Croatia votes to join EU, but with great ambivalence
While support for Croatia's EU membership ultimately prevailed, enthusiasm was tempered by fears of giving up short-lived sovereignty and the impact on local industries.
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While Croatia prepares to join the EU club of liberal democratic nations, most of its neighbors remain stuck in the slow lane towards membership. In December, EU members voted against starting accession talks with Serbia, which now looks unlikely to join this decade. Bosnia, hopelessly politically divided, is even further from membership, as is Albania. Even tiny Montenegro, a relative success story, is several years from joining.Skip to next paragraph
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Given the practical and symbolic benefits of entry to the EU, Croats' lack of enthusiasm for membership – and the existence of a sizable, vocal minority that is vehemently opposed – may seem strange.
One reason is the political and economic malaise afflicting the EU and the euro. Many Croats feel uncertain about the EU’s direction and its future. Accession will put Croatia on track to adopt the troubled euro, although not until 2015 or later.
However, some of the most ardent opposition is unrelated to the EU’s present funk. Nationalists, some of them veterans who fought for independence, fear a loss of sovereignty and identity. Fishermen are concerned about opening Croatia’s waters to Italian competitors and small business owners worry about greater regulation from Brussels.
The experience of other post-Communist EU member states, such as Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary has not been entirely positive. The three have clashed with Brussels over economic policy, reform, and corruption. Hungary in particular has butted heads with Brussels in recent weeks over new laws governing the country's media, courts, and central bank, which prompted the EU to threaten to withhold a loan.
“Croatia joining is certainly positive for the EU, but people see that the benefits of membership may have been overstated,” says Pawel Swidlicki, an analyst at London-based think tank Open Europe, which favors a more economically liberal, decentralized EU.
“They see the current situation with the eurozone crisis and the fiscal pact and worry that they may lose out. After the war, they are reluctant to give up sovereignty. The fisheries policy has been a disaster, and Croatia is a maritime nation, while the EU places a heavy burden on SMEs [small and medium enterprises] in particular. But overall, people in Croatia do see the benefits of membership.”
While the consensus is that both the EU and Croatia will benefit from the Balkan country's accession, conventional wisdom also says that the process is unlikely to be painless.