EU can help Croatia deal with its past, says President Higgins during official visit

Union ‘immensely valuable’ in helping State deal with Northern Irish conflict

President Michael Higgins, left, reviews Croatian honor guards with his Croatian counterpart Ivo Josipovic, right, in Zagreb, Croatia. President Higgins is on three day official visit to Croatia. Photograph: Damir Sencar/AP Photo

President Michael Higgins, left, reviews Croatian honor guards with his Croatian counterpart Ivo Josipovic, right, in Zagreb, Croatia. President Higgins is on three day official visit to Croatia. Photograph: Damir Sencar/AP Photo

Thu, Jun 6, 2013, 01:00


The EU can help Croatia deal with its past conflicts in the same way it helped Ireland deal with the conflict in the North, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Joining the EU helped Ireland create “new narratives of relationships in dealing with the conflict in Northern Ireland”, he said during a State visit to Croatia, which will join the EU on July 1st.

Ireland like Croatia had to manage “the ethics of memory” and the EU had been “immensely valuable” in helping to achieve that, he said.

“Croatia too will find that this space of the European Union will, I hope, be positive in relation to the development of the entire region,” he said, after holding talks with Croatian president Ivo Josipovic.

Croatia will become the 28th member of the EU after a 10-year process to gain entry, which was at times held up by the country’s difficult past with its neighbours.

Slovenia, its Yugoslav neighbour, blocked its accession over a border dispute. Delays in handing over suspects to the UN’s Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague wanted for crimes against Serbian civilians also held up the process.

Croatia’s entry showed that the EU was an “unfinished project”, Mr Higgins said. He said the EU should be “able to make a contribution of an ethical kind” on matters such as climate change and global poverty. It must also deal with the problem of youth unemployment in Europe, he added. The EU “must be one that is a union of citizens”, he said.

Mr Josipovic said Croatia was ready to tackle the economic problems it faced and that EU policies on austerity would “not jeopardise our citizens”. These problems include almost 20 per cent unemployment and no growth for the last four years.

Last night, Mr Higgins attended a state dinner with Mr Josipovic. Today he will meet prime minister Zoran Milanovic and deliver a lecture at the University of Zagreb on Ireland’s 40 years in the EU.

Bilateral talks have concentrated on trade and tourism, which represent an opportunity for growth between the countries since trading is relatively low at €50 million in both directions. The trip ends tomorrow with a business lunch which will be attended by Enterprise Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Bord Bia. Local business will be represented by the Croatian Chamber of Economy and the Croatian Employers’ Association.

Developing links between Irish and Croatian universities is also a focus of the trip. An Irish studies course is run at the University of Zagreb while Trinity College Dublin currently offers a Croatian language and literature course.