CROATIA: Foreign policy focuses on membership in NATO and the EU
Thomas Cromwell

Mr. Machimura, Photo: MOFA Japan

Ambassador Neven Jurica took up his post as Croatia's envoy to Washington last year at an important time for his country. There are two main foreign policy objectives for the year-old government of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, which he represents, both of concern to Washington.

First is Croatia’s accession to NATO membership, in tandem with two other Southeast European countries, Albania and Macedonia, called the A3 group. The target date for a formal invitation to join from other NATO members is the alliance summit scheduled for 2006. Before that, Croatia has to remodel its armed forces to make them suited to NATO and, with the other A3 applicants, negotiate the details of accession. Ambassador Jurica is confident that Croatia can meet the schedule.

With their succession, the three Balkan countries will close a long-standing gap on NATO’s southern flank. That gap was created by Yugoslavia, a socialist country aligned with the East Bloc countries during the Cold War, and separating members Greece and Turkey from the West European NATO members. Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina are observers to the A3 NATO accession process, and Ambassador Jurica says that the A3 group is encouraging the membership of those countries as well.

The other major foreign policy objective of Croatia is to join the European Union. At the EU summit on December 17 the date was set for negotiations to begin in Spring 05. All going well, Croatia wants to be ready for membership in 2007.

NATO and the European Union have been the major organizations that Central and East European countries have most wanted to join ever since they left the Soviet sphere of influence when the USSR collapsed at the end of the 1980s. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic lead the way, but there are now nine new NATO members from this group, and 10 new EU members. Croatia is catching up with these countries.

Croatia was delayed by the fighting that bloodied the protracted breakup of Yugoslavia. But now it has been at peace for seven years and its economy is growing at a healthy pace. It has virtually eliminated poverty and it has modernized its institutions to the point that both political and economic stability are assured. "We are satisfied with our economic growth and sustainable development," the ambassador says.

After 9/11, Croatia stepped up willingly to join the US-led anti-terror coalition. It wants to take an active part in the Proliferation of Security Initiative (PSI) which includes 11 countries, among which Poland is the key player. The ambassador says that Croatia is positioned to provide leadership to PSI in Southeast Europe.

He says that his country has "excellent relations" with the US Department of Defense, saying: "There is absolutely brilliant cooperation from both sides." The Croatian parliament has recently decided that its sea and air space will be open to use by NATO forces. The ambassador points out that Croatia developed valuable experience in military matters from its successful defense against Serbian aggression.

Ambassador Jurica notes that while the development of tourism on the Adriatic’s Dalmatian coast has been successful, the potential for further development there is enormous. He points to the 1100 islands that dot the coastline, most of which have not been developed to date, making Croatia a new frontier for tourism now that Spain, Italy and Greece are so developed. "We are a promised land for tourism," the ambassador says.

There are other sectors of the economy that also are strong. Pliva is a major pharmaceutical producer that has joint ventures with Pfizer and Lilly. And energy is another sector of interest to investors. And, with some two million Americans of Croatian origin, Zagreb hopes the Diaspora community will play a leading role investing in Croatia.

One of the main challenges the Croatian government has faced in the post-war period is resettling and employing the 400,000 men who were in the armed forces, as well as the internal refugees displaced by the fighting. In this, the ambassador says, Croatia seeks international assistance in the form of investments that will create jobs.

Croatia has been working on its physical infrastructure, including construction of a major highway network, and today it is on a par with that of most EU members. At the same time, it has adopted legislation that secures the rule of law and protects investors.

But one of the toughest nuts to crack has been consistently high unemployment, which last year was at 20 percent, driven to that height by the previous government, which, the ambassador says, repeated some of the policy mistakes of governments in the early 90s. The ambassador says the Sanader government has made significant steps towards reducing unemployment and generally boosting the health of the economy.

He also pointed to a recent visit to Belgrade by Prime Minister Sanader, which resulted in a positive exchange between leaders of the two countries, once joined as the core of Yugoslavia but more recently bitter enemies fighting over territory and power in the post-Yugoslav era. The ambassador says that Serbia and Montenegro, on the one hand, and Croatia, on the other, are on the path to fully normalized relations.

The ambassador says he sees it as remarkable that Croatia has managed to maintain peace and stability since fighting ended seven years ago. The positive image of the country has also been well served by an effective tourism promotion campaign that has reminded the world that Croatia is a land of beautiful places, despite the recent wars it has suffered. As it secures its place in the new Europe and the trans-Atlantic defense arrangements, it can look forward to continued stability and economic growth.


Biography of Ambassador Neven Jurica, Ambassador of Croatia to the United States

Neven Jurica, appointed Ambassador, was endorsed as Croatia’s Ambassador to the United States by Croatian President Stjepan Mesic on June 23, 2004.

Ambassador Jurica prior to his appointment served as a member of the Croatian Parliament and Chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee.

After serving as Ambassador to Australia and New Zealand (1992-1995), he served as ambassador to Bulgaria (1996-1997) and Norway (1998-2000). In the Government of the Republic of Croatia, he was the spokesman of the government (1997-1998).

In the first democratic elections in Croatia in 1990, Ambassador Jurica was elected to the Croatian Parliament, and served as chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee (1990-1992). A founding member of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in 1989, he also served as Political Secretary of the HDZ (1989-1992 & 2000-2004).

As a professional writer (1980-1989), Ambassador Jurica has published more than 16 books in the field of literary theory, criticism, and anthologies of essays and poetry. He also directed the prestigious literary forum "Literary Friday" during this period. He is a member of the Croatian Writers’ Association and PEN, and is fluent in English and French.

Educated in Dubrovnik and Zagreb, Ambassador Jurica earned a degree in comparative literature and philosophy from the Faculty of Arts and Letters at the University of Zagreb. He also received a masters degree in literary theory from the University of Zagreb.

Ambassador Jurica is married with two children.