Croatia's EU leap

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Croatia's EU leap

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The referendum in Croatia on whether to join the European Union has come out in favour. If all goes to plan, the state of 4,300,000 people on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea will become the 28th member of the bloc by July 2013. But although two thirds of voters said ‘yes’, just 44 percent of those eligible to participate did so in Sunday’s ballot. This seemed to point to resignation rather than enthusiasm.

In Zagreb, the capital, one citizen said: “I believe it is a good thing. I think it means my six children will have a good future ahead of them.”

Compare this with another opinion: “We have no other option. I don’t know. We are still a bit sceptical, it’s true.”

And then a third: “A lot of good things will come out of it. Of course, there are downsides as well, but that is something we have to get used to. It will depend mostly on us”

The membership negotiations began six years ago, under a government of the right, but it is up to a new government of the left to finish the entry agreement. Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic welcomed the opportunity.

Milanovic said: “This a turning point in our history, and we will be responsible for our own decisions. Success or failure now depends solely on us.”

Croatia remains under close watch. Romania and Bulgaria’s difficulties meeting the EU criteria remain highly relevant, and though all 27 of today’s members are expected to ratify the latest accession treaty, Brussels is keeping up pressure on the latest hopeful to maximise its potential.

Croatia’s economy is stagnant with growth of just 0.4 percent. Salaries are low, the average the equivalent of 715 euros. Some 18 percent of its workforce is unemployed. And in these circumstances its debt, higher than its income at 102 percent of its GDP, is heavy. Croatians, who are already struggling, are unlikely to accept future restructuring willingly.

Far right MP Ruza Tomasic, who feels it is too soon to make the jump, said: “We are not ready for the European Union. We should have improved our economy, increased our exports, and only join then. Our economy is in very bad condition. We don’t have a single real national bank. Our exports are abysmal. We are on our knees.”

Opponents of Croatia joining the EU have various objections. Most of them feel they have nothing to gain by it. But the strongest argument is based on sovereignty. The country only became independent in the last 20 years. Many feel that joining the supranational EU will be a retrograde step to something like the former Yugoslavia.