Croatia has done it! by Sanja Romič
To make a 10-year long story short: This is as big as it gets. A few hours ago Croatia became the newest, 28th , member of the European Union! Croatia has done it: it has successfully passed the test, i.e. ‘the experiment’, as Croatian Chief negotiator with the European Union Vladimir Drobnjak aptly said, and is now savoring the moment which will hopefully outlive the spate of festivities and pomp that surrounded the celebration of its entrance into the most important association of sovereign states since man discovered fire. Will it now find the willpower to forgive and forget the misunderstandings and historical divisions on both sides of its political spectrum, and, especially, ravages of the war of the 1990s? Deal more successfully with the remaining unresolved issues with Slovenia and find a way to engage in a more constructive dialogue with its northern neighbor, in order to become a role model, perhaps, not just for the Western Balkans but Southern Mediterranean countries too? The good news is that the necessary groundwork has been laid down in full. And there is a lot of willpower in the air to move precisely in that direction. The first step was made as far back as 2000, when the European elite upheld the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU during the Croatia Summit in Zagreb. The process continued in 2003 when a perspective of European future was offered to all countries in the region during the summit in Thessaloniki to be finalized today, Monday, July 1, 2013, when Croatia showed that it was up to the task and has fulfilled all the requirements to become a full member of the EU. The European project hasn’t always been a popular concept in Croatia, but it has prevailed, and is overliving the obstacles created by Europe and Croatian political elites: it gained support of 66% of its citizens as a result of a referendum held in January 2012, which shows that a majority of Croatians wholeheartedly support integration into the EU and the harmonization of the country’s institutions and laws with the so-called EU Community law. Indeed, so much so that you can sometimes even hear that there isn’t much left to do except engage in a more transcendental task of reforming the country’s human capital. This is a contradiction in terms at best, I dare say. Certainly, one could argue that the reform of the Croatian civil service sector or the pace of its judicial apparatus leaves much to be desired, but the same argument simply doesn’t apply to its people. Croatians have patiently borne the brunt of the negotiating process that lasted a whole decade and never turned their back on the European project, no matter how difficult that journey at times was, and even when, for five long years, the negotiations hit a deadlock due to incomplete cooperation with the ICTY, another three due to the proclamation of the so-called Protected ecological fishing zone in the Adriatic sea and despite of consistent complaints regarding corruption, which were finally put to rest with the arrest of the former prime minister Ivo Sanader. Everyone has worked hard in Croatia to overcome those obstacles, no matter how problematic, costly or challenging they were. The process of reform has been historical. And such a lasting project will, I hope, bolster not only the development of Croatia’s infrastructure, regions and everyday life, but also the idea of a lasting Europe, for the benefit of all.