Member and neighbour States

A marriage of convenience?

Croatian MEPs welcomed in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, as Croatia officially becomes an EU member on 1 July 2013 (Flickr, © European Union 2013 - European Parliament.

Croatian MEPs welcomed in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, as Croatia officially becomes an EU member on 1 July 2013 (Flickr, © European Union 2013 – European Parliament).

Goodbye EU-27, welcome EU-28! Since this Monday, midnight, Croatia is officially member of the European Union. To celebrate this event, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission and Dalia Grybauskaite, President of the Republic of Lithuania and on behalf of the Lithuanian presidency of the Council of the European Union, were in Zagreb with the Croatian population. 

This enlargement was completed in a relative indifference if we refer to the press at the moment the European Union is experiencing distrust from the Europeans. Some people are even wondering if, after all, it was relevant to integrate this new member with a still fragile economy and an important rate of unemployment (near 20%), so that the comparison with Greece is more and more frequent. On the Croatian side, while the population backs the adhesion, it is more realistic as far as the net advantages the country can get are concerned, on the contrary.

Thus, some consider the integration of Croatia in the Union as a marriage of convenience, as something logical, the result of a process started in 1991, when this former constitutive republic of Yugoslavia left the Federation and claimed its independence. Twenty years of unofficial, then official negotiations followed with its nice and bad moments, due to the attitude of Slovenia who threatened several times to veto the adhesion of Croatia to the EU.

It is because of its sometimes brutal history that Croatia joins the EU, considering its future is now in Brussels. Nonetheless, the arrival of this State is also an opportunity for Europe insofar as it may enjoy thinking about the final goal of the European integration, as far as the next enlargements are concerned (Turkey excepted). As Fabien Cazenave mentions it on the website of the French weekly L’Express, the presence of Croatia has a positive effect on the Balkans insofar as the other States of the region will not have other solutions than leading deep reforms in order to be in conformity with the Copenhagen criteria, if they want to join the Union. Croatia, which risked seeing its adhesion suspended due to the importance of corruption in the country, got it. In other words, this is an important signal sent to Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo or Albania, which know they have to make important efforts to hope integrate the Union. This is a new proof of its force of attraction.

What is more, at the moment the European Union seems to struggle, the adhesion of a new member may be the occasion of a new positive dynamic for the European integration, especially regarding the future political choices of Europe, at the moment when federalism is more and more dealt with by some EU leaders (such as Martin Schulz, for the European Parliament, or Viviane Reading for the European Commission) and national rulers, such as François Hollande and even Angela Merkel. The issue is to know what is really meant by federalism. The next talks within the European Council (now at 28) will give an indication on that point.

So, the adhesion of Croatia gives the opportunity for the European Union to re-think and redefine itself at a time when citizens are further and further, as the breakthrough of Euro-sceptic movements and parties currently shows. As Ivo Josipovic, president of Croatia, explained on the last June during a conference held at the College of Europe in Warsaw, the adhesion of Croatia means new challenges for the now EU-28.

Gilles JOHNSON

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