Inter Parliamentary visit to Croatia
On Friday 8th March 2013, Fabian returned from a short 5 day visit to Croatia which he had visited as a member of the British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). This was his first visit to the country that is now well known (again) for its tourism but not long ago was the theatre for violent ethnic conflict as the former Yugoslavia split into separate countries.
Fabian was concerned to visit Croatia as it is scheduled to become part of the European Union on the 1st of July 2013 and he wanted to understand if this would have any significant implications for the United Kingdom and perhaps for the constituency which is often a destination for many foreigners seeking to visit, work and live in this country.
The members of the delegation were:
The Earl of Dundee (Conservative) - Delegation Leader
Nigel Adams MP (Conservative, Selby and Ainsty)
Fabian Hamilton MP (Labour, Leeds North East)
Lord Harrison of Chester (Labour) - Former MEP
Anne McKechin (Labour, Glasgow North)
Stephanie Kenyon IPU Clerk
This is an extract from Fabian's diary of the visit.
We flew to Zagreb early on Monday 4th March arriving at lunchtime. Our first meeting was over lunch with a briefing from British Embassy staff, followed by a roundtable discussion with Croatian officials on educational collaboration between the UK and Croatia. A tour of Zagreb was ended by a buffet meal at the History Café in the old town.
Tuesday was a day of meetings with Government Ministers starting with an audience with President Ivo Josipovitch, the popular elected Head of State who is in his second term and is also a well-known composer and classical musician.
We also met with the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Vesna Pusitch, the Home Affairs and Justice Ministers. Dinner was at the Writers' Club with entrepreneurs and business people.
Croatia has a coalition government led by the Social Democratic Party, Labour's sister party. It will join the European Union on 1st July this year - the first of the former Yugoslavian Republics involved in the terrible conflict (Slovenia is already a member, but wasn't involved in the civil war). There is huge excitement in Croatia about its imminent accession to the EU, especially after the bar to entry was placed far higher than previous the applicants Romania and Bulgaria. Croatia is a small country with a population of 4.3 million.
We spent most of Wednesday in the Parliament building in Zagreb, meeting fellow Parliamentarians including the Speaker and Chair of the European Integration Committee, who also chairs the Croatian/British Friendship Group, Daniel Mondekar. A press conference was then held at our hotel where a number of journalists asked pertinent questions about British Croatian relations and the EU, and then I was asked to be interviewed by a Croatian news website (link to follow). The interview went on for about forty five minutes and was very comprehensive, covering a whole range of subjects.
On Thursday morning we set off for the Istrian Peninsula traveling via the mediaeval mountain town of Groznan - which is now an artistic colony in the summer - to the coastal resort of Rovinj.
A tour of the ancient fishing village was followed by dinner with the Mayor, Councillors, local MPs and the chairman of the company which owned the hotel chain at which were staying. An early morning start on Friday took us over the mountain range which separates Istria from the rest of the country, through deep snow and mist back to Zagreb International Airport for the two and a half hour flight back to London. Before the flight, though, we were greeted at the airport by the British Ambassador, David Slinn, who listened to our account of the week and offered some observations about Croatia's future in the EU and as a good friend of the UK.
Negotiations for Croatia to enter the European Union started ten years ago and has required that country to significantly change many state institutions in order to comply with enhanced requirements for membership.