Croatia’s accession to the EU has been hailed by MEPs at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The country’s first-ever members, 12 in all, were presented during an official ceremony.
The chamber’s president, Martin Schulz, said: “The Croatian people took a path many years ago from oppression to freedom. The restoration of its national sovereignty, and then its way into the European Union, was a consequence of recovering this freedom.”
Croatia, which declared its independence in 1991, is the second country that split from the former Yugoslavia to join the now-28 member bloc after Slovenia signed up in 2004.
Zagreb began talks with Brussels over potential membership in 2005.
But almost two decades ago this seemed unimaginable.
Yugoslavia invaded Croatia shortly after its declaration of independence, marking the start of a four-year-long war.
Euronews spoke with a top political scientist to see how Croatia will fit inside the ‘European family’.
Efi Koutsokosta, euronews: “The European Commission says in its final report that Zagreb has yet to tackle corruption, trafficking, and organized crime. Will Croatia really attack those problems, which after all affect Europe’s security too?”
Jacques Rupnik, Political scientist, SciencesPo: “Well, Croatia will be really a test case. There have been doubts after Romania and Bulgaria joined because there were problems with the rule of law, the anti-corruption fight and that clearly inhibited some of the current members of the Union for further enlargement. Just consider that Prime minister Sanader, who really was a leader of the HDZ – the main right-wing party, has been arrested in Austria and has been sentenced and is now in jail. So if you are targeting the anti-corruption fight all the way to the prime minister’s office that is a suggestion you are serious, that is a message you are sending to everybody in the political class that the connection between business and politics has to be broken or at least it has to obey certain rules to which it hadn’t to the past.”
euronews: “Polls show that only 39 percent welcome the accession to the EU after almost eight years of tough negotiations. Have Croatians lost their enthusiasm since the beginning?”
Rupnik: “The EU at the moment is not a terribly attractive club. Croatians sometimes feel – as one of them told me not long ago: We’ve got the feeling of joining a boat that is sinking. So, that may be an overstatement and hopefully it’s not sinking but it just gives the mood it’s very hard to be enthusiastic.”
euronews: “Is Croatia going to benefit from EU accession given the deep economic crisis that has also battered Croatia for the last five years?”
Rupnik: Well, the crisis would have affected Croatia with accession or without accession. So, even if Croatia didn’t join the EU it would still be affected by the recession inside the EU and particularly inside the eurozone. So, you might as well be in, rather than out, because if you are in you benefit from all the accession funds, the structural funds, the agricultural policy, all the things that Croatia will benefit just as Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia and many others have benefited over the last decade.”
euronews: “The European Union’s capacity for integration will not be tested this time as Croatia has a population of almost four million. But what is the point of enlargement if Europe doesn’t have a clear direction?”
Rupnik: “If you look at the last 20 years and you try to see what is the biggest success story of the EU, you will probably not put the euro among the success stories. That still has to be confirmed. Let’s survive and let’s see if we can call it a success story. You cannot call the constitution project – which was a major hope of the last decade – a success story. Referenda in Holland and France torpedoed that. The biggest success story in my view, of the EU, the unspoken success story has been the enlargement to the East, the stabilisation of democracy, the transformation of these economies, that has been a major achievement which Europe has not trumpeted too loudly because allegedly the public opinion inside the EU is not terribly enthusiastic about it.
euronews: “Under these circumstances of financial instability how do you make the great bold move to open the EU towards very difficult areas with the uncertainty that this brings?”
Rupnik: “Well, there is always somebody having an election coming. Right now is Germany, but there is always somebody and therefore the best thing is rather than not to talk about it. We’ve had a war in the Balkans in the 90s. It has cost the West 100 billion euros to fix it: military intervention, post-war reconstruction etc. Isn’t it a better investment to include them because it’s an investment in our own peace, in our own stability. So, this is a very positive message.”