Federal Minister, you are visiting Zagreb at a time when the presidential election is behind us and the parliamentary election campaign is getting started. People in Zagreb are openly saying that Croatian-German relations have been adversely affected by several measures undertaken by Croatia (the Josip Perković case) and that there are serious problems as regards business activities. Is your visit an attempt to get relations back on track? And what are you expecting from your trip?
Germany and Croatia enjoy excellent bilateral relations. Our countries are reliable partners for each other in the European Union. They have close political, social and economic ties via a broad network of contacts, including the large Croatian community in Germany.
For example, trade is booming between Germany and Croatia, while German companies are working and investing successfully in Croatia. Croatia’s fantastic coast is also a popular holiday destination for many Germans. Further improvements to the investment conditions in Croatia, particularly as regards legal certainty, could boost German business activities even more.
During my visit, we will naturally focus on urgent foreign policy issues such as the dramatic refugee situation in the Mediterranean region. We will also discuss bilateral topics. In addition, I am looking forward to hearing my Croatian interlocutors’ views on developments in their neighbouring countries.
It will soon be two years since Croatia joined the EU. People here see the country’s EU membership in various ways. We would like to hear your views on to what extent Croatia has lived up to becoming an EU member state, where the greatest problems lie, and what should be changed in order to solve these problems. (We are only referring to issues related to the EU, as there has been a lot of criticism that Zagreb was not active enough as regards drawing up and stating its own positions.)
Croatia has become a valuable and reliable partner in the European Union within an extremely short space of time. Germany and Croatia share similar viewpoints on a wide range of issues. We also share values and pursue common interests. Croatia works exceptionally well with Brussels. In areas where Croatia expresses its own views, such as European energy policy issues, it does so constructively, prudently and in an informed and balanced manner.
Croatia has been endeavouring to have the problems involving Bosnia and Herzegovina put back on the EU agenda. There has been tension in Macedonia for quite some time, and riots broke out there recently; Serbia is still trying to find its way between the EU and Russia; and meanwhile Kosovo has its own deep-rooted problems. The Western Balkans thus remain a European problem. To what extent can Croatia play a part as regards the Europeanisation of the region and how much can it help overcome the certain chaos that prevails in this region?
The countries of the Western Balkans are partners at the heart of Europe. We want them to become members of the European Union. The individual countries still have a long way ahead of them before this happens – and this will take a longer or shorter time depending on progress with reforms. Given its own experience of the EU accession process, Croatia can play an important role in drawing its neighbouring countries closer to the EU.
Croatia also was a driving force behind the new EU policy concerning Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is vital that all Bosnian politicians take on responsibility for ensuring that the dispute on ethnic issues is put aside in favour of a policy of benefit to all of the country’s citizens, a policy that brings about economic stability and rapid progress towards Europe. As regards Serbia’s path towards Europe and Serbo-Croatian relations, I think it is important that Croatia and Serbia continue resolutely on the established path of reconciliation and greater cooperation.
The situation in Ukraine remains the biggest crisis in Europe. You have constant contact with Kyiv and Moscow. What do you think are the chances for long-lasting stabilisation in Ukraine? Is Russian President Putin willing to de‑escalate the situation and to improve relations with the EU?
The Minsk Agreements allowed us to prevent the conflict in eastern Ukraine from spiralling completely out of control. Since then, a ceasefire has been in place, and it is largely holding. The withdrawal of heavy weapons has begun. Above all, what now needs to happen is movement towards a political process, as laid down in the package of measures agreed in Minsk on 12 February.
During the latest consultations in the Normandy format in Berlin, Moscow reiterated its support of the Minsk Agreements, which basically constitute a road map for de‑escalating the crisis in eastern Ukraine. There is no guarantee of success. But given the great danger that the Ukraine conflict still creates for Europe, we should do everything in our power to make a peaceful solution possible.