Croatia's leaders signed an EU accession treaty on December 9, putting the country on course for a referendum next year and then full membership in July 2013. Marking the EU’s expansion into the Balkans, the step (after seven years of negotiations) was hailed by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy: “Croatia is a pioneer, demonstrating in a tangible way that the future of the western Balkans as a whole lies in the European Union.” Marking the event, “European Affairs” put three questions to Vice Skracic, Chargé d'Affaires in the Croatian embassy in Washington.
EA: What Was The Most Challenging Part of Your Country’s Accession Negotiations?
VS: No one phase is more difficult than the others because you’re really looking at completely transforming the regulatory system and introducing everything needed for an EU framework and comfortable environment for investment. Of course, one of our biggest challenges was the strengthening of our judiciary and its administration. And we had a requirement to demonstrate full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague – which we did. Another specific problem was a Slovenian blockade over a bi-lateral border issue with us. We believe it was against the rules of the negotiating framework – and the problem was ultimately referred to arbitration on the agreement of both nations, for a process to commence immediately following our signing of the EU accession agreement. We have announced that Croatia will never resort to blockades over any bilateral issues with neighbors.
EA: What Is The Immediate Outlook For Croatia And Its Neighbors?
VS: Now Croatia has gained full observer status in the EU so we will take part in discussions and can express our views – without voting. That can only come after ratification by all 27 current member states. Let me stress that Croatia is a strong advocate for membership for all the countries in southeast Europe. Within the EU, we continue to press in this direction. We are hoping that Serbia will receive candidate status in the first quarter of 2012. We are pleased about the decision for Montenegro to start membership talks next June. We believe that prosperity (and stability) can only be achieved for our region via membership in the EU.
EA: What Are The Expectations And Attitudes Among Croatians Toward The EU?
VS: Public opinion among Croatians is relatively positive toward the EU, with polls showing about 60 percent of the population in favor of membership. Now we will start an intensive campaign reaching out to our citizens to sensitize them to the positive sides and any negative aspects of our effort to join the EU so that they can express their opinion in our referendum. The Croatian leadership since independence in 1991 has seen Euro-Atlantic integration as our foreign policy goal. After the events in the 1990s that led to the break-up of Yugoslavia, we really only got started on the EU road after 2000, with the first stabilization agreement in 2003. Croatians feel that this is a natural movement because we are a part of Europe and are now rejoining “the European house” where we naturally belong. As our president said in Brussels at the accession signing ceremony, “Croatia is better with the EU, and the EU is better with Croatia.”
-- European Affairs