Croatian president Ivo Josipović says entrepreneurs in his country need to be more proactive if they are to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by Croatia’s entry into the European Union. Speaking during a visit to London, when he held talks with Prime Minister David Cameron and other British government ministers ahead of Croatia’s EU accession on 1 July, Josipović urged business people to step up to create their own chances rather than sit back and wait for the state to do all the hard work for them.
“We are improving our legislation to invite investors but states themselves have limited possibilities,’ he said. “They can motivate people but I think the entrepreneurs should be more active. They should have more information about our market and possibilities. There is some expectation that the state itself will make connections and perform trade activities and this is wrong. The state is there to establish the framework and to motivate, and then entrepreneurialism must come in.”
“Whenever I go abroad I have a huge delegation with me: entrepreneurs, banks and factory owners,’ he said. “Then when I come back, just a few days after, I have calls from journalists asking what did I sign, did I make some trade agreement. And I say, no, that is not my job. My job is to make connections and then our enterprises should step in. It can take some time and many activities, and it is different from state to state.
“I think the entrepreneur culture is not developed enough [in Croatia]. Definitely we missed several decades during socialism and now we have to motivate young people to accept entrepreneurship as a way of living, a way of creating business. But it is not easy.”
Improved trade agreements with Serbia and their other former Yugoslavian neighbours that should see Croatia forging new partnerships that can be beneficial to all parties, President Josipović said. “We have some possibilities. We had capabilities in the former Yugoslavia as a whole but after the dissolution of Yugoslavia we somehow lost these. Now there are new initiatives on how to compete together on third markets.
“The hundred most successful entrepreneurs from all countries in the region are going to meet and to discuss this common approach to third markets. It is something new and as the only single member of the EU, we can probably have an important role in this process.”
Marcus Agar Meets President Josipović in London
Marcus Agar (Wild Rooster) was invited to meet with President Josipović during his high profile visit to the UK, which had included meetings with government ministers, a talk at Oxford University and an audience with Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace.
During the meeting at London’s Ritz Hotel, the president was keen to discuss all aspects of Croatia’s entry into the European Union. “We have a strategic position, considering transportation from east to west,’ he said, outlining how the EU could benefit from Croatia as a new gateway to Europe.
“If you consider the present situation, goods coming from the Far East come through the Suez Canal and then go around the Mediterranean to Hamburg, Rotterdam and other ports. To transport the goods from Hamburg or Rotterdam to Vienna, Frankfurt or Prague you need much more days than the same [sea] route but ending in [the Croatian port of] Rijeka. You can save up to seven or ten days. Just go to the harbour in Rijeka and there are important plans of how we plan to really improve our capacities.”
Apart from additional trade routes, what will Croatia bring to the table as the newest EU member state? “We are going to bring interesting cultural heritage and some natural beauty,’ said Josipović. “We are going to bring a society of goodwill. I think that is very important. We are not burdened by an enormous weight of crime. We have a very open society who accepts foreigners, especially during the touristic season, and finally but not least, we are some kind of road to the south east. Definitely Europe will not be complete without other south east European countries and Croatia will help because we are connected with those countries, historically, culturally, politically. So I think Europe will benefit from our accession.”
Excitement As Croatia Anticipates Even More EU Funding
The benefits will not be one-way, though, with new EU coffers opening up to Croatia, including substantial structural funds. The president was asked if Croatia has the administrative capacity to absorb and administer these funds. “We hope that we are ready for it, of course,’ he said. “There is optimism in Croatia. Everyone is thinking about European funds, from small entrepreneurs selling bread or milk to important transnational companies. Definitely some of them will be disappointed because it is not easy to win a tender but I think the most important goals will be achieved.
“The money we asked for infrastructure is very important. An irrigation system for agriculture is also very important, and there are many needs in tourism, and cooperation in science and education as well. So we have many needs and it will be easier to spend money than to obtain it through funds.”
Already Croatia is fast becoming a regional powerhouse, with investors from outside the region keen to tap into the new opportunities of a state on the rise. “We have many interests from China and we have one Philippine company, but basically I think it is British in Rijeka. We have much interest from Turkey as well. Already we have investors from Italy, from Hungary, from Austria, from the United States and other western countries. But I also have many hopes for Russia, China and other big markets. Of course, part of this expectation rests with the need to restructure our laws and our economy, and I hope that we are going to be relatively successful there.”
Oil and Gas Prospects for Croatia
As well as enjoying new trade opportunities, Croatia is also excited by the prospect of oil and gas being tapped on their territory. “We can have an important role in energy,’ the president said. “Not only in the transportation of energy, but there is new research on the Adriatic coast and on land because there is data and signs of a significant amount of oil and gas. Very soon the tender will be announced for research into those oil and gas fields in the Mediterranean, the Adriatic and on land.”
While there is scope for expansion, it is hoped that everyone, from local farmers to big business, will feel the benefits of improved trade links. “We have capacity for good agriculture and especially healthy food,’ said Josipović. “The obstacle is the fact that we have small pieces of land and we have to make it bigger to make our production rational.
“In new technologies, we are already proportionally successful in the ICT sector. We have some companies – not big companies like Sony, Macintosh or Google – but mid-sized businesses who are very successful. We have a very good ICT sector competing not only in Croatia but in the United States.”
Croatia Loves British Tourists
President Josipović is looking to the UK for investment, too. “I really expect Great Britain to invest – not because you like our seaside and you hate our football – but because of your interests,’ he said. “I think partnership is key. Great Britain is a big and important country from all aspects and Croatia is a small country. I think it is better that we are not a big economy, although our [EU] participation will be visible.
“I am already very happy with our tourism [from the UK]. More and more Brits are coming to Croatia. Many of them came to buy second homes in Croatia. That is a really good sign for us because they can be really demanding people, in terms of standards, ecology and other things.”
Photo credit: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images (Cameron/Josipovic)