The process of resolving outstanding issues between Serbia and Croatia should continue, we should also carry on with dialogue, and in particular, continue to actively work with the Serbian side on its future in the EU
After two years of being the Croatian Ambassador to Serbia, H.E. Gordan Bakota will continue his diplomatic career in Germany. In his last interview in the capacity of the Croatian ambassador to Serbia, Mr Bakota talks about memories from his stay in Serbia, the things that were done to improve the relations between the two countries and what is his vision for their future.
In December, you will leave the post of Croatian Ambassador to Serbia. How will you remember these past two years in that capacity?
— The two years I spent as an Ambassador in Serbia were extremely challenging and intense, and it has been a great pleasure for me to work on improving bilateral relations between Serbia and Croatia, together with my colleagues, as well as to contribute to Serbia’s future in the EU and help the country on its way to the EU membership. I met a whole host of interesting people in Serbia, made many friends, participated in the cultural life of Serbia, travelled a large part of Serbia and felt very comfortable in all parts of the country.
What has been done to improve the relationship between our two countries during your tenure?
— We have intensified and dynamized the work of mixed committees that address mutual open issues. The committees met on a regular basis over the past two years, as it is extremely important to have a continuous dialogue on these issues. Economic cooperation between Croatia and Serbia is certainly an area where we are re-cording very good results and continuous progress. Our economies are complementary and compatible, far more than they are competitive with each other, and this is a particularly important factor that opens the prospect for bolstering the cooperation even further. With almost EUR 800 million worth of foreign direct investments, Croatia is one of the most important foreign investors in Serbia, with Croatian companies here employing around 15,000 workers. Lately, Serbian entrepreneurs have shown more interest in investing in Croatia. Cultural cooperation between My Mandate Was Extremely Challenging and IntenseThe process of resolving outstanding issues between Serbia and Croatia should continue, we should also carry on with dialogue, and in particular, continue to actively work with the Serbian side on its future in the two countries is excellent, but of course, there is always room for improvement.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during your tenure in Belgrade?
— It is always a challenge to be an Ambassador in a neighboring country. I look at it positively because the challenges are always stimulating. I would like to underline the work on promoting the rights of the Croatian minority in Serbia in various aspects and promoting European values and European standards. The unresolved issue of missing persons is an important humanitarian issue, and also one of the fundamental issues in the relations between Serbia and Croatia, as it represents an extraordinary challenge for the relations between the two countries.
This is Croatia’s first presidency of the EU since joining the bloc. How significant is that?
— Presidency comes at the beginning of a new five-year post-election institutional cycle in the EU, with new leaders of the EU institutions, a new EC and Parliament, and a new President of the European Council; with new topics, policy proposals and programmes in line with the Strategic Framework 2019-2024, and the finale of the negotiations on a new seven-year budget for the period 2021-2027. Croatia is also taking over the Presidency at the moment when the discussion on the negotiation methodology opened and when we have proposals for new models to be discussed at EU level.
The Western Balkans and European Union summit will take place in Croatia next year. What can we expect from it? Do you think that, after the summit, the Western Balkan countries will be one step closer to EU membership?
— EU has a special responsibility towards its immediate neighbor-hood. It is of the utmost importance to guarantee the well-being and stability of our immediate neighborhood in Southeast Europe while fostering reform processes here. We are aware of the transformational power of the accession process from our own experience. We will, therefore, advocate an effective enlargement policy, based on a European perspective for candidate’s potential candidates, with full compliance with the established criteria. This is the main reason why the Republic of Croatia will host the EU and Western Balkans summit in Zagreb in May 2020. We believe it is crucial to send a clear message again to the Western Balkan countries that their place is within the EU. In a regional context, the EU-WB Summit in Zagreb will be important for the future of enlargement policy.
What advice will you give to your successor as Ambassador of Croatia to Serbia?
— It is difficult to give advice to colleagues, but the message is that it is very important to continue the process of resolving outstanding issues between Serbia and Croatia. We should also carry on with the dialogue, and in particular, continue to actively work with the Serbi-an side on its future in the EU.
To remember, in an interview for InFocus Croatia in February this year, Mr Bakota said that the past years had been quite dynamic and that there had been ups and downs in bilateral relations.
„During President Vučić’s visit to Croatia, both sides underlined the importance of further improving the relations and expediting the work on unresolved issues, especially addressing the issue of missing persons. The importance of the status of national minorities has also been underlined. The dialogue has intensified and a certain dynamics was established in a number of areas. As far as our relations go, we can surely do more and better. In order to do that, we need to constantly invest in creating a positive atmosphere that will facilitate the improvement of our relations. Unfortunately, we have witnessed a series of events and incidents that do not contribute to this. On the contrary, they adversely affect our relations. Regardless, Croatia remains committed to bolstering good neighbourly co-operation and developing relations, and I will personally continue to invest a lot of effort to that end. Even though, in the past year, we were not able to achieve a significant growth in the external trade between our two countries, to the extent it had been in the past years, economic cooperation remains one of the bright points of the bilateral relations between Croatia and Serbia. Last year, the Republic of Croatia’s Chamber of Economy re-opened its office in Belgrade, adding to the synergy in the bilateral economic cooperation. Also, the Joint Committee for the Implementation and Facilitation of Economic Cooperation held its first session. The Committee’s main task is to identify the obstacles faced by companies and small businesses, and suggest appropriate solutions for their removal. Furthermore, we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Promoting Effective Railroad Traffic,“ said H.E. Gordan Bakota on the occasion.