Saturday, 19 December 2020

2020 Bittersweet for Croatian Diplomats

ZAGREB, Dec 19, 2020 - Croatian diplomats have mixed feelings about 2020, which began with the ambitious EU presidency becoming virtual due to the pandemic, but by the end conditions had been met for waiving U.S. visas, the two most important foreign ministers visited, and an exclusive economic zone was declared in the Adriatic.

Croatia spent a large part of 2019 preparing for taking over the rotating six-month EU presidency six and a half years after joining and at the start of the Ursula von der Leyen-led European Commission.

The presidency began dynamically, with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic going to Paris for consultations with French President Emmanuel Macron. Two days later, the new European Council President, Charles Michel, arrived in Zagreb, followed by the entire Commission for a meeting in the refurbished National University Library.

At the beginning of the year, the EU's agenda included negotiations on the next seven-year budget and an agreement on future relations with the UK. Croatia had announced that during its presidency it wanted to restore the focus on the European perspective of the Western Balkans, the culmination of which would be the Zagreb Summit, an informal meeting of the EU and the membership candidates.

A total of 161 events were to have taken place in Croatia, two thirds of them in Zagreb, but only a few were eventually held before the European lockdown.

Croatia's motto for its EU presidency was "A Strong Europe in a World of Challenges", which turned out to be prophetic as in January news started arriving from China about a new pneumonia, a virus that would soon infect the whole world.

The focus of the EU and its Croatian presidency soon shifted to the fight against the novel coronavirus, which arrived in Europe in February.

Croatia's political leadership said later that the presidency did not go as planned but that everything that could be, was accomplished in those circumstances.

EU enlargement

Croatia achieved one of the priorities of its presidency in March, when EU accession negotiations were opened with North Macedonia and Albania after a compromise was reached with the countries which had objected to it.

The Zagreb Summit, taking place 20 years after the first one which opened Croatia's European perspective, was held via video link due to the pandemic.

EU member states confirmed in the Zagreb Declaration their clear support for the European perspective of Western Balkan states, but some politicians were disappointed after the summit because the final statement made no mention of EU enlargement.

"I would be happier if we were stronger and clearer, all of us," Plenkovic said then.

The Croatian EU presidency was also marked by a magnitude 5.5 earthquake which struck Zagreb in March, but it ended with another success, the opening of the last chapter in the accession negotiations with Montenegro.

A month later, Croatia entered the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, a key step towards entering the euro area.

Exclusive economic zone

At the end of the year, Croatia decided to declare an exclusive economic zone in the Adriatic, 17 years after declaring the compromised-baed Ecological and Fisheries Protection Zone.

During a visit by Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, his Croatian counterpart Gordan Grlic Radman said the two countries would declare their exclusive economic zones together.

Pompeo and Lavrov

After several years, Croatia was visited by the U.S. and Russian foreign ministers.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed in Dubrovnik in October that Croats would soon be able to travel to the U.S. without visas. He also said that a decision on the purchase of fighter jets was Croatia's sovereign decision and, lobbying against Huawei, called on Zagreb not to give strategic projects to the Chinese.

Several weeks later, U.S. Ambassador Robert Kohorst said that officially less than 3% of Croatia's visa applications were rejected, a key requirement for visa-free travel.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Zagreb after two postponed visits. He said that Russia had good relations with Croatia despite the EU's unwillingness to have good relations with Russia.

New president

This year Croatia also has a new president. Zoran Milanovic defeated then president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic in a runoff, taking office in mid-February and becoming co-creator of the foreign policy.

"The wars are over", he said at a modest inauguration which, for the first time, did not take place in St. Mark's Square. Milanovic announced that he would cooperate with everyone on the foreign policy front.

He chose Slovenia for his first official visit and has also visited Austria, Montenegro and Germany. He also made a private visit to Albania over which he quarreled with the prime minister.

Friday, 31 July 2020

Croatian Parliament Adopts Reports on EU Presidency and Emergency Summit

ZAGREB, July 31, 2020 - The Croatian parliament on Friday adopted the report on the activities and results of the Croatian presidency of the Council of the European Union and the prime minister's report on the July 17-21 emergency EU summit. 

Both reports were backed by the ruling majority parties, which command 76 seats in the 151-member legislature.

Presenting the report on the EU summit, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic highlighted the fact that Croatia had won a considerable package of financial aid both under the Multiannual Financial Framework and under the new economic recovery instrument called Next Generation EU, adding that this would have "far-reaching consequences for our economic development, social cohesion as well as for the progress of Croatia and the European Union."

"We are talking about €1.824 trillion, of which Croatia will have access to over €22 billion, or HRK 165 billion, over the next four and seven years respectively," Plenkovic said, noting that this was double the amount made available to Croatia in the 2014-2020 period.

Plenkovic said that this was one of the largest amounts per capita "which will ensure that for each euro invested we get more than 4.5 euros from the EU budget."

Presenting the report on the Croatian presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of the year, Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlic Radman said that this was the crown of Croatia's European journey and a historic moment.

The first Croatian presidency took place at a time of two unpredictable crises - migrant pressure and the COVID-19 pandemic in which "Croatia has successfully adapted," the minister said.

He also mentioned a strong earthquake that struck Zagreb on March 22. "It was the first time that the capital of a presiding country had been hit by an earthquake," Grlic Radman noted.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

PM Says Croatia's Goals During EU Presidency Achieved As Much As Possible

ZAGREB, July 1, 2020 - During its presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2020, Croatia has shown leadership and secured the best possible results under the conditions unprecedented in history, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic says in an interview for Hina.

Croatia took over the EU presidency only six and a half years after it was admitted to the bloc, however, the chairmanship could not unfold as planned, due to the coronavirus pandemic, which had affected the usual functioning of EU institutions and the everyday life of the Europeans.

PM Plenkovic underscored that before it took the helm of the EU on 1 January, Croatia had worked in a committed manner on preparations for this duty, and the slogan of the Croatian presidency was "A strong Europe in a world of challenges".

However, no one could have foreseen so many challenges we have been facing in recent times, including the COVID pandemic, the premier said explaining that therefore the focus was shifted from the Croatian presidency agenda's priorities to the top priority: the safety and security of European citizens.

Furthermore, Zagreb was hit by a 5.5-strong earthquake on 22 March, he recalled adding that the most experienced and oldest EU member-states cannot remember that anybody's presidency had been conducted under such complex circumstances.

"Therefore commendations and recognition we are receiving from older members for a job well done are more than a matter of courtesy, they mean their sincere appreciation of our huge efforts we have invested and results we have achieved."

"Despite the unprecedented circumstances, we have achieved many goals we had set, and Croatia enjoys the status and reputation it never had before," Plenkovic said.

In mid-March, virtual meetings and video conferences started replacing physical meetings at the political level.

In these circumstances, our task was to coordinate a joint response to the crisis caused by COVID-19, Plenkovic said.

We can say that in a record short time the European Union managed to accomplish a lot of things. We can say that in many ways we have been a "digitised presidency". The first digital trialogue was held during the Croatian presidency and referred to the SMART-TEN-T topic, he added.

Until 13 March 2020, in Croatia 21 events and gatherings were held, bringing together experts and working groups, two events were within a parliamentary dimension plus 32 events under the auspices of the Croatian presidency. From March to the end of June, more than 70 video conferences were held, including discussions on the impact of the pandemic on the economy, public healthcare systems, borders, education, culture, employment, and mobility, he said.

The Council of the EU needed to act under extraordinary circumstances. Only COREPER continued to meet in a physical format, and I thank them for that, the Croatian premier said.

He commented on the full activation of integrated political crisis response (IPCR) arrangements during the Croatian presidency of the Council of the EU to help the EU members to address the COVID-19 outbreak.

Croatia's greatest achievement its ability to act and meet its targets in most difficult circumstances

Asked about Croatia's greatest achievement during its presidency of the Council of the EU, Plenkovic said that "our greatest achievement is the fact that we continued to act and achieve our targets in the most difficult circumstances."

At the start of our presidency, we defined the Zagreb Summit and progress in the enlargement policy, preparations for launching the Conference on the Future of Europe, and orderly Brexit as our goals. In all three areas, we have met the targets he has set: thanks to the strong engagement and initiative from Croatia, the Council of the EU made a decision on opening the membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania, despite strong opposition from some of the EU member states. Also, a new methodology for the accession negotiations has been confirmed, he said.

After several months of intensive talks with member-states and advocacy for the strongest possible mandate of the Council, the Croatian EU Presidency has reached agreement on the Council's position for inter-institutional talks on a joint statement based on which the Conference on the Future of Europe should be launched by the end of this year, the Croatian government reported earlier on Wednesday.

Monday, 29 June 2020

PM: Coronavirus Has Disrupted EU Presidency But Maximum Has Been Achieved

ZAGREB, June 29, 2020 - Croatia's first EU presidency, which ends on Wednesday, did not go as planned due to the coronavirus but everything that was possible was achieved in such circumstances, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Monday at a meeting with the chiefs of foreign diplomatic offices.

"When we started, we wanted to send a message about a strong Europe in a world full of challenges. Nobody knew that one of the challenges would be COVID-19, which didn't change only the Croatian presidency but the world, Europe, Croatia, and many countries around the world," he said.

"We started following the situation in China on January 8 already, notably in Wuhan. That enabled us to respond to the crisis at the European level already on January 28," he said, adding that "a great job has been done in managing the crisis."

Plenkovic regretted that the novel coronavirus prevented the Croatian presidency from bringing the EU closer to citizens through various events, which is what other member states did during their presidency, saying those events were replaced by video conferences and conference calls.

He said the presidency started well with the arrival of European officials in Croatia and visits to several European capitals.

An orderly Brexit was ensured, a consensus was reached within the European Council on a mandate for future negotiations with the UK, and focus was put on the European perspective of the Western Balkan states, which was crowned with the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania and the Zagreb summit on enlargement, said Plenkovic.

A summit was also organised with the Eastern Partnership and an agreement was reached on the Conference on the Future of Europe, which "is needed more than ever," he added.

He said a new round of negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework was approaching, as well as on a European recovery plan. The EU must show through both instruments "that it stands by its member states and citizens and that it can act quickly and effectively," he added.

Plenkovic said Croatia had achieved progress in two issues not related to the presidency, drawing closer to euro and Schengen area membership.

He thanked the foreign diplomats for understanding the sudden challenges which befell Croatia during its EU presidency and for their solidarity after the Zagreb earthquake in March.

Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman said the slogan of the Croatian presidency, Europe in a world full of challenges, could not have been more appropriate, and that the coronavirus had shown that multilateralism was needed more than ever and that international solidarity was fragile.

In that crisis Croatia has again proved to be a responsible and reliable partner, he said, thanking the foreign diplomats for their support.  "You were with us the whole time and we felt your support."

On July 1, the rotating EU presidency will be taken over by Germany.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Croatia's Council Of EU Presidency Coming To End

ZAGREB, June 28, 2020 - The Croatian presidency of the Council of the EU ends in two days and over the past six months, it managed to ensure the regular functioning of that institution despite unprecedented circumstances.

January and February proceeded as planned but in March the novel coronavirus started spreading across Europe.

After lockdown measures were introduced all over Europe, more than 60 video conferences were held, including six virtual meetings by heads of state or government. All Council formations held virtual meetings, some a number of times.

In the new circumstances, the Croatian presidency had to change and adapt its programme.

We had to reconsider most plans and rearrange our priorities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said at the last video summit.

We had to quickly shift the focus from the priorities of our presidency to the most important priority, the safety of European citizens, he added.

At that summit, European Council President Charles Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen congratulated Plenkovic on a successful presidency.

As soon as the pandemic broke out, the Croatian presidency started working on the coordination of a common response to the crisis. The integrated political crisis response was established very quickly and the Council reached an agreement in record time on the Commission's proposals to mitigate the effects of the crisis.

In cooperation with member states, the Croatian presidency participated in the repatriation of 650,000 EU citizens who, in the middle of the pandemic, were in third countries across the world 

Another precedent occurred during the Croatian presidency. For the first time, a member state left the EU. An agreement was reached on an orderly exit of the UK and guidelines were agreed on negotiations on future EU-UK relations, which are still underway. 

One of the biggest achievements of the Croatian presidency was the lifting of a blockade, imposed by France and a few other member states, on the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.

Instead of an EU-Western Balkans summit that was to have taken place in Zagreb, meant to be the largest event during the Croatian presidency, a video summit was held on May 6, resulting in the adoption of the Zagreb Declaration, which reaffirmed the European perspective of Croatia's southeastern neighbours.

In June, a video summit was held with the six Eastern Partnership countries.

Last week, the Council agreed its position on launching the Conference on the Future of Europe. Also agreed were the Council's recommendations for opening the EU's external borders for third-country citizens. A decision to that effect is expected to be made on Monday or Tuesday.

June 30 will mark seven years of Croatia's EU membership. On July 1, the rotating Council of the EU presidency will be taken over by Germany.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Croatia EU Presidency: Zagreb Apartment Rentals Fail Expectations

The Croatia takeover of the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union has not impacted the real estate rental market in Zagreb the way many had expected, at least in terms of renting out high-priced attractive apartments in the center of the city and nearby areas.

Very High Zagreb Expectations Have Fizzled

As reported by ZagrebInfo on December 2, 2019; several Zagreb landlords had evicted their long-term tenants to cash in on higher Western EU monthly rental prices, leaving their stunned evicted tenants to scramble for alternative housing. Unfortunately, that much-hyped cash cow has failed to produce any real milk.

Realtors and Zagreb Landlords Surprised by Lack of Interest

 “Expectations were very high, and many Zagreb residents have been calling us off the hook. They’ve eagerly left their information and addresses, and emphasized that they would move out of their apartments in top city locations immediately if they could rent them out for a half year, but there hasn’t been any interest. Seduced by the thought of a possible apartment shortage in Zagreb during the EU presidency, some owners even preemptively raised their rental prices,” observed Lana Mihaljinec Knežević, owner of Zagreb West Agency.

Boro Vujović, Director of the Opereta agency confirmed similar observations.

“The owners long-term apartment rental properties had big expectations, but nothing significant has happened. We have only rented two apartments for this purpose (EU government officials),” Vujović revealed to Korana Sutlić/Novac/Jutarnji List on January 12, 2020.


Zagreb West Agency

Croatia EU Administration Run Locally: Guests Not Long-Term

Lana Mihaljinec Knežević explained that the administration associated with the rotating presidency is run from Croatia with domestic resources. The guests who arrive from other EU states are not permanent guests, but occasionally show up to attend various meetings, summits and similar events.

Several apartments were reserved in the center of the city for these occasions, but nothing significant has happened for quite a while. These rentals (for EU government officials) can be counted on just one hand.

“For the time being, we just haven’t seen any interest in this area. We certainly expected interest, but nothing has happened. And we do not see an increase in the number of reservations compared with last year,” said Igor Kordić, co-founder of Irundo, a leading short-term rental company in Croatia. They handle several apartment rental properties in the center of Zagreb.


Hilton Double Tree Gets Fifth Star for EU Arrivals

Five Star Hotels in Big Demand: One Hotel Gets Fifth Star

Shortly before the beginning of the EU presidency, several ministries sought five-star hotels in Zagreb for short-term guest accommodations. For this reason, some hotels recently underwent upgrades, like the Hilton Double Tree Hotel, which became a five-star hotel.

HUP Zagreb indicated that highest category hotels, including The Westin Zagreb and Sheraton Zagreb, have generated the most interest during Croatia’s EU presidency. They are both reporting a high occupancy rate during the this 6-month period, as are their other high category hotels: Panorama Zagreb and International.

“Our hotels have a highly capable team of professionals who have hosted numerous international conferences and summits for many years, and our hotels, restaurants and conference halls are prepared for these upcoming events. Regarding our presentation of Croatia’s gastronomic options, we will be preparing special menus for the EU delegates to showcase our diverse selection of cuisine,” says Sara Valentić of the Marketing Department from the Croatian Consulate General in Zagreb.

Four Star Downtown Hotels Seeing Very Little Traffic

However, not all high-category hotels in Zagreb are in the same situation.

“We have not yet encountered any interested guests associated with the EU Council Presidency. It’s possible that one of them could occasionally stay with us for a short time, but we are not seeing that right now,” said Tomislav Kuliš , Director of the Palace Hotel, a four-star hotel located on Zrinjevac Park, right in the heart of the Croatian metropolis.

Follow our Travel page to keep updated on real and anticipated tourism opportunities in Croatia.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Croatian Politicians Speaking English: Top Ten Review

Having a working knowledge of the English language is probably not necessary for all Croatian politicians. But for Damir Krstičević, who negotiates major international arms deals, or Dubravka Šuica, who represents Croatia in the European Parliament, the ability to communicate effectively in English would seem essential. And they make up the foundation of the image Croatia presents to the world.

A recent video of Krstičević, Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia, struggling through a speech in English at an event in the United States went viral. It was then rapidly incorporated into a spoof advertisement for a "Basic English For Dummies" language course on a local Croatian comedy TV show. And Index recently posted a video montage of Dubravka Šuica, HDZ member of EU parliament and Vice President of the European Commission, attempting to communicate to her audience in English, even though she obtained a college degree in the language.

RTL Direkt created a video montage of Croatia’s top politicians speaking English on January 10, 2020. And TCN included a video of attempts by RTL Direkt to interview Croatian politicians in English, which occurred on the same day, and also revealed mixed results.

Here’s a closer look at ten of the most powerful Croatian politicians giving speeches or interviews in English, from best to worst, plus a surprise bonus at the end. Politicians' English-speaking abilities are rated on the following four criteria: fluency, grammar, vocabulary and accent.

#1 Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović

The current Croatian President’s English-speaking skills are flawless. Not only does she deserve a number one ranking, but she’s in that number one spot by far. Grabar-Kitarović spent a year in Arizona in the 1980’s as a high school exchange student and speaks English with a strong Southwestern American accent. Her confidence in the language is obvious and well-deserved. In this interview with Good Morning Britain, she discusses her views on Brexit and the challenges of being a woman in Politics.

Fluency: 5
Grammar: 5
Vocabulary: 5
Accent: 5
Total: 20

#2 Andrej Plenković

The current Croatian Prime Minister is proficient and confident in English. He speaks with a slight Croatian accent with palatalized t’s and rolled r’s. He pronounces Theresa May’s first name with a “th” rather than a “t”. In this interview with France 24, he discusses Brexit, Catalonia independence and other EU topics.

Fluency: 5
Grammar: 5
Vocabulary: 5
Accent: 3
Total: 18

#3 Zoran Milanović

The former Croatian Prime Minister and current President-Elect also shows a strong command of English. He pronounced “th” with a soft “d” or “t” and misses some a’s and the’s in his sentences. He discusses the 2015 Migrant Crisis in Croatia in this video with France 24.

Fluency: 5
Grammar: 4
Vocabulary: 4
Accent: 3
Total: 16

#4 Ivo Sanader

The former Croatian Prime Minister, who is serving a 6-year prison sentence for corruption, also appears to have a strong command of English. He rolls his r’s and missed some the’s and a’s. In this video for AP, he provides a brief summary of his meeting with former US President George W. Bush.

Fluency: 5
Grammar: 4
Vocabulary: 4
Accent: 3
Total: 16

#5 Ivo Josipović

The former President of Croatia speaks a more heavily palatalized version of Croatian-English. His delivery is slower, with short pauses. Like others, he misses some the’s and a’s, and pronounces th’s with a very soft “d”. In this interview for TRT World, he discusses his return to music and plans to compose a musical about John Lennon.

Fluency: 4
Grammar: 4
Vocabulary: 4
Accent: 3
Total: 15

#6 Davor Bernardić

The current President of SDP speaks a slightly palatalized English and his sentences also miss the’s and a’s. He pronounces the word happy “heppy” and his speech at the International Crime and Punishment Film Festival, as recorded by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, was very brief, which suggests a limited working vocabulary.

Fluency: 3
Grammar: 4
Vocabulary: 3
Accent: 3
Total: 13

#7 Dubravka Šuica

The current HDZ member of EU parliament, Vice President of the European Commission and former Mayor of Dubrovnik, received a degree as “Professor of English” according to media reports. Her Croatian-English, as compiled in a recent Index video, is so heavily accented that it’s almost intelligible. In addition to heavy palatalizing and missing the’s and a’s; she comes up with several humorous sentences and word segments including:

“I don’t need anyone’s emotions here.”

“This is closed circle.”

What’s even more humorous about her “massacre” of English is her disproportionately confident delivery. Her behavior suggests that of a very senior esteemed college professor casually gifting her vast pool of knowledge to a group of eager students, who hang on to her every word. Not only is that not the case; she doesn’t seem aware that the joke is on her. Simply not understanding what she was trying to say wasn’t the only reason EU parliament members might have appeared perplexed or unimpressed.

Fluency: 2
Grammar: 2
Vocabulary: 3
Accent: 2
Total: 9

#8 Jadranka Kosor

The former Croatian Prime Minister is clearly uncomfortable reading her speech in English at the 2010 Zagreb Annual Meeting and Business Forum as recorded by Radio Federacije BiH. At one point she stumbles on the name of an organization and reverts to Croatian. Her delivery is heavily palatalized and filled with most of the common letter mispronunciations including rolled r’s and separated g’s. Her struggle suggests that her knowledge of English is probably very limited and she seemed particularly eager to sit down at the end of her short speech.

Fluency: 1
Grammar: 2
Vocabulary: 2
Accent: 2
Total: 7

#9 Damir Krstičević

This is the viral video of Damir Krstičević, Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia, speaking English at an event in the United States. It was later integrated into a spoof commercial “Basic English for Dummies” on the Croatian TV show Prime Time on N1. Like his HDZ contemporary, Dubravka Šuica, Krstičević comes up with several curious phrases:

“The same idylls we fought for in our honor war.”

“Keep in mind that every success is merrily a stepping-stone to new challenge.”

At the end of his speech, he suggests:

“You ask me great questions. Ah…probably I will speak in Croatia, and my advisor…she will translate, if you agree.”

Fluency: 1
Grammar: 2
Vocabulary: 2
Accent: 1
Total: 6

#10 Ingrid Antičević Marinović

A former member of Prime Minister Ivica Račan’s cabinet and current justice of the Croatian Constitutional Court, the Honorable Justice Antičević Marinović speaks English with a lovely Croatian-Italian accent. Many of her words and sentences end with an extra soft “a” syllable, which gives her diction an oddly pleasant lilt, even though her content is virtually unintelligible. In this 2013 video, she discusses the problem of corruption in Croatia.

“I think-a it’s a job-a that never-ending ending-a. It’s-a our permanent task.”

Fluency: 1
Grammar: 2
Vocabulary: 2
Accent: 1
Total: 6

#BONUS Milan Bandić

In this Index video, the infamous Mayor of Zagreb is asked “What are you wearing tonight?”

“Yes,” he answers a few times.

After a few more attempts by the interviewer, he answers “speaking Croatia.”

Fluency: 0
Grammar: 0
Vocabulary: 0
Accent: 1
Total: 1

Follow our Politics page for more information on the English language speaking skills of prominent Croatian politicians, and important developments taking place during Croatia’s six month EU presidency.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Zagreb Hotels Expect More Guests Because of Croatia's EU Presidency

Croatia's upcoming EU presidency benefits those in tourism, particularly Zagreb hotels, as they will host 25,000 EU delegates. The political weight that Croatia holds when it chairs the Council of the European Union in the first half of next year also has a direct financial benefit.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Radmila Kovacevic/VL writes on the 23rd of December, 2019, the benefit's of Croatia's presidency of the EU will be primarily felt among those working in tourism, who will host about 25,000 delegates during the six months of Croatia's presidency. Zagreb hotels, which will be the venues for most of the official events, should see about 35,000 overnight stays realised.

The estimates also speak of 10,000 official lunches and 5,000 such dinners, and it should be noted that, in addition to prime ministers, ministers, diplomats and other EU officials, members of their families should certainly also be expected in one part.

The largest hotel group in Zagreb, Maistra's Westin, Sheraton, Panorama, International, Adriatic and Zagreb hotels with 1,227 accommodation units, say they're confident that they will realise a better occupancy compared to the same period in 2019. They also revealed that greatest interest during the Croatian EU presidency was recorded in the highest category Zagreb hotels, Westin and Sheraton, which are already very well occupied.

"The preparations are going well. The hotels have well-trained teams of experts who have hosted numerous international conferences and summits for years, and our hotels, restaurants and conference halls are ready for all of the upcoming events. We'll prepare a special menu for the EU delegates to showcase the diversity of our offering, and Every region will be represented by a choice of traditional food and drink,'' they say from Maistra.

The president of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce's Hotel Association and the director of the Hilton Hotels in Zagreb, Josip Jutt Ferlan, estimates that the EU Council Presidency could bring Zagreb hotels 15 to 20 percent more overnight stays during the six months of Croatia's EU presidency than in the same period in 2019.

"In addition to the main events, there will be a number of smaller events held in the margins, all of which are great for our hotels. Many have already been booked, some rooms will no longer be available, but those six months will not only work for delegates but for other guests who are also coming to us,'' noted Jutt Ferlan.

Make sure to follow our dedicated travel page for much more.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Croatia's EU Presidency Offers Chances for Foreign Investment

As Croatia's presidency of the EU quickly rolls around, AmCham, the US Chamber of Commerce in Zagreb, held a conference on the opportunities that the six-month rotation brings to the Croatian economy.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Ana Blaskovic writes on the 7th of November, 2019, a whole six and a half years after its accession to the EU, Croatia is soon set to take over the EU Presidency from January the 1st, 2020. During these six months, Croatia will represent the common interests of all EU countries in addressing pressing issues such as Brexit and harmonising the European budget.

On top of all that, the rotating presidency is also an opportunity for the EU's newest member state to come into the international focus of the investment public, when it manages to make a positive shift on the competitiveness ladder.

The American Chamber of Commerce, AmCham, organised the aforementioned conference which discussed the opportunities that lie before Croatia to encourage it to boost its competitiveness and growth in order to embrace the positive changes the presidency of the Union could bring to the domestic economy.

''In January 2020, Croatia assumes the important role of representing the common interests of the member states. Given the fact that Croatia receives more than 60 percent of its foreign trade from the EU, the Croatian presidency represents a unique opportunity not only to show what we have, but also to learn from others, because a competitive Croatia means a more competitive Europe,'' said AmCham's executive director, Andrea Doko Jelušić.

In these circumstances, American Chamber of Commerce members, such as Google, Coca-Cola, Uber and Merck, who participated in the panel discussion of the conference, expect the Croatian Government to hear their voices during this period.

"Dialogue is really important to us and is a sign for the future. What we would like to see at the end of the six months of the EU presidency is an active Croatia in Europe. Ultimately, we're all interested in seeing a more competitive Croatia and a more competitive Europe,'' said Doko Jelušić.

The United States and Europe are each other's major trading partners, generating a massive 5.5 trillion US dollars in trade annually and employing nearly sixteen million workers on both sides of the Atlantic. There is a lot of room for much more foreign direct investment.

The strength of America-Europe ties is illustrated by figures alone: in 2017, 54 percent of US foreign direct investment came from Europe, while 55 percent of global US investment was invested here in Europe.

Commenting on Croatia's presidency as "historically important", Minister of Foreign Affairs and EU Affairs Gordan Grlić Radman stressed that the government wants to bring the six-month presidency closer to everyone.

"We want to involve all citizens, the academic and business community, local units, so that citizens understand what the overall interest of Croatia is, and not just that it's just the changing of the rotating presidency," the minister emphasised, noting that Croatia is technically ready, at least when is the completion of the buildings in question.

Opportunities for boosting competitiveness and growth were discussed at a panel discussion attended by Ministers Grlić Radman and Josip Aladrović, in addition to giants like Coca-Cola, Uber, Google, Merck and AmCham.

The Minister of Labour, Josip Aladrović, highlighted the development of skills in the context of lifelong education and active adaptation to the labour markets in all sectors and across the EU as a priority for Croatia.

Joško Mrndže, Google's director for the Adriatic region, said that Croatia is not far behind in terms of adopting artificial intelligence and new technologies, but that their development is another issue. He welcomed the adoption of a national digitalisation strategy that would include artificial intelligence. The importance of digitisation is borne out by the estimate that 20 million jobs will be created in Europe by 2030, 90 to 95 percent of which will require basic or advanced digital skills.

"This represents an opportunity for growth on the one hand, and a challenge on the other," Mrndže said, emphasising more education, since quite a few people in Croatia don't possess this skill. Ruža Tomić Fontana, CEO of Coca-Cola HBC for Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia, emphasised the importance of really listening to the industry during Croatia's presidency, as companies have specific knowledge.

According to the foreign minister, taking over the EU presidency represents a historic moment for Croatia to gain in both rating and reputation, but would-be foreign investors will nevertheless base their decisions on concrete figures on cost-effectiveness and feasibility, something that Croatia struggles painfully with.

According to the World Bank's latest Doing Business report, Croatia has advanced seven places when compared to last year, ranking 51st out of 190 countries in the world.

This confirms that things are changing for the better, although AmCham's members would like it to be much faster.

"Others are changing too, but they're doing it even faster. We can definitely see the effects of the tax relifs, it has given momentum to the economy and we shouldn't just stop there. What we see as one of the key things is the digitalisation of the private sector and of public administration. New technologies give us the opportunity to be more transparent, faster and more efficient and to skip and catch up with everything,” the foreign minister explained

''I'm sure that successful completion of this process will greatly help the Croatian administration to strengthen its voice in the European club, but also to be more effective and more willing to engage in dialogue with all the stakeholders in Croatia. This dialogue is something we need to work on much more, the economy can offer a number of good practices, many opportunities for cooperation, and I'd like the government to hear that and be able to use those opportunities,'' said Doko Jelušić.

The conference was closed by President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who talked about a growing Europe - the first pillar within which focuses on equally sustainable and inclusive growth, which also includes efforts to address the problem of poor demographics, another burning issue for Croatia.

The second pillar is a Europe which connects, which will promote initiatives that contribute to transport, energy and digital connectivity. These include the promotion and completion of trans-European transport networks, maritime affairs and the development of competitive and sustainable shipping, creating the conditions and removing barriers to the full functioning of 5G networks, the continued establishment of a functional digital single market and the continuation of the establishment and implementation of the Energy Union as the backbone of a European Common Energy Policy.

Finally, what is needed is a Europe that protects its citizens by enhancing their security, both internally and externally, with an emphasis on a comprehensive approach to migration, especially illegal migration, while continuing to be a Europe that is open and assertive in its immediate neighbourhood and globally.

Make sure to follow our dedicated politics and business pages to find out more about Croatia's upcoming EU presidency.


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