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20.2.2002 Tonino Picula,
Kroatian ulkoasiainministeri: Croatia and the European Union Enlargement

Tonino Picula, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia
Croatia and EU enlargement
20.02.2002

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to visit your country. Finland's economic and social accomplishments are formidable. Finnish companies' industrial excellence has made them leaders in many fields, most notably in electronics. Nokia is today a familiar name in all corners of the world. Your country has specific, valuable experiences in the process of privatisation and trade liberalisation. With a traditionally prudent yet inventive and active foreign policy, Finland has always played a constructive role particularly in European politics. The Conference on Security and Co-operation, today the OSCE, or, recently, the EU Northern Dimension, closely associated with your Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, stands out as a testimony to it.

Finland's successes and experiences can serve to us as a valuable example. There are many areas in which our two countries can and should intensify their co-operation. We also hope that Finland will be inspired by her own experience to show even more understanding and support for Croatia's further development of institutional ties with the European Union, which is my country's top priority. These are some of the reasons why we are eager to have, as much as possible, an open and regular political dialogue with Finland.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The year 2002 will be a milestone for Europe. The long preparations for an enlarged Union has reached an important crossroad, as membership candidate countries are now entering into negotiations on very complex and sensitive issues, particularly those related to agriculture, regional policy, financial and budgetary provisions and institutions. We would like to see the majority of the candidate countries joining the EU, provided that they meet the set criteria. This will not only bring benefits to the EU and its new member states, but also promote and strengthen the stability, security and co-operation in the whole Europe.

The closing of the first chapter in the unnatural cold-war divisions on our continent is a moral and political undertaking of epochal significance. Today a Europe united on the common values of democracy, freedom, human rights and progress is not a dream anymore.

Looking back on the last ten or twelve years one must remember the optimism and hope, but also the confusion, concerns and problems Europe came to face with the sudden emergence of democracy in East Europe. For quite a while a notion prevailed, due to the enormous complexity of these processes, that the world, especially Europe, became faced with "international disorder". In those chaotic circumstances, the EU and NATO enlargement prospects were one of the main pillars for stability in Europe. The prospect of EU membership acted as a powerful stimulus to the states in East Europe to responsibly formulate their foreign policies and engage in internal democratic reforms. The EU, for its part, while not abandoning its goal of everstronger integration and upholding its principles of openness to new members, has been able to internally develop and externally play an increasingly important role in promoting European stability and co-operation. The democratic gains in the eastern part of the continent would not have been possible without the political solidarity, support and assistance from the Union, and its member states.

We are pleased that the EU, while engaging in the complex, energy and time consuming talks on enlargement and further internal reforms, is not neglecting its role as the increasingly strong factor of stability and co-operation in European and international affairs. Talks are already underway on how to underpin the accession process for those countries which will be unable to join the EU membership in the next round. These countries progressing towards the EU associate status should not be neglected. Also, it is very important that the EU intends to foster co-operative relations with the Russian Federation and Ukraine and continue to assist their democratic and market reforms. By actively engaging the countries beyond its future borders the EU will prevent the creation of new divisions in Europe, which may well be conducive to new troubles for the EU and Europe as a whole.

For Croatia the very fact that some of its closest neighbours will most probably join the EU is very important. EU, as well as NATO, will henceforth be at our doorstep. We will continue to follow closely the EU enlargement talks. We will also pay due attention to the Union's efforts to ensure Euro's continued success, combined with the development of the Lisbon strategy aimed at building the most dynamic, knowledgebased and socially sensitive economy in the world. We will pay attention to the work and the conclusions of the Convention on EU internal reforms, and to the further development of the Common Foreign, Security and Defence policies. We will do so aware of the fact that the developments within the Union have a much wider impact than its membership, and directly affect us. They directly affect us as a close partner of the Union, and a prospective EU member, to use the term of the European Council from Nice, or a country with the open prospect of EU accession, to paraphrase the Leaken summit meeting.

Co-operation between Croatia and the EU and its member states is becoming closer and closer. I have just arrived in Finland from Brussels, where I had the privilege to lead the Croatian delegation at the second round of the institutional political dialogue with the EU at a ministerial level. The talks with the EU Troika confirmed the successful development of mutual ties. The ministers and the Commission representatives expressed their satisfaction with Croatia's progress, particularly in harmonising her domestic to the EU legislation. We are encouraged by the Commission's readiness to go beyond the letter of the agreements and at this early stage of our institutional relationship to assist our Government by evaluating the quality of the Croatian laws harmonised with those of the EU. The talks have proved that Croatia's achievements within the Stabilisation and Association Process have no match in other states involved in the Process. This is also true of Croatia's economic development, with her GNP growth exceeding 4% last year, and her per capita GNP being bigger than that of the other countries involved in the Stabilisation and Association Process combined. We hope that the CARDS Programme for Croatia, involving the allocation of 60 million Euros for 2001 and another 191 million Euros for the period 2002-2004, will be ready by summer this year. We consider it of utmost importance that the process of ratification of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, or SAA, between Croatia and the EU is on its way within its member states. The European Parliament has already ratified the SAA, last December, and we do hope that national parliaments will soon follow suit. Their positive decisions will make the SAA fully operational in the nearest future. Needless to say, we would greatly welcome an early ratification of the SAA by Finland.

Five states of South-Eastern Europe have only recently started to develop their institutional ties with the EU. The main reason behind this was the regional instability triggered off by a series of Milosevic's aggressions in ex-Yugoslavia, which led to so much suffering and bloodshed. Today the situation in the region looks much better owing to the democratic gains in the region, the progress made in resolving still open issues, and the involvement of the international community in sensitive areas of possible crisis and tension. The Process of Stabilisation and Association, launched at the Zagreb 2000 Summit, is strongly contributing to a positive evolution of the situation in the region. It is important that each country involved in the Process is aware of the prospect of EU membership, on individual basis, depending on its own merits in promoting internal democratic and market reforms, and contribution to regional stability.

While no state to state conflicts are likely at this juncture, a number of serious points of tension and even internal instability remain in the south of Europe. To reach the ultimate goal of regional stability in this area of Europe, the international community, especially the EU, has to continue with a proactive policy. A policy that will assist the democratic evolution and the strengthening of democratic institutions, promote the peaceful resolution of the existing problems based on the highest democratic, European standards, and full implementation of the existing international instruments. We are, therefore, deeply convinced that the diverse and specific problems in South-Eastern Europe cannot be addressed through a single framework or mechanism, as some are inclined to think, but through policies tuned to each specific situation.

There is certainly a need for continued international involvement and greater foreign aid. However, a slow pace of change and the appearance of new problems and serious internal tensions and instabilities are discouraging the international community from investing more efforts and means in South-Eastern Europe. Such an attitude is especially characteristic in Bosnia and Herzegovina and a cause for concern, since its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence, constitutional equality of its three constituent peoples, are a cornerstone of regional stability and thereby a crucial criterion by which the policies towards Bosnia and Herzegovina are to be judged.

We are closely following the steps the international community is taking in reshaping its presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina with a view to making it more cost-effective and efficient. But for Bosnia and Herzegovina to become a sustainable, stable, democratic, multiethnic state integrated into Europe, it is imperative that the leading international fora and national policymakers maintain their interest in Bosnia and Herzegovina and assist her on her way to Europe.

For her part, Croatia will continue with her policies aimed at enhancing co-operation, stability and security in the three regions of Europe she belongs to - Central Europe, the Mediterranean and South-Eastern Europe. We have concluded free trade agreements, in addition to those with the EU, EFTA, and Central European Free Trade Agreement countries, with all our neighbours, except with Yugoslavia, which we hope to do in the course of the current year. We are intensifying negotiations with our neighbours on the resolution of still open issues and the promotion of cooperation in the fields of common interest, particularly the economy. We are actively participating in the Stability Pact, the Central European Initiative, the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative, many other regional fora, and are interested to have a fair share in the Barcelona Process as well.

Let me conclude by emphasising that the Croatian Government is determined to realise its programme of internal democratic and market reforms, integration into the EU and NATO and developing good-neighbourliness and regional co-operation. Within this framework we are determined to complete the harmonisation with the EU standards by 2006, so that Croatia would be prepared for EU membership in the next round of EU enlargement. While pushing on with our reforms we shall, in consultation with our EU partners and the Commission, consider the right timing for presenting our candidacy for EU membership as another important step forward on Croatia's way to the EU.

Thank you.