CROATIA JOINS THE EU (1/26/2012)

At a time when Greece seems on the way out of the European Union, Croatia has just secured its way in. On Sunday, January 22nd, the Croatian public voted overwhelmingly in a national referendum in favor of joining the European Union, with 67% voting yes despite a low turnout. This referendum comes one month after Croatians voted in a new centre-left pro-EU party for the first time in decades.

Croatia’s application to the EU, submitted in 2003 with negotiations started in 2005 alongside Turkey, has not been without its difficulties. Croatia first had to resolve border disputes with EU-member Slovenia and fulfill satisfactorily 35 chapters of the acquis communitaire which outline the political and economic criteria of joining the EU.

Yet, for many Croatians, these were simple obstacles to overcome compared to the transition from a communist to a free-market economy and their bloody involvement in the Yugoslav Wars of the early 1990s. Croatian nationalists have always maintained a westward orientation through strong ties with the Roman Catholic church, latin script, and the access its Adriatic coast has given it to Western Europe.

Despite a brief surge in euroskepticism following the sentencing of a former Croatian general for war crimes at The Hague in 2011, Croatian political and public opinion has always been strongly in favor of EU integration.

Croatia must now wait for the remaining 27 EU member states to approve its entry into the EU, with July 1, 2013 as the expected date of entry. The influx of foreign funds and investment as a result of accession to the EU is expected to help rebuild Croatia’s still ravaged tourism, agriculture, and industrial sectors.

Croatia’s GDP per capita, at 56% of the EU average as of 2010, is also expected to increase with greater mobility of goods and labor. Many Croatians are optimistic that entry into the EU will bring more transparency into their notoriously inefficient and corrupt government bureaucracy.

With the EU and the eurozone’s recent economic and debt problems, some Croatians are more pessimistic. Croatia is now far more exposed to Europe’s problems of debt, immigration, and a recessionary economy.

As Europeans look to Croatia for an assessment of Europe, Croatia does not see the referendum as an appraisal of the current state of the EU but a deliberate turn away from its Yugoslavian past and toward a rosier, more peaceful future.