from the Financial Times..
[Ed. note: This an important full-page article that I can only excerpt here.]
June 25, 2013
By Neil Buckley
Many economic doubts remain about the EU’s 28th member.
On track: After eight years of talks, Croatia is finally about to join the EU. It’s admission makes it eligible for €13bn from Brussels
Just days after Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia, Sandra Veic Sukreski, a young journalist from Zagreb, received an ominous tip-off. A friend told her that Serbian fighters were gathering in woods near Osijek, in Croatia’s east. It was July 1991 and tensions between Croats and ethnic Serbs had been building for months.
Croatia’s four-year war of independence would leave 20,000 dead and 2,000 people missing; neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina’s was even bloodier. Ms Veic Sukreski covered both, witnessing conflicts whose savagery echoed not just the second world war but conflicts from centuries past.
Almost exactly 22 years after that journey to Osijek, on July 1 Croatia will become the 28th member of the EU – only the second former Yugoslav republic and first of the main protagonists of the 1990s wars to join. No other recent entrant has followed such a tricky path. For those such as Ms Veic Sukreski, who lived through the war, Croatia’s EU accession marks a closure.
“I want Croatia to be seen as a normal European country, like France or the UK,” she says, “and not as some problematic Balkan war zone.”
Croatia’s entry also provides, to an EU mired in economic crisis, a reminder of its origins. Dejan Jovic, an adviser to Ivo Josipovic, Croatia’s president, says Croats view the union just as its founders did, “as an anti-war concept. They founded the EU because they had the experience of a war.”
Yet for all the symbolism, much of the EU seems unsure whether to celebrate 4.5m-strong Croatia’s entry or treat it with suspicion. There is little of the jubilation that surrounded the EU’s absorption in 2004 of eight former communist states, including Croatia’s former Yugoslav neighbour, Slovenia. That “big bang” enlargement was seen as reuniting Europe, definitively burying the cold war. Since then, backsliding in countries such as Hungary has served as a warning that EU membership does not make progress towards democracy irreversible.
More importantly, many EU governments and citizens are wary of admittinganother weak southern European economy whose biggest industry is tourism.
Some analysts forecast Croatia’s EU entry might cause some instability in Bosnia, given that the many Bosnian Croats who hold Croatian passports will have EU rights that other Bosnians do not. That could fuel resentment with Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity.
The EU’s pull – and ability to act as a spur for reform – may also lessen as other hopefuls from the region, such as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania, realise entry may be decades away. Even Serbia is not expected to join before the early 2020s at best.
But Mr Jovic suggests the EU is still a “magnet” and should do everything it can to remain one.
“I think if you don’t have this EU magnet – well, look at some post-Soviet states, they are going back to authoritarianism,” he says. “Without that external magnet, I don’t even think communism would have fallen.”