Croatia''s accession to the EU:3 D view (Determination, Dynamics, Dialogue)
Lecture given by
Croatia''s Foreign Affairs and European Integration Minister Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
6 October 2005
Brussels, Egmont Palace
Excellencies, Ladies & Gentlemen,
Let me thank you for the invitation to speak before this distinguished audience and for the very kind introduction about Croatia and myself. Thank you for the bright vision on Croatia, which I do share with you. I believe that within a few years hopefully Croatia will become a full member of the EU.
Tonight, I''''ll give my first speech after the historic moment on Monday when Croatia opened the accession negotiations with the EU. My speech will be a little bit different from what I was accustomed to speak about Croatia: explaining that Croatia really deserves to open the accession negotiation talks. In the past few years, the Croatian government, the state, all the institutions and the Croatian citizens have done a tremendous job in transforming the country in all aspects, from the political, economic, social to the legal and all other aspects.
Tonight, I will be speaking about Croatia''''s path underway to the EU membership, Croatia''''s European integration process. I will also talk about further enlargement of the EU strongly supporting the process and about the special view we actually share in Croatia, the so-called 3-D view which we created in response to the famous 3-C approach that was announced this June by the EU enlargement Commissioner, Mr Olli Rehn: "consolidation, conditionality, communication".
Tonight, I''''ll be speaking about determination, dynamics and dialogue as the principles of further enlargement as we see it in Croatia.
Last year, there was a positive recommendation by the EC to the EU Council to give Croatia candidature status and to open accession negotiations. In that, Croatia was evaluated according to the Copenhagen criteria - the political, economic and legal criteria - as a functioning democracy with stable institutions, without any major problems in the respect of human rights, minority rights; as a country with a functioning market society that will however be able to face the challenges of the competitive pressures from the Common market within a medium term of three to five years; and as a country that, if continuing at this speed, will be able to harmonize its legislation and fulfil the obligations arising for membership within a medium term.
Afterwards the negotiations were supposed to be open in March of this year, but the only conditionality that was looming over the opening of the negotiations, the conditionality of full cooperation with the ICTY was not agreed on by the EU-25. The negotiations were postponed. Last Monday in Luxembourg, the EU task force, created to evaluate Croatia''''s cooperation with the ICTY, based on the opinion of the Chief prosecutor of the Court, Madame Del Ponte, that Croatia is now fully cooperating with the Court, made a recommendation to the Council of Ministers to open accession negotiations as soon as possible.
We were determined to proceed right away. We lobbied for the immediate negotiations. On the 3rd of October, we were happy to open the Intergovernmental Bilateral Conference opening accession negotiations between Croatia and the EU. We are also happy that Turkey, as a friend and ally, candidate for the EU, opened negotiations on the same day.
When it comes to the approach to the EU, Croatia firmly believes in the individual approach. That means that each country should proceed at their own speed; each country should get an assessment based on their own merit and in accordance with the effort that the country has put into the reform processes, the effort in complying with the membership criteria and in accordance with the results of the these processes. Each country should be rewarded with the appropriate steps underway to the EU.
Therefore, the process of the EU enlargement should continue to have its dynamics. This means that the period of the self-examination in which the EU has found itself after the failure of some of the referenda (especially in France and the Netherlands) on the Constitutional Treaty, and the period of questioning the issue of enlargement should be overcome. I believe that it has been overcome with the events of Monday and that enlargement will continue to be one of the successful policies of the EU.
Unfortunately, in the course of self-examination, a lot of people questioned the benefits of enlargement. There were voices that blamed enlargement for the failure of the referenda, claiming that enlargement has weakened the EU. However, the statistics show that progress can be monitored both in the traditional EU-15 and the 10 new countries that have really benefit from the EU enlargement. So, the dynamics of the process should be continued, along with the process of rethinking the institutions and some of the aspects of the Constitutional Treaty. The negotiations with the candidate countries should proceed.
Enlargement definitely brings with itself also benefits with the respective countries.
Let''''s remember the situation in the ''''90s in the area of South Eastern Europe or as the EU calls it ''''the Western Balkans''''. We do not like the term ''''Balkans'''', because it symbolises instability and a volatile region. We prefer the term ''''South Eastern Europe''''. Remember the fact that with the assistance of the International Community we were able to overcome the situation. Let''''s also remember the fact that with the Thessalonica Agenda and the European perspective for all the countries of the so-called Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) the reform processes were definitely strengthened in all these countries. For Croatia, it was a strong encouragement to proceed with the reforms.
We are fulfilling the criteria and performing the political, social, economic reforms because we want to create a better life for our citizens, for a better Croatia. We are not doing this because the EU or the international community asks this. The perspective of membership serves as a strong catalyst to perform well in these reforms. It provides a blueprint, a map for these reforms. Nevertheless, having in mind the perspective that according with our own performance, we will be joining the euro-Atlantic institutions; it does serve as a strong incentive. It has helped Croatia to perform so well in the past few years. I believe it really provides a strong incentive in our neighbouring countries to resolve their internal problems and to keep up with the reform processes, which ultimately will result in a sustainable development of the area of South Eastern Europe.
Therefore ''''Determination'''' comes as the second principle in this enlargement process.
It is the determination to carry out the necessary reform processes. It is the determination to proceed with the democratic reforms that will change the face of South Eastern Europe and that will contribute to the stability of the whole EU as well. Determination, I believe, in our neighbouring countries has been strengthened with the Monday events. The opening of the accession negotiations was a strong message to Croatia that the effort put into the reform processes has been rewarded and will further result in the very specific steps towards the EU membership. It was also a strong message to our neighbourhood that Croatia has become an example, a political and an economic role model that proves to everyone who had any doubts that really all the countries in South Eastern Europe do have an European perspective. There is no hidden agenda behind it. Europe will be complete only when the whole South Eastern Europe has been integrated in the EU. But also you have to do the necessary reforms at home. Therefore, it is important to keep this determination, to proceed at your own speed, at your own merits towards the full integration towards the EU.
The third element is ''''Dialogue''''. There are three different levels. First, there is the dialogue with your own citizens. The second level is the dialogue with the neighbouring countries, with the region and third level is that with the EU.
First, dialogue with your own citizens.
What happened recently in Croatia? Croatia has experienced a rather different trend than the other countries in transition who have gone through similar processes and who joined the EU in the fifth wave. Croatia had to go through a double transition. A transition from a centralised economy to a market economy and a transition from a country affected by war to a country in peace time that has been able to put the past behind, look into the future firmly and to normalize relations with its neighbours to the benefit of Croatia''''s own citizens and the future of its neighbourhood.
Dialogue with our citizens has been maintained for several years now. Mostly, we''''ve tried to explain the institutions and the way the EU functions. But in recent months, we have experienced a huge rise of euroscepticism. About two years ago, the support of the Croatians for EU membership was around 70%. About a month ago, it was down to almost 35%, because of the intensity of the process that Croatia was going through - that was quite different from the other countries. Unfortunately, the results of the reforms are always painful in the beginning and rather negative. Elements begin to show. Secondly, the Croatians felt the politicisation of the process perhaps as an undue pressure on Croatia. I believe, once we begin accession negotiations, that the citizens will cease to have this feeling that Europe just doesn''''t want us and that support will come back again. And really, overnight, the support went up to 63% again. I believe it will continue to go up, but of course, we will have ups and downs according to the process of negotiations and difficult issues that we encounter in the process.
Most important for our citizens now is to get prepared in their own lives for the EU membership, to discuss the specific issues of everyday life that will affect their business, their pensions, their health system, education and many other aspects. Therefore, we are building our communication strategy not to paint a rosy picture of Croatia''''s future membership in the EU, but to present all the benefits and also some of the shortcomings of the EU membership in order for them to be able to prepare for the future membership and to take a decision in the referendum that will be held after the accession treaty will be signed.
Secondly, there is the dialogue with the neighbours.
Croatia has become now almost a role model in the neighbourhood. We are very much aware of our responsibility in South Eastern Europe. We want to carry the other countries with us, proceeding at our own speed, but also not forgetting that we have an obligation and a sincere desire to assist our neighbours in their reform processes. And we want to do this in the same way in which our friends in the EU have been assisting us with their friendly advice in order to help us with the reform processes and now with the preparations for negotiations. We have been transferring, and will continue to do so, the knowledge that we have gained in the process to our neighbouring countries. They have all reached different levels of integration. With all of them we have protocols on cooperation, specific annual actions plans.
We will continue to be working with our neighbours, because we also want them to speed up with their processes towards the EU integration. The joint interest is a lasting stabilisation and a sustainable development of the area of South Eastern Europe. Here, we see many opportunities for free movement, economic opportunities, opportunities for the development of our tourism for example. We also bear in mind the fact that the image of the region affects the image of our country, when we work with our neighbours towards resolving the issues that are still looming in some of the neighbouring countries.
The third level is the ''''dialogue with the EU'''' at all levels. Not only a dialogue with the institutions at Brussels and the governments of the EU member countries, but also a dialogue with all the EU citizens to communicate Croatia, the benefits and added value that Croatia will bring into the EU and the new realities of the region of South Eastern Europe. According to the recent Eurobarometer polling, about 50% of the citizens of the EU member countries support further enlargement, about 52% of them support the joining of Croatia in the EU.
Most definitely, when we enter the EU, we want Croatia to be received as a constructive partner that will bring no problems to the EU, but on the contrary, that is willing and able to resolve the open issues with its neighbours and to work constructively towards bringing stability in the whole neighbourhood and the EU. In that sense, I believe that a lot has to be done in building an external communication strategy as well. Working together with the media, with you and the EU, we can present Croatia as a future member, not only as a beautiful country, but also as a country that wants to work towards strengthening the EU and solving the problems and as a country that, after taking care of the problems in the neighbourhood, wants to take a more active part in global politics as well. For this reason, we have also presented our candidature for the UN Security Council membership in 2008-2009. We will be working towards achieving that goal with the EU and other global players in the world.
In conclusion, I believe that in the past years Croatia has made a huge progress. The perspective of the EU and Nato membership has served as a strong incentive in bringing about the success of these reforms and it will continue to be a strong catalyst. There is still a long way to go in the harmonization of the legislation, in resolving issues such as the competitiveness of the Croatian economy, in building the appropriate administrative transparent and citizen oriented structures etc. I''''m certain that we will continue to benefit from the experience and friendly advice of the EU member countries. I strongly believe that the future of the region is bright and European. I think that everyone wishes to see it as a zone of cooperation and prosperity anchored in the European mainstream. In realizing that objective, the European perspective manifested and implemented through the rapprochement to the EU, the process of European integration is really indispensable. However, it is really up to Croatia and the countries of the region to cease these opportunities, to provide results and to prove that they will be trustworthy and valuable partners in the EU. Thank you for your attention.