Enlargement, or euro-confusion?
Why Croatia should not have entered the European Union
Vittoria Caron, Danijela Demarin, Alessandro Cuttica
Brussels (IHECS Alumni) 09/03/2014

On 1st of July 2013, European family accepted its 28th member, Croatia. After less than eight months the country entered excessive deficit procedure, it reached the double of its public debt hitting 60 per cent of GDP in 2013, and it marked greater limits on human rights and civil liberties. The substantial question that now arises is: why did the European Union accept Croatia as its member, knowing that the country was far from fulfilling the European standards? Why is it lowering down the criteria necessary to join? What has enlargement became?

Following the Croatia’s accession to the European family the president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz congratulated the country on “creating institutions based on the values of democracy and the rule of law and reforming economy and making it more competitive”. Indeed, during the negotiation process this Mediterranean country put a great effort into resolving numerous issues, including the relations with its neighbors, but the honeymoon between the EU and Croatia did not last for long.

In 2012, when Croatian public voted whether to join the EU, only 44 percent of voters expressed their opinion. The lack of interest that citizens showed was going against the will of the government, which instead was in majority pro-European. For politicians in Zagreb, joining the EU was about drawing a line under the wretched and bloody past of recent Homeland war, and about proving to the EU, as well as to its Balkan neighbors, that the country was not condemned to crouch outside the EU’s door.

Ruza Tomasic, Croatian member of the European Parliament (MEP) from European Conservatives and Reformists party and proclaimed Euroskeptic stated for this website: “Even before the referendum, I claimed Croatia does belong to the EU, but not yet.” She explains: “European Union is a complex community with its own problems and unresolved doubts so small countries must be resourceful and strong in order to profit. Croatia is not like that, at least not yet.” Tomasic also claims country’s economy is on its knees, seeing a decline in industrial production every year, and the only thing that keeps it alive is tourism.

One should not forget that since 2008 this Mediterranean country decreased its GDP for 11.5 percent, the second worse after Greece, and its unemployment rate is around 18.6 percent, right after Greece and Spain. On the 28th of January the European Union decided to place Croatia in its excessive deficit process requiring the country to reduce its deficit to 3 percent of GDP by 2016. In that regard, the EU economics chief Olli Rehn warned Croatia needs to actively work on the required reduction in order to restore the confidence in the economy.

Corruption is another troubling issue: although the situation got slightly better entering the EU, Croatia is still one of the most corrupted countries in the European Union. The Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International shows that Croatia is placed 57th on world rank with the score of 48 out of 100, while for example Germany scores 78 and United Kingdom 76. In fact, the European Commission recognized the problem even during the accession preparation, and in its report it underlined that Zagreb still needed to tackle corruption, trafficking, and organized crime. Many other Member States have the same problem, especially Italy, but as Croatia is the newest member, what triggers is EU’s acceptance of lower standards instead of higher requirements that would motivate countries to work more aggressively on preventing corruption.

*The land where 'arrest' does not mean 'stop'

From the moment Croatia became the EU candidate, there has been a dispute between the European Commission and Croatian government over the law relating to the European Arrest Warrant. Only two days before entering the European family, Croatian government approved amendments introducing a time restriction on European arrest warrants. The amendments were called 'Lex Perkovic' after the former chief of the Yugoslav and Croatian secret services Josip Perkovic which was expected to be sent to Germany to face trial for the murder of Stjepan Ðurekovic. EU won the dispute and earlier this year, Perkovic was sent to Munich and later to Nürnberg due to security reasons. His trial will begin in June. Ruza Tomasic comments: “We truly embarrassed ourselves with Lex Perkovic and sent the message that we are an unsound partner. Potential investors flee from such countries.”

Furthermore, when it comes to human rights and civil liberties, it is necessary to mention a referendum held on 1st of December last year which defined marriage as the exclusive union between a woman and a man therefore making gay marriage illegal. With 65 percent of voters in favor, this law passed at the constitutional level. Hundreds of activists protested against the ignorance of their rights, but did not manage to abolish the referendum. Although gay marriage is illegal in a number of other EU countries, this way Croatia increased the gap with most developed ones and went fully against the EU principles on human rights.

On the same note, the former Yugoslav country showed the lack of strength to protect minorities. Serbian ethnic group living in the city of Vukovar, near the Serbian border, claimed the right to have street signs in Cyrillic. When the government decided to implement the law, it increased tensions between the two nationalities that fought against each other in the Yugoslav war, or Homeland war as referred to by Croats, in the 90s. To be more concrete, after Croatia demanded independence from Yugoslavia, Serbian army attacked Croatian cities committing crimes against humanity and leaving marks that will probably never heal. One of these cities is Vukovar. The army devastated the city, molested its citizens, took them away from their homes and raped women.. Setting street signs in Cyrillic, writing that belongs to Serbian people, was understood as a provocation against which people in Vukovar protested. They broke those signs, went to streets in various cities asking to change the law. This is why government’s decision was irresponsible and risky, exploiting the Serbian minority in Vukovar to protests and offensive language due to wounds from the past that were too fresh to be forgotten. Despite the anger and hatred of activists, mostly former soldiers that fought for Croatia’s independence, the government did not change its policy, and decided to keep the signs that are continuously broken and replaced.

*Something like a refugee problem

There is another flaw that Croatian government has been trying to cover. As a consequence of Serbian aggression on Croatia in early 90s, in 1995 Croatian offensive was forced to ask more than 200 thousand Serbs to leave their homes in Croatia. Since then, these people have been trying to get their homes back. Despise the launching of Regional Refugee Housing Project that involves Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are still thousands of displaced families. The program promised housing to about 24 thousand refugee families in the region. The problem is that Croatian government has been slow in acting – building homes to be exact. In the meantime, refugees are living in great poverty.

In September last year, Croatian government tried to abolish the status of refugees to all Serbs who left Croatia between 1991 and 1995, but the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees rejected the proposal. Currently there are still 40 thousand people in Serbia registered as refugees from Croatia, according to Milorad Pupovac, president of the Independent Democratic Serbian Party in Croatia. At the same time, there are thousands of Croatian people that lived in other former Yugoslav republics still seeking for help and homes that were violently taken away from them. Countries are expected to act on this problem. Since many of them, like Serbia and also Montenegro, are currently trying to access the European Union, it is up to the EU to show active demand for the problem to be solved. Unless it lowers its criteria even more.

The MEP Ruza Tomasic also summarizes all Croatian deficiencies: “Weak industrial production, lack of agricultural competitiveness, prohibitive taxes and social contributions that stifle the citizens and employers. There is also a general lack of information about citizens and the powers of EU institutions, intolerable political influence over the judiciary, the State Attorney's Office and the police, inconsistent and immature foreign policy that makes us a pawn, not a partner.” She also claims Croatia is neither politically nor economically stable nor strong enough to fight for its interests in the company of great countries.

However, the Croatian MEP sees the light at the end of a tunnel: “I believe in the bright future of our country in the EU or outside it. Croatia has a predisposition to develop into a successful European country, but we need a radical change - from the structural reform of the state to changing people’s mindsets.”

*A family with lowering criteria

Considering all the mentioned issues, it seems like Croatia did not look as an ideal candidate to join the EU. Why did it enter then? What benefits did the EU gain from its entrance? A garbage disposal, says a joke in Croatia. But, after all, is it really only a joke?

In order to make Croatia fully ready for the EU, the Union should have demonstrated its ability to solve issues that have been molesting this former Yugoslav country. The EU started making peace between Croats and Serbs but issue of Cyrillic street signs, as well as the refugees’ problem show that both the country and the EU have a long way to go.

Accession to the European Union should be a goal that countries need to work excessively to reach, but is this really the case? And where is this lowering criteria taking European family?

Vittoria Caron
Danijela Demarin
Alessandro Cuttica

Brussels (IHECS alumni) 09/03/2014

Debating Europe
Executive Master in European Journalism 2014

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