Estonia supports Croatia's entry into the Schengen Area and this requires dealing well with the migrant crisis which Croatia, through which 600,000 refugees and migrants passed, showed that it could, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said on Monday.
We firmly support Croatia on the road to the Schengen Area, Ilves said after meeting with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. He was on an official visit to Croatia.
He commended Croatia for how it dealt with the migrant crisis and said that the agreement between Turkey and the European Union, aimed at stopping the migrant flow into Europe, was a step in the right direction. Croatia has done a huge thing in that respect and when we talk about Schengen, when you have a crisis related to migration, then the imperative is that you handle the problem well in order to enter the Schengen Area, he said.
Grabar-Kitarovic said the Schengen system guaranteed freedom of movement, but security too, and that becoming part of that area was not just symbolic for Croatia. "That will benefit our economy, citizens, but security too."
"We are grateful to Estonia for the assistance and support in Croatia's alignment to the Schengen system and hope that in future cooperation we will manage to bridge those elements which Croatia should yet build and which will be an increasingly bigger challenge when it comes to the number of migrants arriving in the EU, but which I'm confident we can do in a very short time," Grabar-Kitarovic said.
She regretted the suspension of the Schengen regime, saying she hoped it would be restored soon and that wire fences between Croatia and other countries, put they up to stop illegal migrants, would be removed.
The two presidents agreed that Croatian-Estonian economic relations could be improved. Ilves said Grabar-Kitarovic's Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Initiative was welcome and that more could be achieved in the relations between the two countries in that context.
We should do more to boost economic relations. The two countries' business communities could launch cooperation in IT because the possibilities are big, Ilves said, adding that there was also potential in cooperation in digitisation, with which Grabar-Kitarovic agreed.
"There is huge room for expanding our economic cooperation in infrastructure building as well as in connecting Croatian and Estonian ports, notably Rijeka and Tallinn, also in intermodal infrastructure connections, energy cooperation and the digitisation of central Europe and the EU in general," she said, adding that the Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Initiative would contribute to that.
Noting that Estonia had been the first in digitisation in the EU and that it had achieved huge progress in the IT sector, she voiced confidence that grounds for cooperation between Croatian and Estonian companies would be laid during Ilves's visit, so that Croatia could use Estonia's experience to develop competitiveness and industry, fight corruption, and enhance the efficiency of the state administration and local government.
Grabar-Kitarovic and Ilves will continue the talks at a working dinner. On Tuesday, he will meet with Croatian Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic and give a talk on Europe and the crossroads at the University of Zagreb.