Monday, 1 July 2013

CROATIA: The 28th member of the E.U.

Today, July 1, Croatia becomes the 28th member of the European Union. For the first time, a country that was deeply embroiled in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s takes a seat in Brussels. Ever since accession negotiations began in 2003, successive Croatian governments, despite wavering support from their domestic public, were determined to complete the talks quickly.
 
For politicians in Zagreb, joining the EU was about drawing a line under the wretched and bloody past of recent civil war. It was also about proving to the EU, as well as to Croatia’s western Balkan neighbors, that the country was not condemned to crouch outside the EU’s door.
 
''This will change the life of this nation for good. I welcome you wholeheartedly," European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told a crowd of tens of thousands at Zagreb's Ban Jelacic square.

On Monday, Croatia pledged on its first day as an EU member to help foster relationships between the bloc and other Balkan countries and to try to bring more stability to the region, which only two decades ago was still consumed by ethnic and national conflict. The country of 4.4 million people is only the second of seven countries carved out of Yugoslavia to join the EU, following Slovenia in 2004. "I look at the future with much optimism," Josipovic said, welcoming a group of seven other Balkan leaders "on the first European morning."

The festivities in Zagreb lasted well into the night and included concerts, dance performances, street parties and massive projections narrating the mostly Catholic country's history. At midnight, EU flags were raised and customs posts were removed from the country's borders with EU members Hungary and Slovenia.

Several top EU officials were on hand for the celebration, including European Commission President Jose Barroso and EU Parliament President Martin Schulz, who spoke of a historic day. "It's good when a family grows, especially our family, which is committed to the values of democracy, justice and rule of law," Schulz told the crowd.

EU membership is seen as a milestone for the country, which suffered four years of war after declaring its independence in 1991 during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia. Yet the country still faces huge economic hurdles as it hunkers through its fifth year of recession.

Croatia still has to fulfill more criteria before it will be allowed to join the EU's Schengen Zone of border-free travel. On Sunday, Croatia's Deputy Premier Vesna Pusic said that the country has met "a lot" of conditions and expects to become a Schengen member in about two years.

Croatia expects moderate economic growth in 2014 and potentially strong growth the following year. Deputy Prime Minister Milanka Opacic pointed out to reporters on Sunday that Croatia is better prepared for EU accension than many other members have been. Though EU membership creates opportunities for Croatia, the country will still have to confront serious problems such as high unemployment and low wages. "This is our problem," said Opacic. "The EU will not solve it for us."

Croatia’s accession has immense strategic implications for the EU. The most important question is what will happen to the enlargement policy, one of the bedrocks of the EU, after Croatia’s entry.
 
The European Commission says in its final report on the country’s accession preparations that Zagreb has yet to tackle corruption, trafficking, and organized crime. Now admitted, will Croatia really attack those problems, which after all affect Europe’s security too, or will it lapse into lethargy?
 
By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
 
Photo-Credit: AFP