Croatia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Marija Pejčinović Burić was interviewed by ONA News Agency.
- President Ms. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said at the meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev last year that Croatia will remain a true friend of Azerbaijan within the EU and it supports Azerbaijan's decision to develop individual relations with the European Union. Ms. Minister, how would you evaluate the relations between the EU and Azerbaijan, and Croatia-Azerbaijan?
- I would like to confirm the excellent and friendly relations between our countries. My visit to Baku is another opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues, including strengthening our economic cooperation, global and regional issues as well as cooperation in multilateral fora, in line with our Declaration on Strategic Partnership from 2013. The Business Forum to be held during my stay in your Capital demonstrates the interest of our business community for further cooperation.
We are constantly looking into modalities to further our existing economic cooperation. We believe that the holding of the second meeting of the Joint Inter-Governmental Commission for Economic Cooperation between Croatia and Azerbaijan will strengthen existing cooperation and at the same time open new business possibilities.
Here I would also like to express my support for the negotiations between the EU and Azerbaijan on a new and ambitious comprehensive agreement. The negotiations are in their final phase and once complete will provide a new framework for cooperation with the EU. This agreement will also open new paths for cooperation within the Eastern Partnership framework. During the meeting [between the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in September 2018] we had a chance to reflect on the multilateral framework of the Eastern Partnership, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
- What can you say about Azerbaijan's role in European energy security?
- As you might know, Croatia is interested in securing a diversification of energy sources and routes. As such the South Gas Corridor, as a completely new source of gas from Azerbaijan, together with the IAP, fulfills both criteria.
Azerbaijan's role in European energy security is increasing gradually and steadily. In 2018 the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) intended for Azerbaijani gas was completed, the Trans-Adriatic pipeline (TAP) is to be completed soon, and the Ionian-Adriatic pipeline is expected to be completed within the next decade. TAP and IAP will be the two main corridors streamlining Azerbaijani gas to Europe, which especially applies to the IAP. IAP capacities will be earmarked for gas markets in the countries of our immediate neighborhood. We expect that the IAP will also affirm Croatia as an important transit country and put Croatia on the European energy chart. The implementation of the entire IAP project provides for the opening of a new energy corridor for the region of the Western Balkans within the Southern (fourth) Gas Corridor, for the purpose of establishing a new natural gas supply route from the Middle East and Caspian region.
Croatia for its part is preparing the construction of a floating LNG terminal on the Island of Krk, which could be of interest for Azerbaijan as an entry point for the Central and South-East European energy market.
- In which areas do Croatia and Azerbaijan enjoy strong cooperation?
- As already mentioned, we have good cooperation in the field of energy, which we expect to strengthen even more in the future. As an example, Croatian transmission system operator Plinacroand Socar are collaborating on the development of the IAP project.
Over the past years more intensive cooperation in the field of information technology, agriculture, and sports, as well as cooperation between the Azerbaijani regions and cities and Croatia has also been established.
- President Grabar-Kitarović said at the meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev last year that she believes that there is room for deepening the defense cooperation between two countries. What can you say about defense industry cooperation between the two countries?
- Bearing in mind the long-standing business practices and world-recognized experience of Croatia’s defense and other supporting industry, we believe there is room for cooperation in this area. I would like to emphasize that Croatian companies offer a wide range of products which also include demining machines, patrol boats, protective helmets, military and police uniforms, winter boots and ankles, a ballistic vest and other specialized equipment.
- Ms. Minister, you have been short-listed for the position of secretary-general of the Council of Europe. What will be your priorities if you are elected?
- If elected Secretary General my first and utmost priority will be to protect and reaffirm the standards and values of the Council of Europe (CoE), while at the same time strengthen the role of the CoE in the Member States. I would put all my efforts in ensuring the efficiency and sustainability of the system of the European Convention on Human Rights and work on increasing the visibility of the Organisation.
I believe that it is important to work on deepening cooperation of the CoE with other relevant international organizations: the OSCE, UN, and, of course, the EU. I would also continue cooperation with civil society and youth organizations.
There are also some important challenges within the CoE that need to be addressed, like the ongoing reform of the Organization, securing the CoE’slong-term financial sustainability, and creating synergy amongst the CoE main bodies.
I am determined to make every effort, together with all the Member States, to find the best answers to the many challenges Europe is facing today.
- Today we often hear that the European Union faces challenges such as Brexit, the rise of the right-wing, populist movement. As a Foreign Minister of an EU Member State, what is your view on this?
- Often in its history, the EU has been faced with serious challenges. The success of the European project lies in the unity, trust, and solidarity amongst its member States. Our common values have enabled us to make Europe a continent of peace, prosperity, and security. The rise of the right wing and populism has put into question the European project that has developed and continues to develop since the end of World War II.
In order to keep the most successful peace and prosperity project to develop we need to find the right answers to issues that are important for our citizens, such as job creations or threats of extremism and terrorism as well as illegal migrations.
To that end, strong cooperation with the countries of the European neighborhood, including Azerbaijan, would be beneficial.
As EU MS we consider that Brexit should be orderly, as with a no-deal Brexit we risk serious consequences and unpredictability for our citizens and businesses, on both sides. Therefore, our strong view is that the agreed text of the Withdrawal Agreement, as the best outcome of negotiations, is the only way to ensure the orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU. We are strongly against opening or renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement or any of its parts. There are still many uncertainties surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and Croatia is continuing and intensifying its preparations for all possible outcomes (an orderly as well as no-deal Brexit).
We regret the decision of the UK to leave the EU, but we respect their wishes and want to keep the closest possible relations with them after Brexit.
- A new company was to be created for the implementation of the Ionian Adriatic Pipeline (IAP) project, and last year Croatia, Albania, Montenegro, Azerbaijan agreed to launch a JV on the gas pipeline project. Has there been any progress in this direction?
- The Ionic-Adriatic pipeline Project Management Unit (PMU) meeting was held on the sidelines of the 5th Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council Ministerial Meeting on 20 February 2019, in Baku. The representatives from respective ministries and companies of Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and “SOCAR Balkans” (an affiliate of SOCAR) participated in the meeting. The progress in the establishment of the IAP Project Company and the implementation status of the project action plan were discussed at the meeting. It was concluded that the legal framework for the establishment of the Project Company is nearing completion and the participant companies submitted the relevant documents for approval by respective countries’ competent ministries. I am confident that the IAP Project Company will be established soon with its seat in Split, Croatia.
- When will Croatia appoint its new ambassador to Azerbaijan?
- We are opening our Embassy during my visit to Baku and we started the procedure for the appointment of the new Ambassador, so I hope that the Ambassador will be appointed in the near future.