The Financial Times recently ran an editorial on Croatia, entitled ‘Croatia in Baulk’. The line, with reference to the Ivo Sanader affair, is that the EU should refuse to admit Croatia until it shows ‘convincingly’ that it has dealt with corruption and and ‘impunity’. The FT published a similar editorial back in 2008. However, the editorial is unfair.
It is certainly true Croatia has a problem with corruption; it is also not unreasonable for the EU to be concerned over it. But the FT is effectively calling for Croatia to be held to a standard far higher than that seen within the EU itself.
Indeed, there is considerable corruption within the EU’s own borders. Bulgaria and Romania are routinely mentioned – often in connection in not making the same ‘mistake’ with Croatia. But EU Commissioner Chris Patten himself back in 2006 admitted to a US diplomat – as related via wikileaks – that Croatia is the “probably far more prepared for EU membership than either Bulgaria or Romania.”
And what of goings on in Greece and Italy? What of the notorious expenses scandal in the British parliament? A number of British MPs have paid a political price but there have few police investigations. MPs had ensured that their behavior, whilst dubious, was ‘legal’. The EU itself is notorious for corruption within its structures. Its MEPs do not even need to provide receipts for their expenses and for many years the EU had not been able to sign off its accounts due to irregularities. Of course, we should not forget that the EU once indulged – and did business with – one Slobodan Milosevic.
No doubt other examples could be pointed to. Perhaps the FT should be encouraging the EU to learn from Croatia’s anti-corruption efforts?
Croats are not stupid; they know hypocrisy when they see it. What is more, they are aware that Croatia has had its EU accession delayed for many spurious reasons. There was huge delay due to Croatia being accused of harboring General Ante Gotovina; he turned out to be in the Canary Islands. Then Slovenia blocked Croatia’s negotiations in order to gain leverage in regards to its border dispute with Croatia.
If the EU were to act on the FT’s views, that would probably be an end of Croatia’s accession to the EU. The EU is unpopular in Croatia at the moment – although this may change should it become clear that Croatia really would be joining imminently. However, a further delay may very well see public opinion in Croatia turning fully against the EU.
It is interesting to note that whilst the EU is highly unpopular in Croatia, public opinion is in favour of firmly dealing with corruption – this might imply that public opinion is as much a factor in the current anti-corruption activities than EU ‘soft power’.
A Croatian rejection of the EU would be bad for Brussels. As Croatia would be rather less problematic than a number of its own members, it would invariably be a blow to the credibility of Brussels. In its own interests, the EU should ignore the FT.