Regional Consequences of Croatian EU Accession – Report from Day 02

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The second day of the Conference Regional impact of Croatia joining the EU, speakers drew a number of economic and political lessons for Southeast Europe as they assessed challenges in the wake of the Croatian joining the EU.

In the first session of the second day participants focused on the expected changes in regional economic dynamic, so as the particular effects on the economy of individual countries in the region, after Croatia becomes EU member. Ms. Jadranka Zenić Zeljković elaborated on the consequences of Croatia leaving CEFTA and what does it mean for the economy of Croatia and other CEFTA members. After Croatia joins the EU on the 1st of July, trade between members of CEFTA and Croatia will be organized according to Stabilization and Association Agreement, with the exception of Kosovo and Moldavia, which will have a special protocol.

In practice this means that industrial products will stay under the same regulation and with no increased tariff rates. More important change will happen in the area of agriculture and food industry, where export conditions to Croatia will improve and Serbia and other CEFTA members will be able to export to Croatian market without tariffs and quotas. At the same time Croatia will, when exporting to the region, have the tariffs for agriculture products which are valid for EU member countries. This can make Croatian products more expensive and it can be an opportunity for other CEFTS members to substitute with their cheaper goods in CEFTA market. Though this situation seems beneficial for CEFTA countries they will on the other hand have to reach higher EU standards and technical regulations to be able to continue with the same level of export to Croatia. Taken all together the analysis shows that impact of these changes will be relatively limited when it comes to regional trade and economic dynamics.

Professor Milica Uvalić, who later on talked about particular consequences for Serbia of Croatia joining the EU, confirmed previous conclusion and expressed belief that political impact will be more significant then economic one. In her opinion having Croatia as a member of the EU club, will provide the positive spin for other countries of the region to join.

Lejla Kablar, Director of Foreign Policy Initiative BH, looking at the relations between Bosnia and Croatia also placed emphasis on the positive political effect of Croatian joining the EU. As in the case of the other countries in the region, Croatian EU membership gave positive momentum for solving some longstanding bilateral issues between Croatia and BH, like the issues of border inspections, property relations, transit through Neum or social rights of Bosnian workers in Croatia. In the previous year five high level meetings between Bosnian and Croatian officials occurred. Some of these problems were tackled but most of them are still waiting to be solved. In that sense this positive dynamic in dealing with the regional issues should be kept after Croatia becomes EU member. The EU should stay active and confirm its transformative power by providing ongoing impetus for solving remained regional issues.

Jelica Minić from the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) continued on the topic of enhancing regional cooperation and clarifying new priorities in the changed region. South East Europe 2020 Strategy is being developed by RCC, which sets out the region’s growth and development vision. It provided a refreshed approach for building regional relevance through decentralized development and national efforts. Strong and joint message from the region is necessary and in that sense regionally owned initiatives have added value. Regional development by Ms. Minić opinion cannot be separated from EU accession process and in that sense new strategies have to be strongly connected to IPA.

During the second session speakers (Višnja Samardžija, Tanja Miščević, Daliborka Uljarević and Erhan Türbedar) placed forward certain lessons from the EU accession process of Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey and presented possible recommendation for the better effectiveness of the future process. They agreed on the fact that the process of the accession to the EU provided significant impetus for the political, economic and social transformation of the countries in the region, strengthening the democratization process in the candidate countries, their institutional capacities, their justice system and anti-monopoly regulation. The Europeanization of the policies was underlined as the main achievement. Again the role and the impact of the EU accession process for placing bilateral regional issues on the table and speeding up the process of finding solutions, was extracted. On the other hand, speakers agreed that in all cases the process lacked transparency and public communication, that it required greater inclusiveness when it comes to the contribution of non-government sector and external experts and that greater involvement of the Parliament is needed. Because of the fact that negotiation and accession process is highly centralized and based on the administrative expertise, it is necessary that political consensus is reached through the Parliament. What could be learned from Croatian case is that constructive discussion on the essential issues of all relevant actors is necessary, from the beginning of the whole process and that candidates should take advantage of the length of the process. Croatia has an enormous institutional memory which can provide a great help for the candidate countries and should be used more, as for example it is in the case of the translation of the EU documents and regulations. Problem is that these regulations are in the constant change, so is the whole Union and candidates are facing altered requests and benchmarks.

As Tanja Miščević pointed out EU is a moving target but that doesn’t mean that everything is new and that some lessons cannot be learned. Based on the Turkish case, Erhan Türbedar explained, we can see the danger of losing that target. Even though officially EU is still part of the Turkey’s vision, in reality all political parties in the country took out EU from their political agenda. It slowed down the transformation process and democratic reforms in the country. The accession is important for democratization, transparency but also foreseeability of Turkish politics.

The conference was concluded with the topic of political implications of Croatia joining the EU and effects on the foreign policy of regional countries. Dejan Jović from the Faculty of Political Science in Zagreb, elaborated first on the implication for the Croatia and its foreign policy of the finalization in gaining the full membership status. As he explained for Croatia this is the symbolic end of transition period and confirmation of Croatia as a normal country, finalization in its process of building itself as a sovereign European democracy. After Croatia joins the EU, Union stops to be the goal for Croatia but turns into the instrument. Question which comes then is: instrument for what? Small states need foreign policy strategy, because when the rupture of international system happens, like in 1989, the choices they make then can determine their future for decades. What are the best possible strategies for Croatia to position itself within the EU, especially in the realm of Common Foreign and Security Policy? Croatia can share its post conflict and transitional experience, currently relevant and important for the Arab world. The Europe-Balkan dichotomy needs to be overcome and Croatia should emphasize its role as Mediterranean country. Croatia needs to respond to the global challenges and it would be wrong to define itself as simply guardian of the EU borders but as an active small power which connects the region with the EU.

For Macedonia EU accession process was not a successful story as for Croatia but it still pushed Macedonia in the process of transition and democratization and created Macedonia as a normal country. Židas Daskalovski from CRPM Skoplje, explained again how bilateral disputes can play significant role in the whole process. Although Greek veto of the start of Macedonian EU accession talks continues to raze doubts over the EU conditions and principles, it does not undermine public support for the accession. The name dispute in a way helps Macedonia to articulate and discus some of the challenging aspects in the current EU, like what is the future of the EU project, what it can offer to Macedonia and what are the alternatives.

Srđan Đurović from CPES underlined how though administrative complexity of the process sometimes obscures political dimensions of accession, the EU normative and transformation power is not lost. Its impact on the stabilization and democratization in the regional countries is unquestionable. For this reason candidate countries need to strengthen the process and its legitimacy through greater involvement of Parliaments, public and civil sector. Governments need to avoid the trap of chasing the pure functionality and effectiveness in the process and secure the broad consultation mechanisms, involving experts in all fields. Transparency and inclusive debate are only way to localize the outcomes of negotiations, and to formulate better positions for negotiations.

The final presentation of the Conference, showed in the case of migration issue, to what extent the Croatia joining the EU actually has an impact in the regional countries beyond the bilateral or regional realm also on the domestic one. As Vladimir Petronijević from Group 484 pointed out, with Croatia joining the EU, border control in Croatia will be much stronger and that will create pressure for regional countries to improve not just their border control but also migration and asylum policies.

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