April 6, 2013
Some critics argue that Croatia is not ready for an EU accession because of its national conflicts, its economic and political weakness. Minority Rights, Solidarity and inequalities are the key issues worth to examine in this regard.
(Source of the Phtoto © the Council of the European Union)
Historical heritage of Croatia as part of the Hungarian Kingdom, the Habsburg Empire and Yugoslavia
Croatia with its 4.000.000 population is the door to the Western Balkan, and since the beginning of its European history, the country was always part of a bigger economic integration. Following a royal family contract, the Hungarian kings inherited the Croat throne so Hungary and Croatia formed a common state from 1091-1918 which shaped their mindset and despite of some conflicts in the past (e.g. in 1848), the two states remained strong allies and responsible for each other. Croatia became later part of the Habsburg empire and the former Yugoslavia, so Croats are “mentally ready” to accept living within a greater economic integration.
It is important to note that the “Schumann-price” winning Hungarian EU presidency secured the Croatian EU accession at the very last day of the Hungarian EU presidency on 30 June 2011 .
1. Minorities: EU membership as a tool to overcome national conflicts and respect of minorities’ Rights
Europe witnessed several wars. As the EU was the cure for the post WWII Europe, it can be the same for a post war ex-Yugoslavia. Former members of Yugoslavia survived several wars in the 90s. Shame on Europe that it let it happen. Now, this is another reason why the sooner these countries become EU members the better.
The EU is far from being perfect. Sometimes, member States may use their voting rights in an abusive manner. (e.g. In respect of the single seat initiative for the European Parliament, France can always veto the debate since it is written in the Treaties that the headquarter of the EP is in Strasbourg and the Treaties cannot be modified unless every Member States agree). Cyprus can also block Turkey’s EU Membership and the same applies to Greece (and Bulgaria) who block Macedonia’s hopes.
But the EU also provides a regulated framework to overcome national conflicts in a peaceful manner. Slovenia is a positive example. The Slovenian Parliament ratified unanimously the Croatian accession Treaty in spite of a border dispute which is a very positive thing, I think.
The EU can also help to acknowledge the rights of people belonging to minorities. The Turkish minority in Bulgaria might be a good example for this in the future. Despite of the economic difficulties, this crisis can reopen the accession negotiations between the Greek and Turkish part of Cyprus, which would pave the way in a longer term for the respect of Turkish minorities in Bulgaria and even for the Turkish accession. Thus, the respect of the collective rights of Serb, Slovene, Italian, Hungarian, Roma and other minorities in Croatia is crucial.
2. Solidarity – Is Croatia economically ready for an EU memberhsip?
Some say that Croatia’s post-war economy is not competitive within the EU. It can be truth. Maybe Croatia will have difficulties when facing the economic competition within the EU, but that is why there are solidarity mechanism within the EU: to reduce existing inequalities. And Croats can benefit from the EU budget in a direct/indirect way which may help them to make reforms, reduce state dept and boost their economy.
There is a distinction between EU membership and the eurozone which is a closer economic integration. I think that only well prepared states should be part of a closer economic integration such as the eurozone but this does not apply on EU membership. However, the larger EU is a bit differet since it is not only an economic but also a political integration with common values. Countries without the eurozone (Romania, Hungary) applied for IMF help in the past without the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). Briefly, as long as Croatia do not use the euro, it cannot be the next Greece.
Croatia will be provided with on opportunity to overcome its weaknesses within the EU with a greater chance than out of the EU. This is a clear advantage: even if it was not ready for an EU Membership, it could develop better than outside of the EU. An EU membership may give an economic impetus for the country with additional direct and indirect workplaces (the EU institutions will employ a considerable number of Croatians and the other Croatian linked lobby groups will offer another group of jobs, I guess).
3. Inequalities: will Croatia be the next Bulgaria and Romania?
Croatia’s accession was a political decision as it was the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 although they might not have fulfilled all the criteria in that time. These countries face similar challenges. Economic and social problems which are typical for candidate countries such as corruption or ruined industry are everywhere in the EU, mainly in the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) countries. But this is not a reason to give up. The example of Finland can motivate countries belonging to the semi-periphery that overcoming difficulties is possible. My point is that countries deserve some respect and help. European decision makers realised by granting Croatia a EU membership that being within the EU is a more effective way to reduce inequalities.
Conclusion: EU membership is the answer
Yes, there are serious problems within the EU. The challenges Croatia faces (defending national minorities or reducing state dept) are not Eastern Europe specific. Therefore, both the Western and Easter side of the old continent should work together – hopefully within the framework of the EU – to tackle them successfully.
There are huge inequalities within the EU. The fact that Croatia was out of the European Integration is due to historical circumstances. And tackling these inequalities is in the best interest of the EU’s richer Member States, as well. Therefore: Croatia’s EU accession serves the EU’s interests.
I remain at your disposal.
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Related earlier updates:Zoltán Massay-Kosubek