The EU Will Open Doors to a New Country: Croatia
EUROPEAN UNION SERIES : PART 1
The European Union (EU) decided to open doors to a new country: Croatia, which will become the 28th member state of the EU on 1 July, 2013.
The accession process started in 2003, when Croatia applied to become a member state of the EU, and was negotiating the accession with Brussels from 2005 until 2011. Mario Mažić, director of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, a regional network of NGOs in the Balkans, says: “For Croatia, as a post-conflict and post-authoritarian society, the integration process was marked with numerous reforms in political, judicial and economic aspects. The reforms have contributed significantly to the democratisation and transition of Croatia.”
However, the treaty still needs to be ratified by all EU member states in order for Croatia to be able to join the club. As of August 2012, only 11 countries plus Croatia itself had ratified the treaty, while others are planning to do so in the coming months.
The 27 current EU member states are marked in yellow; in blue are the candidate countries. Source: Delegation of the EU to Croatia.
The majority of Croatians support their country’s accession to the EU: on 22 January this year, the treaty was ratified in a referendum in which 66 per cent of the voters said “Yes”. “There are numerous advantages, especially for young people, that will open chances for youth to get better education, find a job on a European market,” Mažić says. “It also means greater economic and political stability in general, that is provided in the EU through cooperation and further integration.”
Italy was the first EU country to ratify the treaty. “We will continue to stimulate and encourage the European integration of all Western Balkan countries, which we consider to be crucial for stability and development in the region,” said Italy’s foreign minister Giulio Terzi. At the other end of the spectrum, Slovenia has often challenged Croatia’s accession for historical reasons and disputes that have never been solved. The Netherlands, while supporting Croatia’s integration, has been demanding its full cooperation with the international Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the implementation of other human rights related reforms.
Regarding land ownership, as previously happened to countries such as Malta, Poland, and Slovenia, Croatia had to resolve the issue of free acquisition of real estate by foreigners. Italy criticised Croatia for those specific disputes, especially because Croatia’s Istria region is highly populated by Italians. The region, which used to belong to Italy, retains strong cultural and historical ties with it.
However, one of the main reasons for disagreements was on the borders. Croatia has border disputes with Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Slovenia. The latter is already an EU member state, and used this position to stall the negotiating process for Croatia’s accession in 2008 for more than 10 months. Slovenia only retreated with its blockade when both countries agreed to accept an international mediation of the border dispute.
However, a new dispute between Slovenia and Croatia may threaten treaty ratification. But this time it’s not borders – it’s sausages. Slovenia requested a protected geographical status for “Kranjska klobasa,” a sausage traditional in the Slovenian region of Kranjska. Croatia argues that this sausage was commonly shared in Yugoslavia’s market, and is today exported by Croatian producers (they export in excess of 10m EUR annually worth of this type of sausages). According to EU rules, any country has the right to object any proposal for product protection within six months.
Recently, the two countries also crashed on another old dispute they had more than 20 years ago: money owned by Ljubljanska Banka, Slovenian bank, to Croatian depositors dating back to Yugoslavia. Slovenia says that the issue must be resolved as part of broader “succession talks” aimed at sorting out all similar disputes among the former states of Yugoslavia.
So will Slovenia block the majority of Croatians’ European dream and of the majority of the European people represented in the European Parliament because of old regionalist disputes, borders, and sausages?
There is still room for improvement, but Croatia is going in the right direction. The criteria and expectations of the EU in the implementation of the reforms has been crucial to this process, Mažić says, “Although it is still burdened with some issues, the judiciary is less biased when tackling war crime cases, numerous laws relating to anti-discrimination, free access to information and human rights protection have been passed and are being implemented.”
Mažić acknowledges that the process is far from over but he is optimistic. “I hope the EU will still be putting pressure on Croatia to further the reforms and elevate the level of respect for human rights.”