Comment: Croatia as an EU Member

by John Pindar

Five years ago I wrote about Croatia for CBR, with an enthusiastic endorsement of Croatia being in the European Union. It’s been interesting to read the article again, to see if I disgree with it.

To begin, I explained my connection with Croatia, described my reactions visiting the country (17 times) and provided examples of its strengths. I wrote: ‘every time I travel round Croatia, I see much that is positive.’ I still believe that- and I’ve been to Vukovar since I wrote those words. They apply there too.

Naturally enough, I had to discuss the reasons why my hopes for Croatia being in the EU had not come to fruition. That meant addressing the issue of the Hague war crimes tribunal. Clearly, the release of General Gotovina has provided a boost to Croatia’s self-belief and morale and a big issue dogging Croatia’s membership hopes has been cast aside.

When it came to discussing Croatian politics, I did mention words like leadership and teamwork. I suppose someone like Jadranka Kosor might not find my words credible. On the other hand, I noted a stablility in Croatian poliics, with two strong political players, consistently the same ones. This aspect was indeed commended at a recent conference, while the politics of other nearby countries were criticised as not being so stable.

I finished by saying ‘Croatia has much to offer, the country has improved much, it is to Europe’s advantage to accept Croatia into the EU’. Let me be unashamedly boring and state I agree with my own words and indeed my article is on the right wavelength, in my humble view.

But there is more which can be said from someone who remains enthusiastic about the European Union, what it promised, what it still offers.

Croatia is going to be a small fish in a very big pond. That does not mean that the country will be ignored. Small countries can achieve great things in the EU and punch above their weight. Take Estonia, for example, which has half the population of Croatia.

Let’s take two issues. Firstly, Members of the European Parliament. Croatia has 12. I didn’t say ‘only 12’. MEPs matter not in the quantity in which they come from their countries, but in their quality. These 12 have ‘hitting power’ if they have competence and talent to use it. A Romanian MEP is consistently cited as being the best MEP. Not a German or a Brit.

Secondly, Croatia has a European Commissioner, Neven Mimica, who should not make being Commissioner for Consumer Protection as dry as it sounds. Not when wine’s around.

Croatia’s tourism not only helped propel the country fowards in the EU, but will gain still more considerably from the EU. Dubrovnik’s numbers of visitors continue to grow, with a 12 percent increase recorded last year. Croatia is already popular with visitors from almost all EU countries. Those who have not been tempted to come will be far more likely to do so. Even the number of Norwegians visiting Croatia has picked up, to judge from the arrival of Norwegian Air Shuttle flights.

All difficulties with Slovenia will drop out of sight, with the years of disputes on well known subjects. There were anecdotes alleging that on July 1st Slovenian border control personnel treated some border crossings as Schengen Area types. In fact, Croatia is heading to be a full Schengen country in 2015. The relationship currently between Croatia and Slovenia should technically be the same as between the UK and France.

Croatia’s other borders are the ‘exciting’ ones, of course, all borders with countries which aspire to EU membership. The EU takes control of its external borders very seriously, using the forces of EUROPOL. Crossing from Ukraine to Poland has been cited as ‘lengthy’. Many are employed driving along the border with binoculars at the ready. As far as the Spanish enclave of Melilla and Morocco is concerned, vigilance is obvious, as well as robust enforcement action.

So what of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina’s long border, the subject of a notorious howler in the Economist ? I observed during this summer that Bosnian and Croatian border control officers took arbitary, perhaps inconsistent, decisions about what checks they would carry out. No doubt the urge to keep long lines of traffic to a minimum mattered. Border control is tricky along the controversial ‘Neum Corridor’, for example, where a journey from Dubrovnik to Mostar involves three sets of bordervcontrols: Croatia into Bosnia, Bosnia into Croatia, Croatia into Bosnia (Metkovic).

Will Croatia will be tempted to raise its profile and seek to instruct other countries nearby in improving their prospects for EU entry ? This would be both popular and predictable for those promoting the implausible fact-denying ‘Yugosphere‘ theory. It has no chance of happening in reality.

One person who’s spoken on this is President Ivo Josipovic. During his recent visit to the UK, he explicitly withdrew the word ‘leader’ from any such debate, suggesting that Croatia would not take any supervisory role over ex-Yugoslav non-EU countries.

It is up to these countries to advance their case by their efforts, perhaps right now, for example, Montenegro being most successful. Croatia, meanwhile, will continue to trade with a number of EU countries, as it has for some years.

In conclusion I see no reason to disagree with what I wrote five years ago. Croatia has achieved a great deal joining the EU, if at something of a slow pace. The great strengths of the country will be enhanced by membership of the EU. Europe has an excellent new member. It is up to that member to be effective in promoting itself and, to use a well worn phrase, ‘punch above its weight’.

John Pindar is a researcher and writer on Central/Eastern/South Eastern Europe and the Baltic States

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