German President Steinmeier Visits Zagreb

By 21 March 2019

ZAGREB, March 21, 2019 - The European Union must not lose itself in bilateral quarrels, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Zagreb on Thursday after meeting with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, with whom he agreed that the prospects of even better bilateral cooperation would occur in 2020, when both countries are set to preside over the European Union.

Steinmeier began his two-day official visit with talks in Grabar-Kitarović's office during which they said the two countries shared the same views on many European issues and that they were strongly linked by the Croatian community in Germany.

In a joint press conference after the talks, Steinmeier said Croatia, as the newest EU member, was a bridge between the European bloc and Southeast Europe, with which it shares a common past. There were difficult periods in that past, he said, urging the countries of Southeast Europe to resolve outstanding issues.

In Europe, "dealing with the difficulties of the past paved the way to the future," he said. Later today, he will visit the Eurocampus international school, where German and French schools operate under the same roof. "That's a nice example of reconciliation," he said.

Grabar-Kitarović said Croatia supported the Euro-Atlantic perspective of all Southeast European countries. "In that sense, we want a stable Southeast Europe, notably Bosnia and Herzegovina." She said that Croatia would dedicate another summit on EU enlargement to Southeast Europe while chairing the Council of the EU in the first half of next year.

The calendar envisaged that we assume responsibility one after the other, Steinmeier said. Germany will chair the Council in the second half of 2020. "That's a chance to cooperate even better at European level."

Grabar-Kitarović said the two countries shared common European values and commitment to a strong EU. Croatia will always remember "the key role of Germany and other close friends during the struggle for survival, notably the then Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher," she said, adding that Croatia continued to count on Germany's support.

Croatia appreciates Germany's "constant and strong" support for Croatia's membership of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, said Grabar-Kitarović.

The EU will "become safer and stronger when Croatia enters the Schengen and euro areas," she said. "In that respect, we are counting on Germany's support," she added, noting that Croatia is making big efforts to efficiently monitor "the EU's longest eastern external border."

Germany is one of Croatia's principal economic partners - its first trade partner, the fourth foreign investor and the first in the number of tourists, Grabar-Kitarović said, noting that 2.9 million Germans visited Croatia last year.

She said Croatia wanted to increase exports to Germany. The two countries cooperate in many areas and Croatian citizens in Germany and ethnic Germans in Croatia are "a strong bridge of friendship and a link." The 360,000-strong Croat community in Germany is strongly integrated, she added.

Asked by German journalists about the emigration of Croats, Grabar-Kitarović reiterated that demography was the number one issue and that mobility was something good but that it was necessary to create return conditions.

Steinmeier said Croatia was a new member state but has "settled in the heart of the EU" as a bridge helping to overcome the difficulties between old and new member states. He illustrated Croatia's role with the Three Seas Initiative, which some in Europe saw as an attempt to distance new member states from "the old Europe."

Croatia said from the very beginning that the Initiative must not be used for political purposes and invited other countries to join, which Germany did, he said. "A lot is at stake in Europe" today, which is why the European Parliament election "isn't just another election in history" as it "will decide on the different drafts of the European Union's future," he added.

Neither president would speculate on the outcome of a European Council meeting on Brexit that is taking place today and tomorrow.

Asked how that would impact the decision to call the EP election for May, Grabar-Kitarović said she would announce it by March 26.

More news about relations between Croatia and Germany can be found in the Politics section.