Address of the president Mesić at the opening of the Economic Forum
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to open this Economic Forum and meetings of business reprepresentatives of two states which have shared similar experiences of profound political change and economic transition over the last ten years. Both states had the previous experience of a federal state community, but today they are independent and directed towards the European association process.
Both states share the Central European regional environment, but at the same time they participate in and border on other regional initiatives, from the Baltic to the Adriatic, from west to east corridors, but in the spirit of the contemporary globalisation process where geographical distances are no longer barriers. Both the Czech Republic and Croatia are following a path of market reforms and opening up to foreign investment.
The Czech Republic is already intensively negotiating full-fledged membership in the European Union, which has certainly had an impact on the depth and scope of economic, administrative and legislative reforms. Last year Croatia was accepted as a full-fledged member of the World Trade Organisation and signed a framework agreement with the European Investment Bank. There has been significant progress in the negotiations on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union and Croatia is simultaneously negotiating bilateral agreements on free trade with ten-odd Central European states with the view of joining the area of free trade in Central Europe - CEFTA.
All these frameworks have not been imposed but are a rational choice. The competition in the speed of joining the European Union may not be the crucial issue, but rather the need for the preparation, harmonisation and implementation of all necessary reforms, and finally the operative capability for joining this demanding market of half a billion consumers.
Since both the Czech Republic and Croatia share an identical orientation, it is not necessary to search for a new framework for the bilateral economic relations between them. These relations should rather fit into the matrix of the European integration where, following the acceptance of democratic values, economic processes become necessary and prevailing for all states aspiring to the European family.
Political and economic representatives used to meet separately in the past, but today under the circumstances of globalisation, joint meetings of political and economic delegations are more frequent. This very visit confirms the link between politics and the economy. Let me disappoint you a little by saying that today's Economic Forum is not the only opportunity for considering our bilateral economic relations; this was a topic of all our talks with the highest officials of the Czech Republic.
One cannot think of economic relations without some indicators so let me point out a few. Last year, Czech tourists took third place among foreign tourists staying in Croatia, and according to some indications Croatia is for Czech tourists on top of the list of destinations for summer holidays. Therefore, co-operation in the field of tourism can be of even greater interest to our economic partners and entrepreneurs.
The Road Traffic Agreement was signed yesterday joining thus 14 previously signed economic bilateral agreements. Negotiations on the Free Trade Agreement have recently been intensified and it is Croatia's priority to sign it this year.
Trade figures point to the need of a more active engagement of Croatian business partners in the exporting field. The Croatian coastline and its ports can and should be important economic destinations for Central European states.
Today there is no alternative to participation in trans-European communications, transport and energy networks. Therefore, we should give an even stronger incentive to connecting Croatian transport routes with Pan-European corridors. In addition to the significance of the Adriatic-Ionic highway project which should connect seven states, it is necessary in terms of transport, economy and tourism to link this highway with the Central European transport routes. The oil transport facilities crossing Croatia can also be of interest to Czech partners.
Within the framework of the European integration process, let me point out several regional initiatives that directly link the Czech Republic with Croatia. The Czech Republic is a member of the Visegrád Group, and Croatia is a member of the Quadrilateral comprising also Italy, Slovenia and Hungary. The co-operation of these two initiatives, even without a more solid framework, is very natural and economically rational.
Croatia is a participating state of the Adriatic-Ionic Initiative where the Czech Republic can also find its interests, particularly following the stabilisation of South-Eastern Europe through the Stability Pact and the Southeast European Co-operative Initiative (SECI).
Such regional co-operation revives other initiatives which are indirectly creating a favourable economic climate. This refers to combatting crossborder crime, corruption and illegal migration.
All these forms of co-operation have been developed not because of requirements of Eurocrats from Brussels, but in order to secure a normative framework and a favourable climate for investment, where foreign green-field investment is an important factor. Croatian economic policy and interested entrepreneurs can learn much from the Czech experience.
Not only the number of signed state agreements but also direct co-operation of economic partners contribute to higher dynamics of economic relations. Today, we can no longer refer to potentials but to performance. Therefore, I am confident that your plenary session and working groups today will give an impetus to the future economic indicators of the co-operation between the Czech Republic and Croatia.
This presentation may have been more brief ten years ago by a simple reference to the swop of the Czech Škoda for the Croatian spice Vegeta. Today beside Škoda and Vegeta there is, I think, a multitude of other opportunities in economic co-operation. This is demonstrated by a large number of business partners from the Czech Republic and Croatia here today.
Today, the revived area of Mitteleuropa is not just the fulfilment of a romantic idea of cultural co-operation - it implies economic adjustment, competitiveness and economic rationality. Czech and Croatian politics have accepted European values, and may the economic relations serve to the fulfillment of these values. I wish you much success at this Forum.