Croatia – celebrating first female President
This week Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic became the first female president of Croatia, winning by the narrowest of margins. She is a former foreign minister and member of the centre-right opposition Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party, which pushed the country towards independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Her success is a sign that Croatia may be shifting to the right after the centre-left’s failure to end six years of recession.
The election of Grabar-Kitarovic is considered to be a barometer of voter sentiment ahead of the parliamentary elections which will be held later this year. Croatia has an unemployment rate of close to 20% and the economy is not expected to improve in the near future. The country joined the EU in July 2013 and while tourism to Adriatic towns like Dubrovnik remains a key part of the Croatian economy, assistance for new businesses has been slow to materialise. EU membership theoretically brings access to various funds for small and medium enterprises, but getting hold of the cash can be a challenge.
Before EU accession Croatia was seen as being “illiterate in business terms”. Little seems to have changed since 2013, because the country has yet to take advantage of EU structural funds to give companies a push in the right direction. This would open access to better funding for the development of new products by SMEs in Croatia.
Hrvoje Marusic, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and European Integration, points out that some gains have already been made. Exports to EU member states rose by 15% in the first year of Croatia’s membership. “We finally have become part of the single market, with all its freedoms,” he says. “Business owners tell me they are very optimistic and feel immediate benefits, and that it is much easier doing business than it was prior to membership.”
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Adapted from articles on bbb.co.uk