Ambassador Andrew Dalgleish, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Republic of Croatia, visited Dubrovnik on a working visit this week. With two full days in the city, from lectures in Dubrovnik University to a meeting with the Mayor of Dubrovnik, he was introduced to the challenges facing the city and the opportunities for the future. Of course Brexit was high on the list on concerns and the Ambassador explained that he sees an even closer future after the UK leaves the European Union. We caught up with the Ambassador during his busy schedule to discover more about the relationship between the UK and Croatia and where he sees the future path.
Over the years Dubrovnik and Great Britain have had very close connections, and no more so than the number of British tourists who arrive every year. By far the largest number of tourists in Dubrovnik in recent years have come from the UK. How could Brexit change this?
My hope and my expectation is that there will be no change at all. The job of my government and the jobs of the governments of the European Union is to serve the people, and I haven’t yet heard people saying that we want to stop people travelling from the UK to Croatia or vice versa. My full expectation is that Brexit will have no effect on the tourism industry, and that people will still be able to move freely on holiday and that we will continue to see a strong positive interest in Croatia from British tourists.
I believe that investors have an opportunity to use Croatia as an entry point into the rest of south-east Europe - Photo Niksa Duper
Why do you think that Croatia has been relatively unsuccessful in attracting British investment?
It’s a big question, and let’s be honest it isn’t only British investment but investment from other countries as well. It is certainly a challenge for Croatia. We always have to remember that Croatia is a new democracy that is just 25 years old, so a lot of the things that we take for granted in the UK they are being learned very quickly in Croatia. These include the way the tax system works, the way the land registry works for investors want to be sure that if they buy a piece of land it does belong to them and there are no surprises later down the line and the speed of the judicial system. Investors want to know that if they have a problem it can be treated by the law quickly, not in ten or fifteen years. If all of these factors aren’t in place, then investors start to have doubts. Then they would look at the bureaucracy, and I know that the Croatian government is looking at dealing very strongly with unwanted bureaucracy, and if the layers of bureaucracy are too much then they will be a disincentive. As I said if these factors aren’t in place then investors will look elsewhere. It is a big world with lots of possibilities, so why make life difficult for yourself when you can invest in a country that already has these factors in place. My Embassy has developed several projects that we have presented in Croatia, looking at how we in the UK have overcome those issues. I believe that investors have an opportunity to use Croatia as an entry point into the rest of south-east Europe.
How will Brexit change the situation of British nationals living in Croatia and would you advise them to take Croatian citizenship?
In December the British government and the EU made an agreement on the situation of British citizens living the European Union. Of course what matters more than anything for us is what happens to our citizens in the future, whether they are British citizens living in the EU or vice versa. The British government concentrated on the rights of British citizens living in the EU in the early part of the Brexit negotiations. For the vast majority of British citizens living in the EU nothing much is going to change. There is basically an agreement that if you have been living overseas for a period of time then you’ll be able to continue living without any changes to your status. As far as British citizens taking Croatian citizenship that is a question for British citizens to ask the Croatian authorities, and has nothing to do with the British government, however I would say that the worldwide power of the British passport is not to be underestimated.
Prime Minister, Teresa May, has announced that from the 1st of July Croatians will be able to work freely in Great Britain. Do you believe that the UK will be an attractive destination for Croatian workers?
Prime Minister Plenković has made it clear that Croatia wants the same rights for its citizens in the UK as a full member of the EU. The UK simply made use of the rule written in Croatia’s EU Accession Treaty. We understand that the Croatian government was concerned how that would affect Croatians after the UK left the EU. That message has been given very clearly by Prime Minster Plenković and that message has been heard and my government has looked at the situation and decided not to renew work restrictions. I welcome this news at it brings us all equal. To be precise the work restrictions on Croatia workers would have expired anyway at the end of June this year. In order for the UK to re-impose these restrictions, which there was an option to do, the British government would have had to make a case to the European Commission that allowing Croatian workers entry into the UK would severely damage our economy. We have looked at this and have decided not even to make a case, that means the British government will allow the controls to expire thus opening the UK to Croatian workers. As to the question if the UK is an attractive destination for Croatian workers I would say yes it is. Partly because many of the many common talents we have, the innovation, the creativity and attracting Croatian workers will be extremely important to the UK.
You have been quoted as saying that “Croatia is a land of opportunity”, but are we making the most of these opportunities and wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that Croatia is a land of missed opportunities?
I think it is not important to focus on the negative but to see the positive. Croatia may have missed opportunities in the past, but it is time to move on and concentrate on the good opportunities. The workforce in Croatia is supremely well educated compared to so many of its competitors, with a talent for creativity. I can see plenty of examples of well-taken opportunities here, of small companies who are making a big difference, and in the future these will be large companies. Home-grown, self-started companies that succeed almost in spite of the system are the future. I believe that Croatia is a country with a talented population. What I would like to see, and I know that the Croatian government is working hard on this, is reducing the bureaucracy and creating an environment that these new companies feel that success is a good thing. They don’t need subsidisation they just need the space to show what they can do.
Although Dubrovnik is twinned with numerous cities throughout the world there is as yet no sister city in Great Britain. Do you see this changing in the future?
Twinning has some value symbolically, however the problem with twinning is that it often remains as just a piece of paper that two mayors have signed and that’s it. I am less interested in twinning and more interested in what differences can we make together. At my meeting with the Mayor of Dubrovnik, Mato Franković, I discussed the opportunities of linking UK cities who share the same projects or interests, for example smart cities. That for me is much more interesting than an administrative twinning. I would prefer to see more concrete work together in solving joint problems.
What are the challenges facing the British Embassy in Croatia? And what feedback do you receive?
I think the biggest challenge is Brexit, because Brexit needs to explained well. If we don’t explain it well it may look like the UK is saying we don’t like you, we don’t care and we want to leave you. A big challenge is correcting that misconception. Brexit is not about our view of the European Union it is about our view of our place in the European Union. I think that the British government has been really clear in saying that they want the European Union to succeed, there is no doubt about that, but we don’t feel that we comfortably belong in the union, and that is why we are leaving. More fundamentally the relationship that the UK has had with Croatia over the years has been difficult at times. There is maybe a perception that the Brits don’t like the Croats, I think that is a totally wrong perception and it is my job to correct that. I can’t do that by explaining what happened in the past but looking forward to a closer future and working together. I am not in a position to change history, no one is, but what I can do is work on the future and ask what our two countries can do together.
I think that there is sense of understanding between Dubrovnik and the UK - Photo Niksa Duper
Although there is a strong connection between Dubrovnik and the UK in terms of tourism it would seem that more work could be done on different levels, such as sport, culture and education. How can these fields be improved?
I think that there is sense of understanding between Dubrovnik and the UK. The kind of mentality that I have discovered since I have been in Dubrovnik is very familiar to me. I come from an island and to a certain extent Dubrovnik is an island. Coming from an island I feel I have a certain ability to look after myself and I think that people from Dubrovnik feel that as well. They don’t want to disassociate themselves from the rest of Croatia but it feels like “we’re from Dubrovnik and we know what we are doing, so let us get on with it.” Dubrovnik is attached to the continent but in a positive way, not being an isolationist, feels like an island. Dubrovnik has been self-sustaining for a long time and that resonates with the British mentality. This is a city that had such a massive influence in the Mediterranean for centuries and that has given the city a sense of presence and self-awareness. Therefore, the two have an awful lot in common. There have been links in the past, some of the finest British actors have performed at the Dubrovnik Summer Festival for example. And I would like to encourage more of this cultural connection in the future.
During your working visit to Dubrovnik what opinions will you take back to Zagreb with you?
It has been overwhelming positive. I have a sense of a city that is looking after itself well, that is keen to do business with the UK and that welcomes British tourists. And a desire to make sure that when British tourists visit they have a positive experience. What I am looking for is opportunities for British businesses to co-operate with Dubrovnik businesses. There seems to be a concentration on technology here and I can see a joint interest with UK companies. Dubrovnik doesn’t necessarily need the UK, but instead is saying we are doing this and how can we work together, it is more about building closer co-operation.