Czech and Croatian Presidents Advocate Stronger Central Europe

By 11 April 2019

ZAGREB, April 11, 2019 - Czech President Milos Zeman and his visiting Croatian counterpart Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who met in Prague on Thursday, expressed their support for strengthening cooperation between Central European countries through the Three Seas Initiative and the Three Rivers Initiative with the aim of strongly connecting Central Europe countries and encouraging their cohesion with the rest of the European Union.

President Grabar-Kitarović paid an official visit to the Czech Republic, two years after President Zeman visited Croatia. "I am glad that the Three Seas Initiative is growing into what my initial idea was and it is an initiative for an authentic, autochthonous Central Europe of our 12 countries that were all, with the exception of Austria, on the other side of the Iron Curtain," Grabar-Kitarović told a press conference in President Zeman's official residence.

She underscored that the initiative is aimed at achieving cohesion with the rest of the European Union and overcoming mental and physical barriers between the East and West.

"The aim is to connect our countries, but to connect them with the European Union too and to boost the competitiveness of our economies and all with the aim of better living standards for our citizens," she said.

According to Grabar-Kitarović, Croatia and the Czech Republic have an interest in participating in that initiative which, she assessed, is compatible with the Three Rivers Initiative.

This is an initiative proposed by Czechia for the construction of a canal that would connect the Elbe, Oder and Danube rivers so as to enable navigability that would connect the Northern, Baltic and Black Seas.

"That initiative is particularly interesting for Vukovar, which is also a port on the Danube and can connect the three rivers toward the Adriatic sea, toward Ploče across Corridor Vc," Grabar-Kitarović said.

President Zeman said that cooperation between countries in Central Europe needs to be reinforced and that a sort of Visegrad Plus should be established. He is particularly satisfied with the strengthening of economic ties between Croatia and the Czech Republic, which, he emphasised, is improving. "In the past five years, trade between our two countries has increased by 50%," Zeman said, adding that about one million Czechs go to Croatia during the summer.

Grabar-Kitarović said that she would like an economic forum to be organised so that "we can advance economic relations, investments and trade between our two countries."

President Grabar-Kitarović recalled the long-term historical ties between the two peoples and underscored that now more than ever the Croats and the Czech are connected by a joint future and common interests in the EU. "They are indeed very similar and I hope that we will continue to promote the interests of Central Europe," she said.

She expressed her wish for a summit of the Visegrad Group (V4) consisting of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, to be held in Croatia. "I would like to host a summit of the V4 so that we can discuss all the opportunities for development that we in Central Europe have," she added.

Grabar-Kitarović and Zeman will meet again at the beginning of summer when the next meeting of the Three Seas Initiative will be held in Slovenia on June 4 and 5.

The president made reference to ethnic minorities as yet another link between the two countries and she thanked the Czech Republic for the way it treats its Croat community.

She recalled that an estimated 10,000 ethnic Czechs in Croatia are held in high esteem and have their representative in the parliament and enjoy all rights regarding mother language and their heritage.

She recalled that numerous Croatian students studied in Prague.

She also underscored that the Adriatic Sea connected the two countries considering the loyalty of Czech tourists and added the "Adriatic Sea is your sea too."

"There are about a million Czech tourists who are always welcome guests, recognised for their exemplary conduct and who manage to adapt well due to the similarity of our languages," she added.

President Zeman is travelling to Dubrovnik on Friday to attend the China - CEEC Summit and said that he agreed with the Croatian president that it is necessary for relations with China to be based on mutual benefit.

Grabar-Kitarović recalled that a Chinese company is working on the largest infrastructure project in Croatia, the Pelješac Bridge, and that there is interest for other projects too like the Rijeka port.

"When it comes to capital, we do not discriminate (...) the thing that is important is that the capital is clean and that intentions are sincere and that business is conducted according to regulations," she said.

I expect the other 15 countries attending the summit in Dubrovnik to promote their national interests and work on strengthening bilateral relations with China. She invited her host to conduct an official state visit to Croatia.

During her stay in Prague, Grabar-Kitarović met with the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic Radek Vondracek and President of the Senate Jaroslav Kubera.

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