Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Miro Kovac said in Dubrovnik on Thursday at the first annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR) that cooperation was needed now more than ever, adding that EU member states and countries that have not yet joined that bloc were facing common challenges.

Countries participating in the Strategy are also members of the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative -- Croatia, Italy, Greece, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania, and Kovac said these countries are part of old Europe, both culturally and geographically.

"Now, more than ever before, we have a need to work together and produce results. Countries that have already joined the EU and countries on the path to the bloc are facing common challenges. We are here to offer innovative solutions to strengthen small and medium-sized enterprises," Kovac told a news conference before the event opened.

Kovac underscored that Europe must have a common response to the migrant crisis.

"National responses are insufficient. Croatia has made a strong contribution on that front. Fate has decided that our Adriatic and Ionian Region is in the epicentre of the crisis. We are aware that these aren't issues that can't be solved with money. We need European solidarity. On the other hand, our citizens expects us to secure growth and employment and we must have a joint approach when dealing with all challenges," Kovac said.

Asked if concrete projects within the Strategy were discussed, such as the Peljesac Bridge project, Kovac said that the bridge on the southern Croatian peninsula of Peljesac was in the interests of all countries of the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative and the EU.

"The Peljesac Bridge is a national project but it also fits in the project of connecting the countries members of the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative," Kovac said.

European Commission for Regional Policy Corina Cretu said that countries of the Adriatic and Ionian Region must be actively involved in this framework.

This framework is very important and all countries must must be actively involved. The EU will assume the coordinating role and I see a lot of potential for encouraging growth and connections in this strategy, Cretu said.

Asked if it was true that economic differences between the countries of the Adriatic-Ionian region were big, Cretu said the Strategy provided a framework.

Croatian Regional Development and EU Funds Minister Tomislav Tolusic said that with the Strategy Croatia was getting an opportunity to develop its own potential through transnational potential.

At the forum, government representatives of the eight member states of the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative adopted a declaration expressing their concern about the refugee and migrant crisis in the region and entrusting the EUSAIR Governing Board with the task of drawing up assistance plans to strengthen the resilience of the countries facing the crisis.

The document was adopted by the government representatives of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia in the presence of European Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Cretu.

We express our deep concern about the course of the ongoing migration crisis in the region, which requires adequate responses at all levels, the declaration says.

The eight countries signatories undertook to improve regional cooperation by promoting well-prepared and adequate projects. The declaration stressed the need for coordinated action in the Adriatic and Ionian Region in close cooperation with the European Commission.

The declaration praised Croatia's efforts in bringing the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative to a higher level of cooperation.

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