Euronews speaks to Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković about joining the euro and Schengen zones, soaring prices, sanctions against Russia and lessons learned from war.
On 1 January 2023, Croatia adopted the euro and became the 20th member of the Eurozone and the 27th member of Europe's Schengen area, a zone with no internal border controls.
Just a few weeks on since the transition, Euronews asked Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenković for his thoughts on this milestone in the country's history.
"Indeed, [it] was a historical moment for Croatia. We are the only country so far to have joined on the same day both the eurozone and the Schengen area," said Andrej Plenković.
"And, of course, the transition... went very well. There were no problems. The cash machines were functioning. There were enough euro coins and euro banknotes. The entire system of transfers of payments was functioning perfectly. We had the first two weeks of dual use of Croatian kunas and euros without any difficulties."
"As of Sunday, we are only using euros so we can say it was very good. The only incident that we have is that some of the economic operators actually lifted their prices in the context of rounding the prices from kunas to euros, which was not fair. And we have now the different inspections dealing with these issues and trying to, as a government, trying to convince them to put the prices back to what it was at the end of December of 2022," Plenković said.
One of the biggest concerns for citizens, when they enter the euro area is that the prices will rise. As Europe grapples with a cost of living crisis, Euronews asked the Croatian Prime Minister what special measures his country was taking to tackle this.
"We have, of course, as everybody else globally on the European continent, in Croatia been facing the ramifications of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, its consequences for the energy crisis, for the food crisis, for the [inflationary] pressures," Plenković admitted.
"The fact that Croatia's six-year-long path of joining the eurozone coincided with the altered global context, which had an influence also on the rise of prices in Croatia, and the inflation. I would just like to say that in 2022, according to our statistical office, the inflation in Croatia is 10.8[%], which is just 1% above the average of the eurozone, but it is lower than in all of the countries of the EU who are from Central and Eastern Europe and do not have the euro."
"So, we believe that this little situation will calm down, that things will go back to normal. We have measures and of course, we as a government intervened a lot. I had a package of €3.6 billion for our citizens and our economic operators in the course of 2022 [to] preserve the social cohesion and avoided social fractures. So, I would say when the state did everything we could, it is fair that all the actors in our system, including some of the economic operators - I’m emphasising some not all - should behave adequately," he added.
EU sanctions against Russia
The so-called international community, including Europe and the US, have imposed sanctions against Russia to limit its capability to finance this war. But, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that this is not enough.
When asked if he thought Europe was doing enough to stand up to Russia, Andrej Plenković told Euronews: "The situation with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which is now ongoing for almost 11 months, is an unprecedented situation on the European continent. We were the victim of the aggression at the beginning of the nineties, but the scale of this military campaign against Ukraine is far bigger and the consequences for the people who were killed, those who had to seek refuge, the enormous material damage and of course, the consequences for the whole of Europe."
"My feeling as one of the leaders of the European Council is that we have never seen, so far, such a unity of the European Union, such a determination, such a clear and articulate condemnation of Russia and such a huge extent of solidarity with Ukraine, not only politically, not diplomatically, economically, financially, in a humanitarian way, but also in military terms."
When asked about how he saw the war ending in Ukraine, Croatia's PM said "As with every conflict, it will end at the diplomatic table. But the key thing is that we support Ukraine in regaining their territories, in preserving their sovereignty, in preserving the constitutional order. And this is what the whole heroic fight of the Ukrainian people and their military and their leaders who decided to stay and be with their people is finally going to be the winning element."
Three decades on from war in the former Yugoslavia, Euronews asked Andrej Plenković if there were any lessons that could apply and could be useful for the situation in Ukraine right now.
"I was advocating for the last eight years, since the crisis in 2014, since the occupation of Crimea, the illegal referenda, the annexation and everything that happened in Donetsk and Luhansk region[s]. At the time, I was a member of the European Parliament and head of the delegation for Ukraine. And the experience of Croatia, which we've had, and we just had the 25th anniversary of the peaceful - I'm emphasising, I cannot emphasise more for the Russian media in particular - peaceful reintegration of the former occupied territories of the Eastern Slavonia through diplomatic mediation, through the involvement of the United Nations, through special mechanisms that ensured that everybody who was living there could stay, and all of those who wanted that Croatia is rounding its territorial integrity and constitutional order were successful. That was the fantastic operation 25 years ago, and I think that was the model that could have and should have been applied also for Donetsk and Luhansk region[s]."
Recent tensions in the Balkans
Recently, concerns have been raised over stability in the Balkan region, notably in Bosnia, where there's a huge Croatian community, and between Serbia and Kosovo. But Croatia's prime minister is confident that these tensions will not spill over into wider destabilisation.
"There was never more engagement at the highest level of the European Union with the region of the Western Balkans than in the course of 2022," Andrej Plenković said.
"I think all of my fellow colleagues understood that we need to engage more, talk to the leaders and influence the process. This is happening. Second, Serbia and Montenegro are negotiating. Finally, North Macedonia and Albania started the accession negotiations. Bosnia and Herzegovina was granted candidate status and Kosovo has applied for membership."
"What the countries in the region need to do now is to ease the tensions between them, address the issues of the functionality of the state and democracy in many of them and moreover, to ease the tensions which were previously the causes of conflict and also [a] military situation."
"I think that with such a high involvement and engagement of the European partners in the EU institutions, we will not go through some sort of incident that might lead to destabilisation. But we need to be careful, remain engaged, and all the leaders should take on their own responsibility. Because the more countries are stable and functioning, the faster their way to the European Union will be."