Hoisted from Comments: Not Happening

Remarking on Edward’s post, one commenter writes, “Unlike Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia etc, Croatia is well on its way to the EU.”

Unfortunately for Zagreb, the EU is not on its way to Croatia. At least not with any great speed. I had pegged Croatia to be in by the 2009 elections to the European Parliament. That is not going to happen.

There will be no more enlargement until the EU’s instutitional questions are considerably more settled, and that is going to take longer than this year and next, no matter how energetically and successfully Chancellor Merkel pushes during Germany’s presidency. No more countries will be admitted before the next Parliament is elected.

Croatia’s crucial time window for joining the Union at the same time as Bulgaria and Romania was back in 2004 and 2005. The government at the time did not believe the EU was serious about its political conditions and had its bluff called by Brussels.

The quickest way for Croatia to join now, it seems to me, is not to point out how the country differs from its neighbors, but to build as many links within the region as possible and smooth the path for as many countries as desire to enter the Union. There’s only been one solo enlargement, and I wouldn’t count on Croatia being the second. Leading other candidates, however, is a proven winner.

11 thoughts on “Hoisted from Comments: Not Happening

  1. To me this decision is as much about the EU as it is about Croatia.

    The appearance of figures like Sarkozy throughout Europe has ensured that fortress Europe will keep its doors closed to new members longer than planned.

    As Michael pointed out why have the goalposts shifted since Romania and Bulgaria were allowed to join?

    A case of Croatia being ready for Europe or of Europe not being ready for Croatia?

    In the meantime though Croatia has to go regional. The exYu and Balkan market could be very profitable and the free trade agreement is a step in the right direction

  2. I’d say economically more, but politically and psychologically less.

    Also, Croatia’s relative wealth makes the country’s weaknesses that much more striking. Their judicial system is nearly as badly screwed as Romania’s, for instance. But the Romanians at least have the excuse that they’re really poor.

    Then there’s the Serb minority. There were about 550,000 Serbs in Croatia before the war. Today there are about 250,000. In very round numbers, about half a million Serbs were driven out of Croatia in Operations Lightning and Storm. Roughly a third of them have returned. About 2/3 have not, and are increasingly unlikely to do so.

    That’s because successive Croatian governments have placed a variety of obstacles in their way — everything from threatening returnees with war crimes trials, to foot-dragging on the return of properties, to directing investment and infrastructure work away from Serb areas. While paying lip service to the ideals of refugee return, Croatia has made it clear that it has all the Serbs it cares to have.

    At one level, this is understandable. After all, the Serbs tried to secede from Croatia, and ran a de facto independent state for four years — the nasty, corrupt little “Republic of Serb Krajina”. Whose first order of business, of course, was to ethnically cleanse the Croats.

    I’ve had conversations with Croats that have gone like this:

    1) Total denial that the Serbs were ethnically cleansed.

    2) “They did it to us first — they had it coming.”

    3) Total denial that the government is making it hard for the Serbs to return.

    4) “What, we should let them all back in so they can try again?”

    Now, points (2) and (4) are not completely insane. But they’re exactly what the EU was created to stop. The EU exists so that nobody ever has to lie awake again worrying about who owns Alsace-Lorraine. Stopping the madness is, like, central.

    I guess I’m not wild about giving EU membership to a country that [a] ethnically cleansed most of its largest minority group, and [b] continues to deny it. Extenuating circumstances notwithstanding.

    Doug M.

  3. Doug M.,

    I basically agree with you, but how is this different from the Benes decrees and Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia)? After all, at least the Czech Republic has allowed some Serbs to return and did not expel all (or even 90% as in the case of Czechoslovakia) of its Serbs (many of the urban Serbs remained throughout the war). It’s even allowed 1/3 to return.

  4. Doug farbeit for me to argue the toss on Croatian treatment of Serb retrunees or of Serbs generally for that matter.
    It still remains very much socially acceptable to express the views you ‘quoted’ in Croatian society – and that of course is a problem.

    But I’m not at all certain that this is the reason why Croatia will be prevented from joining the EU anytime soon. If it is the reason then this should be unequivically stated so that pressure is applied. I’m all for that.

    Further I’m not too persuaded by the argument that keeping Croatia (or other countries) outside the EU will moderate these types of views. Look at it this way look at the human rights records of some of the founding fathers of todays EU. I mean perhaps the most evil and brutal regime to grace mankind was allowed to join – and I’ll hazzard a guess that many Germans still had racist views concerning Jews, Slavs and others back in the day. Or we could even mention the founder father herself and Algeria. Human wrongs?

    Personally though I agree with you on the human rights issue. I think anything and everything should be done to encourage improved rights of disenfranchised (or worse) groups. A bit of carrot and a bit of stick.

    Its just that I dont think this is why the EU is keeping its doors shut. Besides we aint living in the 80’s anymore. Thatcher succeeded remember? Europe is big business and there isnt much space for human rights and (good old) social policy.

    I think your critical view on Croatia is well placed but I think you need to be a little more critical of fortress Europe too.

  5. “how is this different from the Benes decrees”

    Sixty years.

    Bganon, note that a massive process of denazification had taken place in Germany, followed by a period of soul-searching and formal acceptance of collective guilt.

    Nothing remotely like that has happened in the former Yugoslavia, or is likely to.

    Doug M.

  6. It isn’t about Croatia in particular. It’s that no one else is getting in until the institutions have been sorted out a bit more. Croatia happens to have the bad luck to be first (more or less) in line at the door while the folks inside re-arrange the furniture a bit so everyone will have a place to sit.

    On the other hand, it was clear back in 2003 that there was at least a reasonable chance that EU institutions would not be really sorted out after the big bang eastern enlargement and that enlargement fatigue could easily set in. Over the history of the EU’s development, periods of activity have been followed by periods of consolidation. That should not have been news to Croatia’s leadership.

    Thus, they should have seen that the window might well be closing. If they were serious about accession, they should have done everything possible to get in the next wave.

    Moving the goalposts? Welcome to Brussels, where changing the markings on the field is a key part of the game. Manipulating the process is one of the key processes that EU governments participate in. From the empty chair to Mrs T’s handbag to Northern Cyprus, putting the goalpost on wheels and taking it out for a spin is one of the things that the EU is all about.

    If Croatia’s leadership didn’t know that, that is prima facie evidence that the country was not ready to join the EU. If they were bluffing with Brussels about full cooperation with The Hague, then they miscalculated and are paying the price in lost time.

    Doug Muir says the government needs the time to strengthen institutions; I don’t know well enough to say one way or the other. Certainly there are constructive ways to use the delay. Will the current government take them up?

  7. Und das ist auch gut so, as Klaus Wowereit would say. One of the biggest mistakes around the EU is insisting on over tidy adherence to this-or-that academic principle.

    Tim Garton-Ash pointed out that whatever the German Constitutional Court thought the EU was doesn’t matter – it is a thing, a thing that we have created because it serves common interests, and a thing that ought to be changed if necessary. That’s “thing” in the English and the Viking sense, of course.

  8. ‘note that a massive process of denazification had taken place in Germany, followed by a period of soul-searching and formal acceptance of collective guilt.

    Nothing remotely like that has happened in the former Yugoslavia, or is likely to.’

    Quite. Although I would not equate wartime Croatia or Serbia with Nazi Germany although admittedly the Communist philosophy of rendering people less capable of independent thought (or shall we say less capable of seeing through government lies) was obviously a factor.

    And of course one could also pose the question why Germany succeeded – must be those advanced Europeans and the poor primative balkanists on the other side…

    Or might it be that Germany was occupied by the West (and East) for decades? You know I’ve spoken to a number of Serbs (including nationalists) who claimed that the West should have occupied all of Serbia after NATO bombardment. Odd when somebody tells you in one breath that Kosovo is forever Serbian and the next that the West should have occupied all of Serbia.

    Other Doug ‘Moving the goalposts? Welcome to Brussels’ Yes, of course I know but this argument is a slightly (shall we say) different one from ‘Croatia isnt ready’. That is exactly my point, its simply an excuse to not them in. Perhaps there would be merits in it although I have a feeling that somebody like my good self would despise a situation where arrogant ignormauses make all the decisions. Mind you thats not far different from the Balkan political elite is it?…

  9. “Doug Muir says the government needs the time to strengthen institutions; I don’t know well enough to say one way or the other.”

    Short version: Croatia is still one of those countries where the wealthy, powerful and well-connected can pretty much ignore the law.

    Again, this is understandable in places like Romania and Bulgaria, where lingering post-Communist poverty makes it hard to fund a decent justice system. But Croatia is richer than several current EU members. IMO this looks like some deeper pathology at work.

    Doug M.

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