Zagreb - Croatian Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković said on Tuesday that during its chairmanship of the European Union Croatia would strongly advocate the EU integration of Western Balkan countries based on individual merit and fulfillment of membership criteria.
"In less than a year Croatia will for the first time chair the Council of the European Union, and enlargement will be one of our four priorities, along with economic growth and employment, connectivity and security," Jandroković said at a conference of parliament speakers of Adriatic-Ionian Initiative member states in the Montenegrin coastal town of Budva.
The Adriatic-Ionian Initiative was launched in Ancona in 2000, bringing together nine countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia. It serves as a forum for exchanging political views and promoting multilateral cooperation in areas such as transport, maritime affairs, tourism, education, protection of the environment and cultural heritage, and combating all forms of organised crime.
"Croatia is particularly interested in cooperation in the Adriatic region. The Adriatic is a major resource for us and its potential for tourism is treated as a national priority, so we will emphasise the importance of cooperation through this forum and bilateral meetings," Jandroković told Croatian reporters covering the conference.
On the margins of the conference, Jandroković met with Albanian Parliament Speaker Gramoz Ruci, expressing support for Albania's EU membership bid and reform efforts. He said that Croatia was willing to continue to provide Albania with professional and technical assistance, especially through parliamentary cooperation, inviting Ruci to visit Croatia.
The two officials agreed that the initiative was a good framework for cooperation in the Adriatic-Ionian region.
"Albania is important to us because we share the Adriatic region and we have a problem with refuse coming from Albania. This forum is a chance for us to discuss environmental protection in the Adriatic because the Adriatic is a very important resource that ensures tourism development and it won't remain this way unless we look after it ecologically," Jandroković said.
Montenegrin Prime Minister Duško Marković said in his opening remarks that dialogue was a necessary precondition for strengthening the partnership and promoting cooperation in tourism, culture, sustainable fisheries and clean energy in the Adriatic-Ionian region.