Enlargement of the European Union will be one of Croatia's priorities and it will help candidates on their journey toward membership, Croatia's Foreign and European Affairs Minister Marija Pejcinovic-Buric said at ministerial meeting of the Adriatic-Ionian region held in Budva, Montenegro on Wednesday.
A forum of the EU Adriatic-Ionian Strategy was held there on Tuesday and Wednesday. Since 2014, Brussels has endeavoured to establish cooperation between member states and membership candidate countries from Southeast Europe.
Officials from Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, and Greece attended the meeting along with officials from Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Albania and San Marino.
“Enlargement will be one of Croatia’s priorities next year,” Pejcinovic Buric said.
This was the last meeting of ministers from the region before Croatia takes over the chairmanship of the Council of the European Union in January 2020.
“We believe that 70 million residents who live in the Adriatic-Ionian region and that it encompasses four member states and others outside of (the EU) represent potential for cooperation,” the minister told reporters.
The European Commission initiated this type of cooperation five years ago and it unfolds within common projects in four themed units: blue growth/maritime cooperation; transport and energy connections; environmental protection; and sustainable tourism.
“We participate within this forum in sustainable tourism, considering the importance of tourism for Croatia. Regional cooperation is important in that area,” she said.
The forum has been expanded to North Macedonia after it changed its name and to San Marino.
“North Macedonia’s path toward European integration will be facilitated with preparations within this Adriatic-Ionian initiative,” Pejcinovic Buric added.
“Today’s meeting rounded off membership with ten countries, defined the continuation of work in all the four areas mentioned. We emphasised transport and energy connectivity, the Adriatic-Ionian gas pipeline and motorway,” she said.
She underscored the importance of the political dimension of the forum as a place to bring candidate countries and potential candidates closer to the EU.
“Through regional cooperation on very concrete projects and areas we are working on preparing countries that are not members to access the European Union. That is important for Croatia. This meeting at the ministerial level, at the highest level, is the last meeting of this nature before Croatia chairs the Council of the European Union, and we have clearly defined that one of the priorities is enlargement, i.e. cooperation and assisting countries in our neighbourhood in accessing the EU,” Pejcinovic Buric said.
“During this time, Croatia intends to hold a large summit in Zagreb at which we wish to show the European Union’s openness for further enlargement that will not only benefit the countries that are going along that path but is also important for the European Union’s prosperity,” she added.
Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic, whose country will take over chairing the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative forum in June, said that Serbia’s accession to the EU is the Serbian government’s priority, underscoring that regional cooperation is also a priority.
“Our main aim is accessing the EU. That is our foreign policy priority. We are implementing reforms that are important for the negotiation and integration process,” he said. “The enlargement policy is important in order to achieve stability. That is in the EU’s interest. Regional cooperation is also Serbia’s priority,” he added.
The priority of Serbia’s chairmanship will be transport connectivity between the coast and interior of the Adriatic-Ionian region, developing tourism, investing in infrastructure, primarily in motorways and youth exchange, Dacic said.