Zagreb - France strongly supported Croatia's European Union accession and after achieving that goal Croatia has a new one, helping the countries in the region in their EU integration, French Senate President Jean-Pierre Bel said in Zagreb on Thursday.
"France strongly supported Croatia in its aspirations to join the EU. All political options in the country unanimously voted for the ratification of your (accession) treaty... Today Croatia is faced with difficulties but France is no exception. We will support the efforts Croatia is making to overcome the difficulties and to have the people in Croatia start appreciating again what the EU is and have hope in its development," Bel told reporters after meeting with Croatian Parliament Speaker Josip Leko and addressing parliament.
In parliament, Bel said Croatia's path did not end with EU accession and that now it should help the countries in the region on their paths. He said Croatia and Serbia should serve as examples of reconciliation as France and Germany once did. Speaking of the economic situation, Bel said he hoped that "the current austerity measures will pass and that economic growth will start again." He said the European structural funds could provide the basis for Croatia's development and that French companies would be willing to follow Croatia on that path.
Leko said Croatia was looking forward to cooperation with France in European institutions. "France is an important EU member, Croatia recently became one. It's very important that the EU has understanding for Croatia's problems. Friendly France will support us in the programmes and reforms we are undertaking."
In parliament, Bel mentioned the importance of cultural cooperation between the two countries, especially the "Croatie, la voici" festival in France in 2012. He said France would hold a similar promotion in Croatia next year. He thanked Croatia for its support when France had to intervene in Mali and the Central African Republic. "We thank Croatia for understanding that it wasn't about the protection of any interests but about maintaining the values we believe in, which are the freedom and the integrity of those peoples."
Bel also met with the French-Croatian Friendship Group in the Croatian parliament and the parliamentary European Affairs Committee. On Friday, he is due to meet with representatives of the French-Croatian Business Club and President Ivo Josipovic. (Hina)