Spain & Croatia: Double comparative interview

Written and done by Sergio Serrano Pérez


The two people I have interviewed are one of them, Mr. Neven Pelicarić, he is the Croatian Ambassador in Spain and the other one is Mr. Rafael Mateos Yuste, who is the major of Navalmoral de la Mata, a village located in the autonomous community of Extremadura, in the mid-west of Spain. With these interviews I want to compare the different situations of both countries, one of them an EU member since 1986, and the other an ex-Yugoslavian country, which the 1/7/2013 will be part of the EU as its 28th member; the 2nd ex-Yugoslavian country in the EU after Slovenia.

Mr. Neven Pelicarić started his career during a war, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, being one of the youngest people, if not the youngest one, working there. After that he became the first Croatian diplomat with career send abroad, to New York, in between 1992-1996. Then he was designed as UN general sub-director. Later, in 2000 he was sent as 2nd leadership to the Croatian bilateral mission in Vienna, coming back to Vienna in 2004; being the Political Affairs Sub-Director for a while and, after that, ambassador and set as Minister’s Chief of Staff. Then, during 3 years he was UE General Director and Political Director of the Ministry. In 2009, he was sent to Spain as the Ambassador of Croatia here.

Taking into account that the country is going to be part of the EU the next month, the interview was mainly focused on Croatia and also the crisis. Croatia started the career to enter in the EU in 2000 with the candidacy to the Stability and Association Treaty signed in 2003; obtaining the following year the status of candidate for joining to the EU. In between 2005-2011 the negotiations took place and then a ratification process. For Croatia, the EU is an umbrella for safety, economy… and also a ‘coming back home’. ‘We can think about the EU as a house with 27 rooms, some bigger, some smaller; Croatian now joined a very small room (…) and now, it is going to be a house with 28 rooms. And it is true that now the roof drops but outside, it is raining; so, it is better to be inside with leaks, covering ourselves together, than to be outside’. The Balkan country is also going to adopt the common currency, the euro; nowadays you do not have the option, but you have to adopt it sooner or later and Croatia is expected to adopt the euro in two or three years from now on.

The entrance of Croatia is meaning to be something positive for Croatia, which will be able to use cohesion and structuration funds. According, also, to the words of the Ambassador, Mr. Pelicarić, Croatia is going to be more attractive to foreign direct investments; taking into account that it is a safe country, in international currency and loan markets. This is a peak in the Croatian race of getting closer to European and Euro-Atlantics associations; Croatia is a NATO member since 2009. Although Croatia wants firmly enter to the EU, as the Ambassador has just said, the Croatian population does not agree totally. In the last referendum made in the EU issue there they reach a 66’7% supporting them; however, the total participation was a bit less than half of the total population of Croatia. The problem, told by Mr. Pelicarić, is that Croatian population is very changeable; when everything goes well, they are pro-European, whey it does not, they are not.

My other interviewed is Mr. Rafael Mateos Yuste, major of Navalmoral de la Mata, exclusively dedicated to the political career since 1979; year when he presented to the local elections as the number two in the list for UCD (Unión, Centro y Democracia) in the village and in that legislature first deputy mayor. Then, he became part of AP, which is now PP (Partido Popular) in 1983. During the period 1983-1995 he did not present to elections but he was regional parliamentary in the Asamblea de Extremadura (regional assembly). In 1995, PP won the elections being him first deputy mayor again, the following elections PP won but did not enter in the local government because of an agreement between PSOE and an independent councilor. Since 2003 PP and Mr. Mateos Yuste govern Navalmoral. He was also in 2000 deputy in Courts and Assistant Representative in the Commission of the Pact of Toledo and has been in different charges in the provincial, regional and even national executive uninterruptedly since 1983.

This interview was more focused in the economic impact of the crisis in Extremadura, which is one of the autonomous communities less affected by the crisis and also, and unluckily, in words of Mr. Mateos, the only one in convergence or ‘objective 1’ in Spain. As he said, the economic problems Extremadura is suffering are due to the management of the previous regional government (PSOE). The region has been governed by the PSOE during seven legislatures; in the first six ones, with Rodríguez Ibarra as President, the debt was of 1000 million € and only in the only legislature with another President in the Junta, Férnandez Vara, that debt raised until 2400 million € in just four years, a 150% more. So, when PP entered to the regional government in July 2011 with J.A. Monago, the budget was gone.

Me with Mr. Mateos, Mayor of Navalmoral de la Mata

National adjustment has also affected the region but much more less than the regional ones; mostly were focused on infrastructure, as a consequence there is the EX-A1 (road) unfinished, it connects Navalmoral with Monfortinho (Portugal). However, the most affected aspect was the welfare state. Also, as the population in the region has heard, many health care centers in places with 100 people living there in order to rationalize the expense. Extremadura, on the contrary, has not suffered the same nonsense thing than in other Spanish regions, like some airports that are in the middle of the country without any use, as Mr. Mateos says. He hopes that we soon continue with investments on roads and the AVE (high speed train). On the other side of the coin, we have agriculture and industry due to its importance in the region and to the almost inexistency respectively. According to him, in Extremadura we should focus our attention to fields but more in the transformation of agricultural products.

Now, it is when both interviews “collide” in terms of the nature of the question asked. Both in Balkan Peninsula and in Iberian one, independence problem are taking place: Kosovo and Catalonia respectively. Both cases cannot be considered as similar according to Mr. Pelicarić, Kosovo has crossed a situation of human rights violations and war; people could not go to school and were not allowed to certain jobs. They were living in a non-democratic regime during 90 years within Yugoslavia. Croatia is helping Kosovar institutions, with an excellence center in Zagreb. The main difference in this with Spain is that Croatia does recognize Kosovar independence, after a couple of weeks since the declaration in front of The Hague Tribunal; however the problem of Kosovo, which is especially with Serbia, should be solved between both governments.

The main difference between Catalonia and Kosovo cases is the one aforementioned; Kosovo has suffered a war, Catalonia no. In the case of Catalonia, people were allowed to go to school, having whatever job… not as in the Balkans with the war last century. But, for Spain, Catalonia in a kind of headache the country is suffering. The region is, in absolute terms the one with the highest debt, after the first term 2013, 50489 million €, 250% higher comparing it with the one from Madrid. ‘It is an absolute mistake, apart from an illegality, the sovereignist derive Mr. Mas, President of the Generalitat is carrying out, which, since my point of view, does not beneficiate Catalonians’; in words of Mr. Mateos. Being the most ancient nation in Europe, and after 500 years, they are pretending being equals but a bit more than the rest of Spanish and according to our Constitution, all of us must be equals. According to the words the mayor told us during the interview, Catalonia has been bleeding Spain dry comparing themselves with other attempts of independence even with Kosovo; something not available because as the Croatian Ambassador Mr. Pelicarić said, both situations are far from one another and it is not possible trying to compare both of them.

Now asking them about a common feature for the whole Europe and the EU: the economic crisis and its possible end; none of them could give us a specific answer to the question, of course, none of them is an economist. For example, in the case of Spain, according to Mr. Mateos, we are watching the light in the end of the tunnel, but we do not know how much time we would watch it. We would need to reach an unemployment rate of 9% as in 2003 to ensure that we are out of the crisis. From the other interviewed, we are on the good way, the measures each government is establishing in its country, are yielding benefits.

The last point in both interviews was the economy of each country, its strongest sectors and its weakest ones.

In the case of Spain, according to Mr. Mateos’ testimony, the promotion of youth employment and helping SMEs. Also reaching a bank union in Europe would be useful in order to achieve again stability in Spain. The country need also not to think just in domestic consume, but more in exports which in the last moments have risen so it is now more competitive. Following those premises according to Mr. Mateos we would be able and we must “escape” from the crisis.

However, in the case of Croatian economy, the situation is not much more different than in Spain, in economic terms. As in Spain, Croatia has suffered a property bubble, not as bigger as in the other country; but there are many apartments and buildings already built but with nobody in them. Another aspect of the Balkan country was its important industry, destroyed during the war by bombing them. The loss in Croatia GDP was huge, 150% lost. As Mr. Pelicarić mentioned as a way to compare it and make us have a clearer idea, ‘the earthquake and the tsunami in Japan, something quite serious which affects the whole world, direct loss in Japanese GDP was of 7%, and Japanese government is going to carry out a 20-years-reconstruction-process to reach the same level’. The loss in Croatia because of the world was 150% of GDP and they had to reconstruct 132 thousand of destroyed homes. Another sector affected is shipyards that lost a considerable amount of money and they are now privatized.

On the other side, one of the strongest sectors, in both countries, that increase is tourism. Croatia attracts 3 times more tourists than population the country has (4300000 people), and people there, the government and also the Ambassador of the country in Spain, that it could go in the same way that it is going now to get close to the end of the crisis. Spain, on his own, attracts 150 million tourists approximately per year and Croatia last year attracts 12 million tourists.

Another important aspect in economy is SMEs which now need that its credit flows again. In Croatia, SMEs are something quite new because previously only handmade enterprises were available, and they need to develop within the society. This is something similar as what Mr. Mateos says that in Spain, where SMEs are not as new as in Croatia, we need to help SMEs in order to stimulate our economy to come out of the crisis.

So, basically, we are in front of two countries which are not very different at all, in economic aspects we share the importance of some sectors like tourism and SMEs. In both regions there have been problem with the independence, or attempt of in one of the cases, even we cannot compare them due to the different background each of them has. The only thing in which both states are more different is that, currently, Spain in an EU member and Croatia is not; however, this fact will change by 1/7/2013.



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