Croatia: BABS Forum Takes Charge Of Central-Eastern Europe Destiny

BABS Forum Dubrovnik 2016 From left: Presidents of Hungary Janos Ader, Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite, Poland Andrzej Duda, Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, Bulgaria Rosen Plevneliev and Slovenia Borut Pahor Photo: HINA

BABS Forum Dubrovnik 2016
From left First Row: Presidents of Hungary Janos Ader,
Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite,
Poland Andrzej Duda, Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic,
Bulgaria Rosen Plevneliev and Slovenia Borut Pahor
Photo: HINA


The area of the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Sea is Europe’s lifeblood and around 50 billion Euros investment will be needed for its future development”, said the Croatian president Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic at the opening of the Baltic-Adriatic-Black Sea (BABS) Forum 2016 with her Polish colleague Andrzej Duda in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on Thursday, 25th of August.

Twelve EU member countries– Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia surrounded by the three seas have had great opportunities to strengthen cooperation that would benefit not only these twelve EU country members but the whole European Union”, emphasised Grabar Kitarovic.

The presidents attending the round table debate called “The Three Seas Initiative” in Dubrovnik adopted a declaration constituting a political framework for support to concrete projects designed to help Central and Eastern Europe develop to the level of other EU countries.

Croatia's President Kolinda Grabar-KItarovic at BABS 2016 opening Dubrovnik 25 - 26 August 2016 Photo: Dubrovnik Times

Croatia’s President
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic at BABS 2016 opening
Dubrovnik 25 – 26 August 2016
Photo: Dubrovnik Times

In order to achieve the average of the European Union we must face a number of challenges, underlined President Grabar-Kitarović. Speaking about the challenges, the President referred to the demographic situation and issue of large scale emigration of young people, the new security challenges that face this part of Europe, the challenge of Brexit and centrifugal forces and fragmentation that can be felt in the European Union. ‘We have to prove to our citizens that the EU delivers on the issues vital to them: jobs, mobility and security. I would dare to claim that this Initiative can deliver on all the mentioned issues,’ emphasized President Grabar-Kitarović.
In that sense, the President emphasised key points of the Three Seas Initiative, an informal platform to strengthen the overall political, economic, infrastructure and security cooperation in authentic Central Europe. She spoke of the goals of the Initiative – to establish a framework for decisive action in securing political support for specific cross-border strategic projects of interest to the States involved, without creating a parallel structure to the existing European and transatlantic associations and mechanisms of cooperation. Further goals of the Initiative are to facilitate intergovernmental coordination and cooperation along the corridor Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea and attract the proactive engagement of the business community for innovations and investments,” says this extract of the Office of President Grabar-Kitarovic website write-up on the Dubrovnik Forum.
‘The Three Seas Initiative is an informal one, but endorsed nevertheless by those that hold ultimate influence in the region. Its purpose is, according to Grabar-Kitarovic, not disassociation from the EU but removing differences between the EU members that have enjoyed the benefits of democracy, freedom and free market for decades and those that joined the EU later.

The Dubrovnik conference also discussed challenges faced by the EU such as Brexit and global challenges such as the migrant crisis, security and Russia’s influence.

Dubrovnik Forum Three Seas Initiative discussion Photo: Screenshot Office of President of CRoatia

Dubrovnik Forum
Three Seas Initiative discussion
Photo: Screenshot Office of President of Croatia

This Baltic-Adriatic-Black Sea (BABS) 2016 forum brought together an impressive gathering of power and decision-makers – six presidents and high-ranking government officials from 12 EU countries located between the three seas (Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia) and also during the proceedings joined by non-EU countries Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. A panel discussion at the “Strengthening European energy security” looked at the benefits of energy cooperation in BABS and the role of LNG terminals linking north and south Europe.

Connecting the LNG terminal in Poland with one planned on the island of Krk in Croatia is among the energy projects that BABS region countries want to implement in order to boost competitiveness and development, Croatia’s president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, said addressing forum at the opening ceremony August 25.


President Duda pointed out the importance of energy connections. “The dominance of a single supplier for the region is harmful and dangerous”, he said adding that development of the gas corridor between the north and the south, as well as the LNG terminal on the island of Krk are important.

The next meeting of BABS will take place in Wroclaw in June 2017.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite at Dubrovnik Forum Photo:

Lithuanian President
Dalia Grybauskaite
at Dubrovnik Forum

Chinese and American speakers were also present at this Dubrovnik Forum. Chinese Ministerial Assistant for Foreign Affairs Liu Haixing in charge of Central and Eastern Europe region recalled that China was very interested in the development of the area. China believes it will serve her project of New Silk Road.

American General James L. Jones, president of Jones Group International and former adviser for the National Security of President Obama said that the development of the Three Seas Initiative must be an element not only for European development but also for security. General Jones stressed the use by Russia of her position as an energy supplier to increase her economic influence and to strengthen her geopolitical goals.

During the days of BABS Forum in Dubrovnik four countries Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro signed a memorandum of understanding with the executives of Azerbaijani oil and gas company SOCAR, which relates to the development of the Ionian Adriatic Pipeline (IAP)/ Trans-Adriatic-Pipeline (TAP) designed to bring gas from Shah Deniz 2 field in the Caspian Sea to EU through the so-called Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) after 2020.
Croatia’s economy minister Tomislav Panenic said that the future pipeline would provide gas supplies for south-eastern Europe. “We have defined our joint initiative for the development of the Ionian-Adriatic gas pipeline as a route that will make sure that these markets are provided with gas. We hope that this route will be a connection between the north and the south and that this may pave the way for a full liberalisation of the gas market in Europe,” he said, Croatian news agency Hina reported.

Dugopolje-Split Gas Pipeline works Photo: EVN/Seenews

Dugopolje-Split Croatia Gas Pipeline works
Photo: EVN/Seenews

In 2007, Croatia, Montenegro and Albania signed a declaration on the IAP, which is planned to carry natural gas from Albania’s Fier via Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, to Split in Croatia. IAP would be connected with the 870-kilometre Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which should transport gas from Shah Deniz II, Azerbaijan, via Greece and Albania and the Adriatic Sea, to Italy. The IAP gas pipeline, with a length of 516 kilometers, is planned to have a capacity of five billion cubic meters annually.
Serbia, although in the region in question where or around which these gas supplies into Europe are to pass, was not represented at this BABS Forum in Dubrovnik. Most media would like us to think that Serbia’s absence from this important forum was associated with the recently soured relations and political tensions between Serbia and Croatia due to recent vicious political attacks by Serbian leadership against Croatia. But I reckon, given that Serbia is and always will be very close to Russia – it did not hurt Serbia’s political arithmetic not to attend Dubrovnik Forum where matters on the agenda such as gas supplies posed direct threats to sizeable Russian gas supplies to Europe, in the foreseeable future. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia: First Year Of Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic Presidency

Kolinda Grabar-KItarovic President of Croatia

Kolinda Grabar-KItarovic
President of Croatia

When in November 2014 Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic drove her stake into the election campaign and candidacy for the president of Croatia she had five central points to her program and election promises. She was the victorious candidate albeit not by a sweeping margin but a solid one nevertheless. Her inauguration as President of Croatia was on 15 February 2015. So what has been achieved with the five central election promises in her first year as president? Here’s a brief analysis:

First Point:Calling of an extraordinary meeting of the Government due to the weak social and economic state in Croatia. “We need to create favourable conditions for economic development with the aim of opening new jobs,” she said.

Not much has been achieved on this point, but if anything could summarise the events it’s the constant rejection to accept and work with president Grabar-Kitarovic by Zoran Milanovic’s Social Democrat led government that was in power at the time of Grabar-Kitarovic’s start as president, until January 2016. Milanovic evidently had no intention of collaborating with her and was at all times going to make her life difficult as leader of the country whose effectiveness depends much on being able to work with the government. Milanovic’s government kept rejecting and avoiding a meeting with the president on issues of economy especially. Nevertheless, a meeting on national security did occur on 12 March 2015, after which Milanovic was still avoiding a meeting on matters of economic reform and other areas of state governance, saying that the president has no Constitutional role to have input in those matters etc. It was a most unfortunate stand to be taken by a Prime Minister for Croatia because the President does have directional influence powers and powers to call for government’s accountability and the like.

Now that Croatia has a new government, a conservative one, the first point of her election promise to meet with the government and work on social and economic matters jointly has better prospects of succeeding.

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and CRoatia's Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic January 2016 Photo: HINA/ Damir SENČAR /ds

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
and Croatia’s Prime Minister
Tihomir Oreskovic
January 2016
Photo: HINA/ Damir SENČAR /ds

Second Point: Calling for social stability towards achieving living standards people deserve. “I don’t accept that in Croatia today even one child could go hungry. That’s impermissible,” she said during her election campaign, adding that she would promote the implementation of demographic renewal. Again, given the Constitutional powers she as president has it’s questionable as to how much she could achieve with a government that kept pushing her off in her first year in office. However, there’s no doubt that she as president can influence progress in this area through coordination with her advisers working in synergy with the new government to realise a better living standard. Having Tihomir Oreskovic as Prime Minister, who does not delve into political feuds but sticks to professional administration and strategies towards economic reform and growth the Second point of her election program has a much better chance than under the former government which decided to play deaf, blind and mute as far as the President and her ideas for economic growth were concerned.

But despite Zoran Milanovic’s refusals and obstacles she had systematically worked in this field as evidenced bt her creation of various “teams” and committees whose goals include solving economic, social, demographic and other matters of priorities for Croatia. Especially noteworthy, and given Zoran Milanovic’s government’s rejection of to work on matters of economic development with the President, is the work of the Economic Council made up of authentic professionals in the field that Grabar-Kitarovic established in June 2015.

President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic with the members of her Economic Council July 2015

President of Croatia
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
with the members of her Economic Council
July 2015

Third Point: national security and defence – investing in further modernisation of military forces. Furthermore she stated that “modern Croatia was created through the Homeland War under the leadership of Franjo Tudjman and the backs of war veterans defending Croatia. I will reinstate and protect the dignity of the veterans and the Homeland War,” she promised. The strongest achievement with this point of promise, to my view, is the removal from the foyer of the Office of the President the bust of Josip Broz Tito and placing there, among Croatia’s greats, the bust of Franjo Tudjman on the day she marked the end of her first year in office. This act announces a successful realisation of all her goals in this area including the rehabilitation of some 100 Homeland War generals forcefully retired in 2000 when the pro-communist Stjepan Mesic rose to the presidency after Tudjman’s death. Given the still persisting ideological divide in Croatia, with one side still hankering for the days of communist Yugoslavia this move by Grabar-Kitarovic is indeed politically courageous.

Croatia’s geopolitical reality in which a new cold war between Russia and European Union is entirely possible, Grabar-KItarovic’s achievements in this promise go beyond just modernising the military and the purchase of fighter helicopters etc. Her efforts and achievements within the first year in office as President are notable with the changes to general worldly as well as Croatian views as to where Croatia belongs. From the start of her mandate she advocated for and adopted the initiative “Baltic – Adriatic – Black Sea” and re-orientation towards Central Europe – where objectively Croatia belongs. The “Baltic – Adriatic – Black Sea” initiative is all the more important not just in securing Croatia’s energy supplies and funnelling routes for Croatian energy exports (e.g. gas) but also because it assumes an active collaboration between Croatia and the Visegrad Group countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary). United States and China have expressed support for this initiative.

Baltic-Adriatic-Black Sea initiative National Security Meeting February 2016 Munich Germany From right:Andrzej Dude (Poland), Borut Pahor (Slovenia); Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic (Croatia); Thomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonia); Rosen Plevneliev (Bulgaria)

Baltic-Adriatic-Black Sea initiative
National Security Meeting
February 2016 Munich Germany
From right:Andrzej Dude (Poland), Borut Pahor (Slovenia);
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic (Croatia);
Thomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonia);
Rosen Plevneliev (Bulgaria)



Fourth Point: rule of law and legal stability of Croatia. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic insisted and insists on zero tolerance when it comes to corruption. Indeed, to be effective in eradicating corruption all parts of the society must be involved in fighting against corruption. Series of meetings with the State Attorney Dinko Cvitan addressed eradication of corruption and organized crimes and the need to the state’s anti-corruption body to keep abreast of developments in that area within European standards and Croatia’s need to comply with those in future work. While Grabar-Kitarovic has no direct authority over the work of the state attorney she as president has the authority to require and check on compliance with EU standards in fighting against corruption and organized crimes and, hence, within her first year she has taken positive steps in keeping her eye on progress and work in this area. Unlike her predecessor she has become a part of anti-corruption battles in Croatia and that is a significant achievement that would not have seen the light of day were she not astute and assertive for her role as president.


President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic met for first official meeting with State Attorney Dinko Cvitan in March 2015 Photo: HINA

President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic
met for first official meeting
with State Attorney Dinko Cvitan
in March 2015
Photo: HINA

Fifth Point: Foreign policy and diplomacy for Croatia’s reputation.
We need to renew our strategic partnerships with our allies, reposition ourselves and strengthen our positions within NATO and EU frames,” she said. Solving of all open questions with our neighbours, the special question of the missing (from the war), the politics of clean accounts with Croatian interests as foremost importance… border issues on river Danube… Her first foreign visit as president was to Bosnia and Herzegovina where more than 500,000 Croats live, pledging her support. Of special importance in the achievement of her goal in this point is the support she received for the so-called “Brdo-Brijuni” process where she together with Slovenia’s Borut Pahor initiated a strong move to win over the U.S. to renew its interest in South-Eastern Europe; Jo Biden, U.S. Vice-President had as a result visited Croatia within her first year as president of Croatia and strengthen the platform for future relationships including investment opportunities. In her first year of presidency Grabar-KItarovic has made 31 foreign visits which all have contributed to a significantly raised reputation and awareness of Croatia on the international scene, creating a positive trend in strengthening trust in Croatia, which is a prerequisite for future investments into its economy.

From left: President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic Jo Biden, US Vice-President Borut Pahor, President of Slovenia in Croatia November 2015 Photo: Zeljko Lukunic/PIXSELL

From left: President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic
Jo Biden, US Vice-President
Borut Pahor, President of Slovenia
in Croatia November 2015
Photo: Zeljko Lukunic/PIXSELL

In summary, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic as president of Croatia has had the misfortune that her first year in office coincided with general elections for the government and election campaigns that often overshadowed her presidency and its ability to function unimpeded in its role. She has had to put up with an antagonistic and negative attitude of the centre-left government that rejected working with her but she persevered nevertheless and created her own teams or councils to begin tackling the important questions pressing Croatia for progress.

Her first year in office is a mixed bag of successes and obstacles within a political climate that did not lend itself to “Croatia first” but to political survival of centre-left government and political assertion of conservative centre-right opposition. Overall, she has triggered a positive energy for Croatia on the international scene and influenced a professional approach demeanour in solving the country’s economic woes especially. Her second year in office, with a government that is likely to collaborate with her better than the last, will be the real test for her skills as president; the real test for success or failure.

I am disappointed, though, to see that little or no real progress has been achieved at doing better in securing positive outcomes for Croatia that diaspora could bring. Same old rhetoric, same old points made as have been for the last twenty years. It’s to be expected that Grabar-Kitarovic will work much better with the new government, with which she shares similar ideological views – those of centre-right or conservative wing. At least there hopefully won’t be the situation where the president and the government are traveling along as separate islands, parallel but never to meet, each trying to prove the same thing alone, wasting energy and resources, doubling up on matters that should be joint efforts. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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