April 28, 2003
18:30 - 21:30 CEST/CET
„The Republic of Croatia on the Road to the European Union”
a speech held by Mr. Neven Mimica, Croatian Minister for European Integration,
Diplomatic Academy Vienna
‘Ladies and Gentlemen,
At the outset of my address, allow me to express my great satisfaction for having an opportunity to deliver this speech in the capital where, not only Croatian road to the European Union enjoys strong Government support, but where it was strongly encouraged by one of the highest European Commission’s officials less than five months ago.
On the occasion of the Economist conference held in Vienna last December, 1 was glad to hear the assessment of the Commissioner Günter Verheugen on Croatia’s place in the European Union’s enlargement, based on its clear differentiation from the rest of the region of the Western Balkans, as South East Europe is called in the Brussels terminology.
As last year was characterised by rather lukewarm reactions of the European Union on Croatia’s European ambitions, his words, although delivered in personal capacity, signalled positive change in the attitude of the European Union high officials towards, then only possible, Croatian application for membership.
This possibility became reality on 21 February 2003 in Athens where Croatia’s the application was presented to the Greek Presidency of the European Union. Of course, decision of the Croatian Government to submit the application was not based on subjective assessments, but on rather objective achievements indeed. One could enlist four decisive factors for this step.
First of all, consensus of all Croatian parliamentary parties was reached regarding the European path of Croatia, and the Croatian Parliament at its session of 18 December 2002 adopted the Resolution on Croatia’s Integration into the European Union. This underlined a strong commitment of all the parliamentary parties to reaching the strategic goal of European Union membership and carrying out the farreaching reforms required for harmonization with the European Union standards regardIess of any future
election outcome. The Resolution urged the Government to submit Croatia’s application for membership by the end of February 2003 as weil.
Furthermore, public support for Croatia’s membership in the European Union remains steady and high at around 75 78 % over the three past years, as the regular semiannual polls conducted by the Ministry for European Integration show. These solid figures obliged the Government to embark upon the accession process.
However, the decision to submit an application for the membership in the European Union itself was based on the Government’s assessment that Croatia has made substantial progress in fulfilling the necessary political, economic, legal and institutional commitments undertaken in the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union. Also, it was easy to prove that in Croatia exited the highest regional level of constitutional and political stability, the functioning of a political, state and democratic system together with related institutions, the steady growth of democracy, the strengthening of the ruie of law, improvements in the protection of human rights, and a satisfactory and constantly improving economic performance.
Last, but not least, it should be stressed that Croatias application for the European Union membership enjoyed overall understanding and firm support in most of the European Union member states, as “application shuttle diplomacy” involving Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and myself showed.
Only this general support can explain the fact that already on 14 April 2003, less than two months after the application was submitted, the Council of Ministers mandated the European Commission to start preparing an avis on the Croatia’s membership application. lt is expected that this process will be finalised by spring 2004, well before the end of the term of the present European Commission. And this is not my assessment, but one of Commissioner Christopher Patten.
Therefore, we expect that Croatia could become next candidate for membership of the European Union by the summer of the next year. And this brings us to the question whether Croatia can and will join Bulgaria and Romania in the next enlargement wave expected for 2007.
Croatian Government is firmly determined to be ready to assume the obligations arising from European Union membership by the end of 2006 and to function as a “virtual member” from 1 January 2007. 1 am confident that the said goal of the Croatian Government can be reached, provided that the present dynamics of meeting European Union membership criteria is upheld. With that respect, 1 should highlight the fact that the Croatian Government has decided already in 2001 to simultaneously implement the obligations undertaken in the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and to start fulfilling Copenhagen membership criteria. To our great satisfaction more than 60 % of all measures envisaged for the implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement have already been realised. This headway is also evident from the second Commission’s annual report on the Stabilisation and Association Process published on 26 March 2003.
Nevertheless, whether or not Croatia will actually join the European Union in 2007 depends not only on Croatias determination and preparedness, but also on the willingness and preparedness of the European Union to accept new members after the [argescale enlargement in 2004.
However, if Croatia wants to catch 2007 enlargement composition, negotiations for membership should start in the second half of the year 2004, and then proceed smoothly and swiftly, ending in the first half of 2006. All the aforesaid taken together does not mean that we shall be competing with Bulgaria and Romania that are already long way ahead on this itinerary. We shall be competing with ourselves in challenging our best endeavours in meeting the EU standards and criteria. We know exactly how much daring reform efforts it takes, how difficult comprehensive and coordinated tasks we have to fulfil on that road. We are aware that we have to start by proving our readiness to address three remaining political preconditions full cooperation
with the International Court for War Crimes in Former Yugoslavia, return of refugees and judiciary reform that would reconfirm our determination to respect values and principles the EU is based upon. We have analysed all good and bad negotiating and harmonisation experience of the candidate countries, and also our potentials and capacities on the other hand. Therefore, we are quite realistic when stating that we are capable of accomplishing our accession negotiations in less then two years period from mid 2004 to mid 2006.
‘Ladies and Gentleman,
Croatia believes in the “enlargement after enlargement” to proceed on the same principles and conditions as it has been evolving so far. Considering the imminent 2004 round of enlargement, 1 am satisfied to observe that the European Union has recently started to define a link between the two parallelrunning processes in Europe. These are the Stabilisation and Association Process in South East Europe and the enlargement process.
The Copenhagen European Council in December 2002 confirmed the European perspective of the five countries of the Western Balkans included in the Stabilisation and Association Process and underlined, once again, the European Union’s determination to support their efforts as potential candidates to move closer to the European Union.
According to the European Commission, “the Summit which will be held in Thessaloniki in June 2003 with Heads of State and/or Governments of the European Union member states, of the acceding countries, and of the potential candidate countries in the Western Balkans aims at sending a strong political message to the countries and peoples of the region, namely that the European Union is committed to the European future of all Balkan countries, and that Europe will be reunified only after this region has become an integral part of it”.
Furthermore, the European Union’s external policy strategy paper, “Wider Europe” recognises the region as the only part of Europe that the European Union can be eventually enlarged to.
With this respect, the Stabilisation and Association Process becomes an entry strategy introducing European values, principles and standards in the region, which in due course will gain it entry into the European Union.
The message of the Union that there will be enlargement beyond enlargement is welcomed by Croatia. Enlargement should be enlarged. Croatia expects the Stabilisation and Association Agreement to become a bridge linking the Stabilisation and Association Process with the next round of European Union enlargement. Each state of South East Europe should be capable of crossing the bridge by virtue of its individual capacities and merits in adopting the European standards and criteria. This link must not be just an outcome of a political decision. lt must be based on the individually assessed progress made by the countries involved in the Stabilisation and Association Process in pursuing their own commitments. The Stabilisation and Association Process is well conceived, but it can take root and survive only if proved able to turn out new European Union candidates.
By embarking upon the accession process, Croatia wants to contribute to the stability of the wider region of South East Europe and to demonstrate to the other Stabilisation and Association Process countries the profitability of carrying out the required reforms, making their prospects of European Union membership more real. With this step, Croatia does not intend to, and cannot, disassociate itself from the region. On the contrary, Croatia assumes even greater responsibility for fostering stability and prosperity in the region.
With this respect, our membership application has threefold benefit. This application is beneficial for Croatia, because it reflects the progress achieved in meeting the goals set by the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. lt is beneficial for the European Union, because it proves that the Stabilisation and Association Process is a weildesigned process and offers the European
Union an opportunity to deliver on its existing principles of individual merits, differentiation and catching up. lt is beneficial for the region as well, because it motivates other countries to follow Croatia’s example of building stable democratic state structures capable of meeting the European Union membership criteria.
Taking into account the prospect of further European Integration that it brings, not only of Croatia, but of other countries of the region of South East Europe as well, 1 would like to elaborate at this point on the future of the Stabilisation and Association Process and on the forthcoming Thessaloniki Summit that is expected to shape it.
Four years after its launch and having in mind the fact that the situation in the region has dramatically changed since its conception, the Stabilisation and Association Process is ripe for intensification. Not only recently adopted Brussels European Council conclusions called for this, but the European Commission already presented several ideas in its second annual report on the Process. In short, elements of the “enlargement method and lessons” will be increasingly transferred into the Stabilisation and Association Process. The European Commission has also announced that all of its directorates will be mobilised to support the countries of the Western Balkans.
From the perspective of the region, the key words of the Process must become “from containment to cohesion”, “from crisis management to convergence to the European Union”. This is the only way in which prosperity and stability can be secured and reform path maintained.
Some leading European think tanks have expressed the view that without a stronger cohesive instrument, Europe is threatened with a new crisis in the Western Balkans, this time not a war conflict, but an economic and social crisis likely to turn into political and institutional impasse, accompanied by rising radical rightwing alternatives. The situation on the ground gives rise to those who advocate that the European Union must shift from the policy of
containment to the policy of cohesion in the Western Balkans. But, what are the key elements of that needed cohesion policy?
We must not overburden the transparent and able Greek presidency with unrealistic demands and expectations for the Thessaloniki Summit agenda. This would be counterproductive. At the same time, we must not raise too high expectations of the public in the Stabilisation and Association Process countries on the outcome of the Thessaloniki Summit. Too big disproportion between publicly declared requests of the region and the realistically possible results of the Summit could even provoke antiEU sentiments in the region. That is certainly the least desirable option. Therefore, we should instead concentrate on a realistic regional platform. And what is equally important, that regional platform must be discussed, assessed and agreed on not only among Western Balkans countries. lt will be more productive if it can emerge as a mutual action plan discussed and agreed with the European Union Troika and the European Commission well before Thessaloniki. In order to achieve that goal, preparatory meetings are already under way.
In my view, a realistic and achievable Thessaloniki agenda could contain following elements and commitments, some on the region side, some on the European Union side:
On the Western Balkans countries side this should entail strengthening commitment of the governments to pursue a clear policy of building stable democratic state structures and market economies by following principles laid down in the Stabilisation and Association Process. Furthermore, their commitments to facilitate trade flows should be reiterated by promoting the idea of geographic transposition of CEFTA to the Southeast Europe, once all the countries of the region become WTO members, thus ensuring a transparent, predictable and rulebased trade policy,
On the European Union side a clear political message has to be sent to the region promising that the European future of the region shall be reached on the basis of individual merits, differentiation and catching up principles.
Consequently, in order for the Stabilisation and Association Process to become a real, and not only a political entry strategy, European Union assistance to the region should be substantially increased in volume and modified in structure focusing primarily on facilitation of sustainable development taking into account specific situation of each country. Participation in various Community programmes should be extended to cover the region as well. All in all, more preaccession funds and preaccession guidance in speedingup reforms towards European standards should be provided to the region, in order to make the pace of social and economic convergence of the region to the European Union much faster. This means that more efficient conditionality policy has to be forged, with better balance between commitments of the countries in the region and the EU.
Hopefully, what Copenhagen European Council in 1993 meant for acceding countries of Central and Eastern Europe, Thessaloniki Summit in 2003 will mean for the five Stabilisation and Association Process countries.
lt is beyond doubt that the whole European integration process, involving the fulfilment of all political, legal, economic and administrative conditions for membership, is continuously evolving. Many measures taken are in fact an investment in the future and their full impact still remains to be seen. That is actually what the European integration process is all about. The reforms are being undertaken for our own sake, for the transformation of our social and economic systems, and the European Union membership is just a terminal station on that route. The actual moment when one country arrives to the membership is not as important as how it equips itself for this journey and eventual arrival.
Thank you for your kind attention.’