With imminent ratification, has UK understanding of Croatia improved?

By Brian Gallagher

The UK Parliament is close to ratifying Croatia’s EU accession. Given the UK’s often-hostile attitude to Croatia this may be surprising. However, it appears that it is proceeding without delay on the matter, which is good news.

The latest move forward was a report stage on 16 January in the House of Lords. Foreign office minister Baroness Warsi moved that it be received, which it duly was.

However, the very short exchanges on the issue did show the problems of understanding that persist in regard to Croatia. Croatia was discussed within the out of date – even when it was created – EU ‘Western Balkans’ framework. That is the ex-Yugoslavia minus Slovenia and plus Croatia. Comments were made in regard to Kosovo and Montenegro.

There appears to be an expectation that Croatia will assist these countries on the path to the EU and Croatian membership may be some form of ‘incentive’ to the other countries. This is unrealistic thinking. First, these countries have not too much in common bar being part of Yugoslavia, and since the demise of that state Croatia and Slovenia have simply reverted to a more natural and historical link with Central Europe. Indeed, Slovenia ensured it was not part of the ‘Western Balkans’ group, something that Zagreb itself failed to do.

Countries such as Kosovo and Montenegro are extremely different from Croatia, with very different issues. Placing all these countries together as if they are similar benefits no one.

The discussion also seemed surreal given the poor state of relations between various countries. In the very same week, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic went to Serbia to meet his counterpart Ivica Dacic in an effort to improve relations.

These have been getting poorer due to the Greater Serbia mentality in Belgrade, which was on display when Croatian Generals Gotovina and Markac were acquitted by the UN tribunal at The Hague.

That meeting was reportedly ‘encouraged’ by the EU – it is not just the UK that has unrealistic views.  Not much is gained by ignoring the questionable behaviour of the Belgrade authorities – the latest incident being the Serbian foreign minister’s engineering of a Serbian nationalist song being played at UN concert, for which the UN then had to apologise. The House of Lords – and indeed the EU – appear to be turning a blind eye to such things.

Then there are other matters such as the conflicts between Kosovo and Serbia and so on. It is not likely that Croatia is going to influence any of these states to move towards the EU. It is hardly the case with Serbia – whilst Croatia has moved towards Brussels, Belgrade has gone the other way. With such a limited grasp of what is going on, is it any surprise that the UK’s economic links with Croatia are so poor?

It would not be surprising if after a few years, rhetoric about ‘regional cooperation’ cools a little due to reality intruding – although it would be preferable if the current state of affairs was recognised sooner.

Despite this all this, it does appear that the UK’s ratification process with Croatia is going relatively smoothly, and it can only be hoped that with that greater knowledge of Croatia follows.

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