The Hague - the biggest problem in relations with the EU

You had a dynamic week in Brussels. What are the reactions of the EU to the Croatian application for membership in the EU? - The arrival at Brussels after the submission of the Croatian application for the EU membership was important in order to see what the epicentre of European developments thinks of this move. The submission of the application is a very important step and it was worthwhile lobbying to produce a positive atmosphere at the moment of its submission. Where is General Gotovina

The Troika has accepted rather calmly your interpretation that the resolution on the cooperation with the Haague and the return of refugees are processes. - Papandreu, Patten and Solana were very well briefed and they are experienced politicians. Their assessments would undoubtedly be more severe if they thought so. We have yet to remove part of the political conditions to be respected in order to come closer to membership. Currently, we can see a real result and not only the effort of the Government to resolve these issues. There is a predominant feeling that the Government is doing what it can to resolve them. There are also different, more sceptical attitudes towards the Croatian candidacy, but what I have said before is almost the unanimous attitude towards Croatia. Even in elections, the one who gets most votes wins! All the same, a certain majority creates a disposition towards Croatia in Europe. However, I have to be clear. When we talk about our perspective, we are immediately talking of problems, let others praise us. The list of open issues which, as it was said, burdened the relations between the EU and Croatia, is reduced to just a few issues, although they are quite serious ones.

What is the most significant open issue? - The Hague. Cooperation with the Hague is not an artificial issue through which it is attempted to impose something on Croatia. This is a matter of the authentic credibility of our national politics. We have met practically 97% of the requests of The Hague Tribunal, but issues of General Gotovina and General Bobetko are still open and we are waiting for a final position from The Hague Tribunal.

How is the situation with Gotovina commented on in the EU? - The situation with Gotovina is intriguing for all those who see Croatia in Europe. I claim that if anyone has proof that General Gotovina is in Croatia, let them show it to us. However, if he is not in Croatia, then, this is not Croatia’s business, but that of Interpol and countries in whose territory he is.

How will the issue of the return of refugees be removed from the political agenda? - It is completely clear that seven or eight years after the termination of war operations, the process of return is slowing down. Those who wanted to return have most probably done so in spite of the many difficulties that refugees were facing. During the past three years, this Government has done everything to remove from the legislation discriminatory provisions or those that might be interpreted as discriminatory. In this year alone, we have allocated more than 300 M. euro for various programs that are to speed up and conclude the process of return of refugees.

As soon as Croatia stopped being perceived as a part of the package of the Western Balkans, it began to be seen as a bridge between Western and South-Eastern Europe. - A country with such a geopolitical position and political ambitions to join the EU may not turn a deaf ear to its vital interest to establish relations with its immediate environment without political disagreements, and to have all the advantages from economic cooperation. It is in our interest that Croatia be recognised, as soon as possible, as an area to be integrated with the EU. Once the situation gets better in our south-east, we will have direct economic, political and material advantage. Let me repeat once again: we are for cooperation, exceptional, bilateral or through particular multilateral mechanisms with our neighbours, but the integration is possible only with the European Union. Deep changes because of Iraq

Croatia has used well the Greek presidency of the Union. Greece is to be succeeded by Italy with which we have serious open issues, and key decisions on its candidacy will be adopted during the Irish presidency. - When thinking about possible developments two years ago, I made a suggestion to the Government to open an Embassy in the one EU country where we did not have it. It was Ireland. Now we have an Embassy in Ireland and I believe that the Prime Minister will officially open it during his forthcoming visit to Dublin. The basic task of the Embassy is to prepare positive reactions in Ireland to our candidacy for the EU. As far as Italy is concerned, at this moment it is difficult to give a final arrangement in terms of when we shall conclude talks with Rome. We made a good start and have made significant progress since September last year. After the Italian proposal, we have given our proposal and are now awaiting their opinion. Generally speaking, these negotiations are taking place in a good atmosphere.

In front of European think-tank, the European Policy Centre, you have said that Croatia needs both the USA and the EU as partners. - At the European Policy Centre, I was asked whether Croatia is part of the “old” or “new” Europe. I have said that due to the historical lagging behind of Croatia and other transition countries, the imposed war and many controversies brought by internal politics, as well as the post-war period burdened with problems, now it is not enough to run, we must fly. And to be able to fly, we have to have both wings. By that, I mean membership in both the EU and NATO. It is commonly held that it is important to have on one’s side EU members exclusively for EU membership, and America for NATO membership, which of course is not true. What is true is that due to our historical problems, we cannot engage in controversies that are opening at this moment in relations between the USA and the EU. It concerns deep changes in international relations that the Iraqi issue has only made more visible.

Based on what information is the year 2006 announced as a year of Croatia’s joining NATO? - This is a calculation based on holding NATO summits. After Prague in 2002, it was said that the next round of enlargement will be at the next major summit. It is foreseen that it might be in 2005 or 2006. I believe that it is very important to confirm now that the policy of open doors is not a pretence and that neither NATO nor the EU are going to stop their enlargement.

NATO in 2006, the EU in 2007 – it is a matter of four years. How do you substantiate the argument that Croatia will satisfy criteria in such a short time frame? - By practice and results. In 2000, we were nowhere. Nowhere! We were not in the Partnership for Peace and we know what the EU thought of Croatia. In early 2003, three years later, we have submitted our candidacy for EU membership and we are being spoken of as a member of NATO in 2006. If it was possible to come this far in three years, from where we were to where we are now, I believe that it is possible to achieve what is being announced, in the next three years. Change of power

What if power changes at the elections? - No official statements were made on the future of the Croatian candidacy in terms of this. I claim that there is no guarantee. Croatian citizens will go to the polls and elect those who they believe will best represent their interests at that moment. Agenda of further lobbying by the Republic of Croatia

Do you have a detailed strategy for lobbying? What is your next goal in the EU? - Our next goal is to influence, although discreetly, as we are not in the Club of the Fifteen, nor in the Club of the Twenty Five, but to urge the Council of Ministers to forward our candidacy, in April or May, to the Commission for evaluation. This is a strategic task for the Croatian diplomacy to be carried out in several stages. Once the candidacy comes to the Commission, a lot will have to done in Croatia to keep political credibility, so that the Commission might, within reasonable time, in about a year, reply positively to our candidacy and notify the Council of Ministers which will then instruct the Commission to open negotiations with Croatia. If we succeed in this by the end of Spring 2004, it would be a great triumph of Croatian diplomacy and of all those in the country who made it possible.