Croatia Joins EU, Amid Strains

from The Wall Street Journal..

June 30, 2013

By MARGIT FEHER

ZAGREB, Croatia—Traditional folk music and dancing along with a light show captured this city’s main square, which was ringed with blue-and-gold European Union flags and Croatia’s national standard, as the small Balkan country made its official, though bittersweet, midnight entry into Europe’s club of democracies.

It was a big step for Croatia, which emerged as an independent state from the bloody conflict that engulfed the Balkans in the 1990s as the former Yugoslavia disintegrated. The country worked for more than a decade to satisfy EU membership requirements.

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 12.09.35 PM

People celebrate in downtown Zagreb, Croatia, on Sunday, as their nation prepared for its July 1 accession to the European Union.

…….

Still, the public mood here is far from celebratory. The country of 4.4 million is in the throes of a painful recession. Unemployment is more than 20%. And EU membership, once seen as a glittering prize, is now viewed with mounting skepticism. “We don’t know what to expect from joining,” said Dragutin Bobic, a 54-year-old farmer. “We’d be better off on our own.”

Croatia’s annual economic output per capita is 61% of the EU average. Its government budget deficit exceeds EU limits, and public debt has been rising. The rate of youth unemployment is among the highest in Europe.

…….

Croatia has transformed its former centrally planned economy into one driven by market forces, improving governance and strengthening its democracy. That entailed fundamental steps, such as revamping the judiciary and shifting popular expectations about the role of the state, Deputy Prime Minister Neven Mimica said. “The beauty of the accession was the reforms we went through. It was a difficult process.” Croatia still must boost its competitiveness, attract investors and tackle corruption, among other pressing issues. “EU membership may give the additional strength and political will to go through these processes,” Mr. Mimica said.

Link to the entire article:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324251504578577353042673108.html?KEYWORDS=Croatia

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