Croatian Parliament Speaker Zeljko Reiner met with his Swiss counterpart Christa Markwalder in Zagreb on Monday, saying that the process to allow Croats to work in Switzerland under the same conditions as other European Union (EU) citizens had advanced fairly well and expressing hope that it would be completed by the summer.
Markwalder explained that Switzerland had still not ratified the protocol that would extend the agreement with the EU on the free movement of people to Croatia because a referendum on immigration policy was held in February 2014 which resulted in uncertainty, but noted that the government in March signed the agreement and recently the parliamentary foreign affairs committee gave its approval for the ratification of the agreement. Now, she added, we are waiting for the green light from the Senate, which could be in June.
"We are trying to speed that up. However, I wish to stress that that protocol was never intended to be discriminating against Croatian citizens," she said.
"The process that will allow Croatian citizens to work in Switzerland under the same conditions as other EU citizens has advanced fairly well and we hope that by summer that process will be completed successfully," Reiner told the press after the meeting.
Reiner and Markwalder spoke about bilateral relations, which they said were "successful" partly thanks to a "well integrated Croatian diaspora."
According to official data, about 35,000 Croatians live in Switzerland, while cultural and religious organisations put their numbers at close to 80,000.
"They are very well integrated and contribute to Switzerland's economy and culture," Reiner said. He recalled that over the past 14 years relations with that alpine country had "died down" and that is why he proposed the signing of a memorandum on parliamentary cooperation, which was greeted by his guest.
The two speakers of parliament agreed that there was room for strengthening economic cooperation.
"Trade between the two countries amounts to about 300 million euro, which is insufficient. Much greater potential exists," Reiner said and added that the new government in Croatia was working on creating a favourable climate for investment.
"We expect significant investments. There are about 50 Swiss companies operating in Croatia and that number can be increased," he said. He also expressed hope that this summer about 210,000 Swiss tourists would visit Croatia, which is how many visited last year.
Markwalder said that Croatia was an important partner, particularly after it had joined the EU, and that both countries had common economic interests.
Switzerland is traditionally a major foreign direct investor and due to the currently strong franc we are seeking new production locations, she said.
She added that she was very happy that Switzerland had donated 45 million Swiss francs to Croatia to reduce social and economic differences, improve infrastructure and education, and promote sustainable projects that will also assist Croatia's development.
Markwalder is accompanied by a delegation comprising representatives of six political parties.
Later on, Markwalder was received by President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. A statement issued by the President's Office said that the meeting expressed mutual satisfaction with current political relations and the possibility to strengthen economic cooperation, particularly in the area of Swiss investments in Croatia and trade.
Both officials agreed that the Croatian community in Switzerland strongly connected the two countries and that it was a vital factor in bilateral relations. Grabar-Kitaorivc expressed her satisfaction with the signing of Protocol III, which extends the agreement between Switzerland and the EU regarding free movement of people to Croatia and expressed hope that the positive opinion of the Swiss parliament's foreign affairs committee will lead to a positive debate on the ratification of the Protocol.