On 1 July Croatia has become the 28th member of the EU. Will this membership bring joy and happiness? And was it worth the effort?
Today the unemployment rate in Croatia accounts for 21 percent, and since 1 July citizens of the country acquired the right to enter, live and work in 14 EU states (13 EU Member States, Island, Norway and Switzerland imposed restrictions on Croatian national for another five years). Young Croatians will probably take this opportunity and leave the country in search for better perspectives.
This year Croatia‘s GDP has decreased by 0,7 percent. According to forecasts, by 2016 public debt-to-DGP ratio will eventually exceed the 60% limit and this is not in accordance with the Maastricht Treaty.
These figures indicate that Croatia has become another crisis-stricken country (including other Southern European Member States) which will have to be rescued by rich North European countries.
Croatians themselves are sceptical toward membership in the EU. According to the agency „Cro Demoskop“, 67 percent of Croatians supported membership in the EU, 25 percent were against and the remaining 8 percent had no opinion concerning membership in the EU. The main reason of this scepticism is bad economic situation of the country.
But economy of the country will benefit from membership in the EU. Prior to this Croatia‘s trade volumes with the block countries accounted for 60 percent of the country‘s export and this figure will surely increase. Croatians will also get access to the EU Structural Funds; moreover, being member of the EU Croatia will have more opportunities to attract foreign capital.
Membership in the EU will be useful not only for Croatia’s economy; the country will have better political and social perspectives. Foreigners will refer to Croatia not only as a developing Balkan country but also as part of a democratic and progressive union.
One of the main engines of Croatia‘s economy is tourism. In 2012 the income from tourism has increased by 3,2 percent and reached nearly 7 billion Euro. There are no doubts that this figure will increase – membership in the EU will psychologically distance Croatia from its bloody past in the Balkans.
Croatia started negotiations on membership in the EU in 2003, and planned to join the EU in 2007; Later this date was postponed since country turned out to have more problems than it was expected.
Negotiations concerning accession were completed in 2011. The EU has set the following requirements for Croatia: reform of the judicial system in order to ensure its independence, impartiality and effectiveness; to tackle corruption and organised crime; to strengthen protection of ethnic minorities; to solve problems related to the return of refugees and to enhance protection of human rights. Croatia also had to improve cooperation with the Hague Tribunal and bring persons accused of committing crimes against humanity (generals A.Gotovina and M.Markach) to justice.
Another obstacle in Croatia‘s journey toward the EU was the dispute over Croatia-Slovenia border. The object of these disagreements is small 20 sq.m Gulf of Piran in the Adriatic Sea. Croatia claims that the boundary should be an equal distance from each shore, but Slovenia is afraid to lose the access to international waters (this problem is not resolved yet and has been submitted to the UN and EU arbitration). Croatia also has questionable borders with Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro but this didn‘t have direct impact on Croatian-EU negotiations.
Croatia‘s success is an example to other Balkan countries. Serbia‘s negotiations for membership in the EU will start in January 2014, accession of other Balkan countries is also possible. The fact that Croatia’s economy faced difficulties during the accession period illustrates that it will not be the last country to be accepted by the EU. Croatia‘s President I.Yosipovich assured that his country will support efforts of other Balkan countries to join the EU.
Croatia‘s membership in the EU opened a new page in the history of the Balkans; the country has joined the family of developed and democratic countries. On the other hand, Croatia‘s economic situation determined that is has become one of the poorest EU Member States expecting to receive billion euros aid. EU enlargement must have been inevitable for Croatia, but were the circumstances adequate for membership? Time will show.