France recognized Croatia on 15 January 1992 and established diplomatic relations with Zagreb in April 1992. Our bilateral relations developed from the democratic transition that followed the death of President Tudjman in December 1999 and are excellent.
In particular, France has provided Croatia with constant political and technical support throughout the process of accession to the European Union: numerous bilateral cooperation projects made it possible to support Croatia in its administrative adaptation process with a view to joining the EU as the 28th Member State. Croatia’s EU Accession Treaty was unanimously ratified by both houses of the French Parliament on 17 January 2013.
The views of France and Croatia converge on the main European and international issues, including development and the European integration of the Western Balkans, in the framework of the Brdo-Brijuni Process and the Berlin-Vienna-Paris process.
Bilateral relations were marked in 2015 by several high points: the signing of the Action Plan under the France-Croatia Strategic Partnership, the “Rendez-vous” Zagreb festival of French culture, and the full liberalization of access to the French labour market for Croatian workers.
Interparliamentary exchanges are active, through the France-Croatia Interparliamentary Friendship Groups of the French National Assembly (Patrick Bloche) and the French Senate (Ms Michèle André).
The “Croatie, la voici” Festival was officially opened by François Hollande and Ivo Josipović at the Cluny Museum in Paris on 9 October 2012. The Croatian cultural season, which lasted until January 2013, enabled Croatians to make their country known in France and among the many visiting tourists.
In 2013, Mr Thierry Repentin, the then French Minister Delegate for European Affairs and his German counterpart, Mr Michael Link, who were also Secretaries-General for French-German cooperation, made a joint visit to Zagreb to reiterate the full support of both countries on the eve of Croatia’s accession to the EU.
President Ivo Josipović was invited to France by the President of the French Republic on the occasion of the 14 July celebrations in 2013 when Croatian troops marched for the first time down the Champs Elysées. The Minister of State for European Affairs, Harlem Désir, visited Croatia on 15 February 2015 on the occasion of the inauguration of President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. Mr Branko Grčić, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Regional Development and EU funds, and Mr Joško Klisović, Deputy Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, visited France on 2 March 2015, where they met with Mr Matthias Fekl, Minister of State for Foreign Trade, the Promotion of Tourism and French Nationals Abroad and with Mr Harlem Désir, Minister of State for European Affairs. On that occasion, Harlem Désir and Joško Klisović signed the France-Croatia Strategic Partnership Action Plan for the period 2014-2017. Harlem Désir also visited Croatia on 14 July 2015 to attend the French festival in Croatia. On that occasion, he met with Prime Minister Zoran Milanović and his Croatian counterpart.
The previous Head of the Croatian Government, Tihomir Orešković, visited France on 30 and 31 May 2016, where he had talks with the French Prime Minister, shortly after a visit to Paris by the Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovač.
Trade between France and Croatia amounted to €535 million in 2015 (+16.3% compared to 2014). France, which accounted for 2.3% of Croatia’s total trade in 2014, is the country’s tenth-largest trading partner. France had a trade balance surplus of €192 million in 2015, compared to €159 million in 2014. Croatia is the South Eastern European country with which France has the largest trade surplus.
French exports to Croatia reached €364 million in 2015 (+17% compared to 2014) whereas they had been stagnating or falling for over a decade. France is Croatia’s 12th-largest supplier with 2.3% of the country’s imports (12th-largest supplier in 2013 with 2.1% of imports). Despite an increase in French imports from Croatia (+14.6% compared to 2014) which amount to €171.3 million, our balance still shows a large surplus (€192.7 million), making Croatia an exception in the region.
Despite a diversified sectoral presence (agro- and agri-business, infrastructure, banking, distribution), France has not yet reached the “critical mass” but is getting there. France is the seventh-largest investor in Croatia, with €651 million of FDI stock through four major businesses (Société Générale, Bouygues, Alstom, Lactalis). The Zagreb Airport concession granted to Bouygues-Aéroports de Paris (ADP) in 2012 (€250-€300 million for investment in a new terminal, for a 30-year concession) significantly changed Croatian decision-makers’ perception of France. Investment in other businesses (Saint Jean Industries, etc.) has boosted this positive momentum, which was further strengthened through the creation in May 2012 of the French-Croatian Business Club bringing together over 60 companies, and facilitated the organization of a MEDEF International mission in February 2013.
Challenges for our French companies in Croatia are significant in view of the €11 billion in structural funds available for the period 2014-2020. There are opportunities for our companies, in particular in transport infrastructure sectors (extension of the Istria highway network operated by Bouygues, railway project to open up the port of Rijeka, and the Dubrovnik and Zagreb Airports renovation project involving Aéroports de Paris and Bouygues in particular) and in the sanitation and waste treatment sector.
There have been long-standing cultural exchanges between France and Croatia. The French Institute in Zagreb, created in 1921, was one of the very first in the French cultural network in Europe. The “Rendez-vous” Zagreb festival of French culture, organized from May to October 2015 around 200 events in 38 Croatian towns, was a success and created a new momentum for the various strands of French-Croatian cooperation.
Administrative cooperation: making accession a success
France has always supported the accession process, in particular in the areas of justice and the rule of law, agriculture, and administration reform. The need for expertise and dialogue remains strong following accession, and France keeps strengthening its ties in all those areas and assisting with the implementation of key EU policies. Many actions are carried out with a view to providing significant training for officials and modernizing public administration. France supports, in particular, Croatia’s increasing participation in ENA training cycles.
Structural Funds and Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funds are discussed by French and Croatian stakeholders engaged in the implementation of regional and agricultural policies. Partnerships between local authorities are directed primarily towards economic cooperation and actions to enhance heritage, and significantly help strengthen ties between France and Croatia. Support from France for Croatian civil society has, in particular, helped strengthen the rights of women and the LGBTI community and create links between French and Croatian NGOs.
Academic and scientific cooperation: booming partnerships
The eligibility of Croatia for the Erasmus Programme has helped increase academic exchanges between France and Croatia. These partnerships are especially fruitful in the field of biotechnology, physics, law and human sciences. The promotion of training is reinforced by the Campus France Croatia office and participation by French universities in student fairs. France is Croatia’s fifth-leading European scientific partner in areas of scientific excellence such as physics, chemistry, marine research, life sciences, social sciences and archaeology. The main instrument for scientific cooperation between France and Croatia is the Hubert Curien Partnership “Cogito” which supports over 80 joint projects selected following calls for tenders. Croatia participates very actively in the EU Framework Research and Development Programme (FRDP) and prepares projects for financing under the Structural Funds and the Horizon 2020 programme.
The Ruđer Bošković Institute (RBI) is the leading Croatian multidisciplinary research institute pursuing sustained cooperation with France through an exchange programme for young scientists, joint research projects and participation in the Mediterranean networks.
Promoting the French language in Croatia via a large and structured network
In 2010, there were 132,000 people with a very good level of French in Croatia, and 6.2% of the population is fluent in basic conversation. French is studied by 13,000 people in Croatia (at school, university and in the Alliances françaises network), a figure which has steadily increased in recent years. French occupies fourth place in the order of foreign languages learnt in the Croatian education system. Croatia, which has been an observer at the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF) since 2006, has provided French-language training for 1,400 Croatian officials in six years, in partnership with the IOF.
Educational cooperation and the promotion of French in Croatia can rely on a large and structured network: a fast-developing Eurocampus/French school; five Alliances françaises (Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, Osijek and Dubrovnik) and three French clubs (Varaždin, Koprivnica and Zadar); seven French assistant professors in schools and universities in the Zagreb, Split and Zadar regions; proactive associations, including the Croatian Association of Teachers of French (ACPF) and Drugi svijet (“Another World”).
The French School in Zagreb (EFZ) which, together with the German International School in Zagreb, is one of the five Eurocampuses in the world, has seen its student numbers increase steadily (+25% in five years). In order to support this development under the best conditions, the EFZ was granted double official recognition: approval of its curriculum at early secondary school level by the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE) and introduction of National Centre for Distance Education (CNED) coaching at higher secondary school level, as well as official recognition of the School by the Croatian authorities (gained in April 2015) to facilitate the switch from the French to the Croatian system. At the start of the school year 2016-2017, the EFZ welcomed 121 students in all primary and secondary levels. Classes from kindergarten to middle secondary school level (French third year) are approved and taught by direct teaching. Since September 2014, a section has catered for higher secondary school (lycée) students (from second to final year) who study with the CNED under the supervision of EFZ teachers.
A high-quality modern cultural offer
The French Institute in Croatia is responsible for developing diverse cooperation in a context where cultural exchanges between France and Croatia are increasing. The Institute was greatly involved in organizing the 2012 and 2015 cross-festivals.
The French Institute in Croatia is involved in many aspects of the cultural and artistic scene by organizing nearly one hundred events each year, and it accompanies Croatian festivals and cultural events by inviting the best of modern French creation. It also organizes conferences together with its partners and supports the development of exchanges of expertise in cultural engineering (Malraux seminars, financing of culture in Europe, etc.). Each year, the Institute supports the publication of some twenty French books in Croatian. In 2013, it was the special partner for the exhibition of masterpieces from the Picasso Museum in Paris at the Klovićevi Dvori Gallery in Zagreb.
This external cultural offer developed in partnership with local stakeholders is supplemented by the Institute’s own multimedia resource centre located in the heart of the city and designed as a multicultural platform. As a resource centre on contemporary France housing more than 11,000 documents, the multimedia library is also used to hold exhibitions, conferences and intellectual debates.
Audiovisual cooperation is developing through the growing presence of French programmes on film and television screens, in close cooperation with TV France International. A film co-production agreement was signed by France and Croatia in 2013 to encourage co-productions between the two countries.
The second development focus consists in developing French expertise in staff training and preserving and enhancing the audiovisual heritage (European Balkans’ Memory project led by the French National Audiovisual Institute - INA).
Decentralized cooperation has developed on themes such as heritage, public service management and EU funding, with key partnerships being finalized or under consideration (Marseilles/Split, Bourges/Sibenik, Le Havre/Rijeka, Auxerre/Varaždin, Villefranche de Rouergue/Pula).