Croatia’s EU accession: Why is everyone so happy about it?

by Zenonas Tziarras

It seems that on July 1, 2013, Croatia will become European Union’s (EU) 28th member-state after all – that is if EU still exists as we know it today. The referendum that determined Croatia’s future with the Union took place on the 22nd of January, 2012, and had an admittedly poor outcome of about 43.5%. This means that most of the eligible voters did not even bother to support or reject their country’s bit for accession into the EU. Of course, the EU welcomed the result of the referendum while Croatia’s Prime Minister thinks of it as a “historic decision”; but the question remains: if the EU is facing its deepest political and economic crisis yet and the ballot results were anything but indicative about what the Croatian public opinion wants, then why is everyone so happy about it?

Although there are some reasons for both the EU and Croatia to be happy about this development, it is a matter of subjectivity whether they could counterbalance the above mentioned negative factors. To unpack this problem we briefly look into the situation in Croatia and the EU.

 

Inside Croatia and EU

On the day of the referendum the Croatian public opinion was asked to answer, with a “Yes” or “No”, to the question “Do you support the membership of the Republic of Croatia in the European Union?”. Apart from the low outcome which we have already mentioned, about 66% of the voters said “Yes”, while about 33% voted against. The low outcome, coupled with the relatively small difference between the two opinions (given ballot results in previous referenda for EU accession), illustrate a rather dim picture of what is going on in Croatia.

Further, let us not forget the anti-EU protests that took place prior to the referendum. It is true that matters of national sovereignty are always subject of lively debate and always trigger difference of opinion among public opinion. Some Croats do indeed see an EU accession as giving up their independence for which they fought so hard and for so long. On the other hand it seems that the majority of those who voted “Yes” see the EU as a source of security and stability; qualities they have been longing for. But, what about the 56% of the eligible voters that did not vote? This part of public opinion appears to be indifferent towards its country’s EU accession process and this may be for two main reasons: 1) pessimism and loss of trust in politics in general, or EU politics in particular; and 2) mere indifference about anything political (like parts of society in every other country). However, this otherwise large percentage of public opinion is often the most easily shaped by current realities. It is no coincidence, for example, that there was such an abstention from voting at a time when EU is facing a systemic economic crisis. Moreover, it is important to remember that it is only a matter of time before Croatia enters the Euro-zone and replace its currency with the Euro – that is if the Euro still exists as EU/Euro-zone’s common currency. If the EU does not manage to come out of this crisis by the time Croatia enters the Euro-zone, Croatia could be well affected. This may not be for another few years (during which a lot could happen), but given the current situation the prospects look rather unfavorable.

For the European Union there are again pros and cons. To start with, every enlargement is costly for many reasons ranging from institutional adjustments and financial support to bureaucratic arrangements. Yet, in Croatia’s case the situation is very different and will be much less costly than, say, the last two enlargements (2004, 2007) which brought into the EU a total of 12  new countries. It is also very different from a situation like Turkey’s, which has a population of almost 80 million people whereas Croatia has a population of only about 4.5 million. From that perspective Croatia’s EU accession could help the economic crisis rather than exacerbate it; the prospects are still worse from the perspective of Croatia. In addition, Croatia’s accession to the EU will be another step towards fulfilling a long-pursued goal of the Western bloc, which is the democratic transition of Central and Eastern European post-Soviet countries by ultimately making them part of the European family, thus also preventing a war from breaking out, like in the 90s.

Conclusions

The most likely scenario is that all 27 EU member-states will ratify the accession treaty and Croatia will eventually enter the European bloc in 2013. From what we have briefly seen it is also evident that at low EU’s cost, Croatia’s accession might actually boost the economy. Although this is for the economists and time to decide, I would argue that given the systemic nature of the EU economic crisis, such a scenario is unlikely. However, at least in the short-term, the new political and economic interdependence that will be established between Croatia and the rest of the EU might improve the stability, development, and inter-state relations in the Balkans, although the rising political tensions that the economic crisis has created leave no scenario without flaws.

Essentially, there occurs that Croatia is the one of the two parties that, given the current economic and political situation of the EU, is faced with an uncertain future. If the economic crisis were to get worse then the uncertainty of the Croatian public opinion about its EU accession could grow even stronger, as the accession date comes nearer, and even lead to large scale social turmoil. Conclusively, it seems that the picture is very clear and simple, as we described it in the beginning: the future of the EU is uncertain and no one can guarantee its cohesion or the economic security of its current or future member-states; Croatia has not a clear indication as to what percentage really supports its accession to the EU while the signs of such a support so far have been relatively weak. So, the question, again, remains: why is everyone so happy about Croatia’s EU accession?

Follow Zenonas Tziarras on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/ZenonasTziarras

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2 thoughts on “Croatia’s EU accession: Why is everyone so happy about it?

  1. Just to mark some points:
    – Croatian people have had constituent participation in both “Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes” and Yugoslavia, under which the Socialist Republic of Croatia was a federation member. Croat war of Independence was actively fought for a bit over 2 years (which in comparison with the war in Bosnia is not such a long time). To say that Croats have fought for their Independence “for such a long time” is, to say the least, nonspecific.
    – the remainder of voters in the referendum should be 56%, not 66%.
    – Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007. 5 years later we have no particular idea when the Euro-zone will be open for the newest members of the Union. Of the earlier few members only Slovenia, Slovakia and Estonia are members of the Euro-zone, Latvia and Lithuania are participants in the ERM II. Major regional economies like Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary have not yet stated their program to join the zone. So why should Croatia, which will join the EU only after the end of ratification procedures as long as the one in Belgium, and only after at least mid-2013 start any procedures to join the Euro-zone, be so concerned about the current state of the zone. The time schedule puts Croatia’s accession to the Euro zone for at least mid-2015. Three years ago we didn’t even have the global crisis. Pessimistic scenarios should not be of objective role for Croatia’s public opinion.
    – After the Tito-Stalin split, as part of Yugoslavia and especially after the violent disintegration that took place during the 90s, Croatia should not be regarded as the case of the typical Eastern European former socialist country. The process that you have marked ended with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. The process of integrating the Western Balkans to the EU is a process that started formally after the Kosovo war and Croatia is the first successful step in this process which, in my opinion, will not stop in any economic, fiscal or other scenario of any sort of disintegration of the EU. Integrating former Yugoslavia and Albania to common European virtues is a key security issue for the continent, as history has shown.

    • Dear Dafar Shaban,
      first of all thanks for your comment and for noticing the typo-already corrected!
      – On your first point I understand how the “for so long” can be contested but I guess this is subjective (depends on how you define “long”). Of course i did not get into historical details but I do not believe that two years is a short period to fight a war (it is no game). Plus my purpose was to emphasise the adversity toward giving up sovereignty.
      – On the Eurozone: You are correct about everything you said about the other states but I never said that Croatia will immediately join the Eurozone! I just said that it has to do so eventually! It is bound by the EU aquis. Regarding the crisis, it is again a matter of opinion because a do think that this crisis is a very systemic one and whatever solutions found will only be superficial; thus they won’s solve the problem. I see my scenario as a realistic -and not a pessimistic- one.
      – I also made the last point you made on security, saying that it will improve the inter-state relations in the Balkans but also the general stability. However at the same time I countered this argument by saying that the crisis has already causing intense political conflict among EU states, which as I said leaves no scenario without flaws. This is because if the crisis deepens -without common policies found- that means that political conflict will deepen as well leading to further instability. EC and EU are what kept peace in Europe. If EU gets weaker (institutionally) then security and stability is not guaranteed.

      Hopefully things are a bit clearer know. Thanks again for your comment. If you still have a different opinion that is very welcome and you could send your argument to TheGWPost in the form of an article!

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