mentioned the largest infrastructure project in the country, the Peljesac Bridge project, and said that it was a “lasting monument of the first seven years of our membership of the EU.”
“That is the best possible way to illustrate what Europe’s added value is. There are a lot of examples like that,” the prime minister said, referring to the liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal that is yet to be built on the island of Krk, and several other projects throughout the country.