Dear President of the Republic, dear Speaker of the Parliament, dear hosts, dear guests!
Today we commemorate the fifth anniversary of the accession of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union. I remember when a large delegation of Croatian employers presented the potential of our economy to the EU administration in Brussels in 2002. Since I was the youngest person there, I was the last one to speak. It seemed as though everything had been said and I did not want to repeat the words of those before me, so I shortened my speech by giving a glimpse of my family's history. It goes something like this:
My great-great-grandfather, Giovanni Tedeschi, was a bodyguard to Maximilian Von Habsburg stationed at the Miramare Castle in Trieste. In 1864 Maximilian decided to accept the monarchists' invitation and, despite the objections from his brother and the emperor of that time, Franz Joseph I of Austria, go to Mexico. My great-great-grandfather was already too old and, prior to retiring, he was transferred to Dubrovnik where he looked after a summer residence on Lokrum owned by the Habsburgs. Great-grandfather Giovanni was of German descent – this is visible from the etymology of our last name; the word “Tedeschi” in the Italian language means “Germans” – he was an Austrian citizen, an Italian in terms of nationality, and when he arrived in Dubrovnik, he married a Croatian woman. My family has lived in the European Union since the middle of the 19th century and I have always found it unthinkable for our children in the 21st century to be left out of something we belong to in terms of geography, history, ideology and economy and for a much longer period of time than written on the documents we signed five years ago.
Today, more than ever, it seems unthinkable that we could end up outside this community.
First of all – this is good for our society, for our children who have the opportunity to get education at the best universities Europe has to offer and work where it would be most beneficial for them. This gives them breadth, fullness and sharpness. We cannot be selfish with our children. It is up to us to ensure that our educational institutions are top quality, that they correspond to the needs of the market and the needs of the society, and that we are capable of offering them quality competitive jobs and terms that go along with them. We have to be an open society focused on quality in each sense, on professionalism and transparency. It is only with collectiveness, inclusion of all, even those who come to us, that we can achieve progress and improvement of our society. Nothing belongs to us, not this air, not this soil, not even our children if we cannot look after them.
Second – it is good for our economy. Our market is too small and we have to find a way to profit from a large common market that is open to us. We have to take advantage of the opportunities that exist – use the means available to us. We have to be competitive in an environment where we still borrow money at rates higher than companies in most EU countries.
We undoubtedly feel the positive sides of the membership! Without the EU membership, it would be difficult for innovative companies in Croatia, such as Infobip, Nanobit, Rimac Automobili to develop and succeed this way, including those with a much longer tradition in our area; such as Ericsson Nikola Tesla, Vetropack Straža, Končar Elektroindustrija. These companies are globally competitive in their line of business, but it is also important that they are competitive on the formal, administrative level and that there are as many of them as possible. It is important for them to be able to operate and develop business in Croatia, pay taxes and create new jobs, raise the bar for the entire society.
I had the privilege and responsibility to be a member of the National Committee for Monitoring the Accession Negotiations from 2005 when the Parliament made the decision regarding the formation of that body, all the way to 2013 when we became a full EU member. There have not been many bodies in the recent Croatian history who made conclusions via consensuses. Everyone was equally represented in the National Committee – the ruling party, the opposition, representatives of the academic community, office of the President of the Republic, labour unions and employers. As a society, we have shown wisdom. We were united in our journey to the European Union and, despite various political and social viewpoints, there were no disputes about it being our sole perspective.
This is why it is necessary to nurture social tolerance and openness of the society. We have to open up to new ideas and paradigms. Digging ourselves into political, that is, ideological trenches, won't produce new values.
There is a flip side to this, one that is a lot more painful. By joining the EU, we did not simply draw the winning lottery ticket. By removing the barriers, as an economy, we have become more exposed with limited possibilities of any favouritism policies or protection of domestic business entities. The fact is, some of the companies were better prepared for the ways of doing business in the EU than others, and the lack of this responsibility, in some cases, has had a negative impact on the entire society. We have to accept and get used to the fact that only quality and responsible behaviours guarantee survival and prosperity. Let the settlement that is currently making greater waves than the fifth anniversary of the EU accession, serve as our reminder that the times of protectionism, back-scratching and lack of transparency are behind us.
Europe today, the European Union, is not the perfect place. It has its internal and external challenges – from greater political instability of certain members, strengthening of extreme political options, non-existence of a common security policy all the way to various viewpoints in terms of protection of basic human rights. One of the most powerful members is exiting the Union that is more divided than its founders would like it to be. However, within the European Union, we have a framework for a much faster and better quality development path to a more prosperous, happier society. However, the keys to those successes are in our hands and we must start unlocking these successes as soon as possible.
I am experiencing the syntagma of being a European as a feeling of belonging to great values. A true European is someone who respects and nurtures his/her own distinctiveness but, at the same time, realises that our differences carry a great quality, that only in synergies with other nations and cultures on the European soil we can create a better, safer, wealthier and happier world. Let's not forget that entrepreneurship, especially trade, has an important role. It smooths out the sharp edges of our characters and makes people, and the society, better. It connects, builds bridges, allows an exchange of not only goods and services, but of ideas, initiatives and dreams.
By paraphrasing Churchill, in the end I will say the following: we do not need to pretend that the European Union is perfect and that no better form of a community could exist. However, it is the best form of uniting European countries that we know. As a country, let us strive to capitalise on all the advantages the membership allows us, before we turn to criticism. Then, let us strive to, as a rightful, soon to be presiding, member use all the mechanisms to make our contribution to making this community we are a part of more functional and successful. Let us sustain the integration of the remaining countries because only a complete European Union enables peace, tolerance and prosperity. And this is something all of us should strive for.