Today is celebration day. In Zagreb, and in Brussels. Flags, receptions, cakes, speeches, applauses, and the occasional playback of Beethoven’s ninth symphony.
Today Croatia joins the European Union as the 28th country. OneEurope welcomes Croatia by offering an overview of the facts and consequences of the accession of Croatia with its troubled past and tourist-friendly citizens.
Back to the beginning
After the Yugoslavian civil war of the 90s, Croatia was a new country in a state of shock, imbalance, corruption and war criminals on the loose.
From the distance, Croatia could witness the process towards the enlargement agreement in Copenhagen in 2002, and the subsequent accession of a number of Eastern European countries. For Croatia it seemed clear that the application for EU membership was the straight road towards becoming a democratic and well-functioning European state.
This was the way back into the European community. A community that they had been thrown out of in the beginning of the 90s, along with their fellow former Yugoslavian equals – popularly symbolised by Yugoslavia’s exclusion from the European football championships in 1992.
In 2003, they therefore handed in their application to the EU, and were granted candidate status by summer 2004, after which negotiations of Croatian entry the EU could begin.
Obstacles along the way
During these negotiations however, it seemed that the Balkan conflict had not totally ended. One of the biggest hurdles was the issue of the border shared with Slovenia that was already an EU member, and thus able to block the Croatian accession process.
More particularly they disagreed on where the border in the Gulf of Piran should be. Slovenia finally went so far as to freeze the negotiations by blocking the Croatian accession from late 2008 and ten months ahead.
Another issue was the demand from the European Council that Croatia would extradite citizens guilty of war crimes to the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia).
This issue was somewhat resolved when in 2005 the Croatian government cooperated with Spanish authorities in arresting former general and fugitive Ante Gotovina in Tenerife. The EU member states hereafter perceived Croatia as fully cooperating with the ICTY.
On 22 January 2012 Croatia held a referendum on the EU accession. 66 percent of participants voted in favour of joining the EU.
What happens in Brussels
But how does this enlargement work in practical terms?
If we begin with looking at the European Parliament, the European Commission has proposed a change in the distribution of seats that welcomes 12 Croatian members today. At the 2014 EP elections, these seats will be taken away from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Latvia, Portugal and Romania, who all lose one seat each. Germany will lose three. And to bring the number to the maximum of 751 members set out by the Lisbon Treaty, Croatia will lose one of their 12 members.
As for their representation in the Council of the European Union, the Croatians will get seven votes, which is the same number as Denmark, Slovakia, Finland, Ireland and Lithuania.
In the European Commission, Croatia will get the new position as Commissioner for Consumer Protection, which will be filled by the now former deputy minister for Foreign Affairs and European Integration, Neven Mimica.
Pros and cons
With Croatia joining exactly now, in the middle of economic insecurity and unrest, it seems that the EU is still an attractive club to be a member of. One could, however, ask the question whether it would be better for Croatia to wait a bit and join when the currently ongoing fundamental structural changes (banking union, deeper economic cooperation, etc.) in the EU system have been implemented.
Yet the Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic seems confident that membership now, just before the new financial framework will take effect, is a ”good deal” for his country.
”We stand obliged to pay in four billion Euro to the EU budget in the next seven years in the budget framework. And we stand a change of getting five billion in return for various projects. It’s not granted, but there are prospects,” he said when asked by Debating Europe.
From the perspectives of other countries, the immediate gains seem visible, too. The backbone of the EU, the internal market, makes sure that the 20 percent duties on products from other EU countries vanishes now, making them a lot more competitive in Croatia. Basically the internal market opens up for 4.4 million new potentials customers.
But it is not all happy days in Croatia now. As this round-up on the Croatian accession by Der Spiegel excellently illustrates, the economic situation in Croatia is as grim as anywhere else, with 20 percent of the work force being unemployed.
Many Croatian companies have caved in, and the fact that Croatian industry and businesses now will face hard competition from the rest of the EU could force many more of them into bankruptcy.
Corruption is also still a big problem in Croatia. The politicians stick to old “virtues”, so to speak. Bribery among regional officials, for instance, causes big parts of the countryside to be uncultivated.
But there is also potential in Croatia, and in their agriculture in particular. Croatia is usually known for their early ripened tangerines, the exclusive Maraska cherries and truffles.
Whether Croatia will become a success story for the EU, and vice versa, remains to be seen.