Sunday, 30 June 2013

Welcome Croatia...28th EU member state

As of midnight tonight the Republic of Croatia will be a member of the European Union.

This is a very positive development and represents a significant move forward for the Balkan nation, which in the recent past was ravaged by war. Croatia's accession will hopefully encourage other former Yugoslavian states to join the EU, and underlines the progress both the country and the region have made since the horrors of ethnic conflict in the 1990s.

Representatives of the press gather in advance of
President Schulz's welcoming speech
There are celebrations today in Croatia, although they are almost certain to be somewhat muted in spite of Croatian people voting overwhelmingly to approve EU entry last year.  Croatia has significant economic problems and the general mood may not be over-enthusiastic. That said, it is clear the majority of Croatians understand the importance of joining the EU, the stability it will bring and the importance of this milestone in the nation's modern history. They also understand the role of the EU in securing lasting peace - surely a compelling argument for the EU and an explanation for the scale of the referendum result in 2012.

Martin Schulz: a "common and peaceful future"
The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, is in Zagreb today as part of the official celebrations. Germany's Angela Merkel and the UK's David Cameron have opted not to be there, presumably in the latter case because enlarging the EU is perceived as a threat rather than an opportunity to further the interconnected causes of peace, prosperity, co-operation and freedom.

Politically speaking, Croatia has come a long way in short time. Its recovery is quite remarkable against the backdrop of its turbulent recent history.

Zoran Milanovic: looking to the future
Whether membership of the EU will provide economic as well as political stability is open to debate, but what should be celebrated is the extent to which nations that in the 1980s had weapons pointed at us, and even more recently were subjected to brutal civil wars, now aspire to join the European family.

This development means a great deal to my brother, Adrian, who served in the Army in the Balkans during the 1990s and has a particular affinity to Croatia and its people. Incorporating former Yugoslav states into the EU will ensure that the area with a historic tendency to confirm its reputation as "the powder keg of Europe" can be sure of a peaceful future.

Milanovic and Schulz
On Thursday, I was present at an official welcoming of Croatia into the EU at the European parliament in Brussels. (More can be found on the EU's website here...if you look closely you may see me in the picture).  The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz gave a speech in which he drew attention to the shared culture and emphasised the importance of "common and peaceful future". Zoran Milanovic, the Prime Minister of Croatia who spoke with an American accent and appeared to model himself from the US President in the film Independence Day, was surprisingly non-triumphal in his speech. He preferred to concentrate on the task ahead but did find time to stress the importance of commonality of purpose, close economic ties and integration.  He sounded a bit like he was auditioning to be a spokesman for Better Together. 

Actually, Milanovic himself is a symbol of how far Croatia has progressed.  The leader of the Social Democratic Party (which has only recently become the dominant force in Croatian politics; with the exception of three years the conservative and "patriotic" Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica - HDZ - held power between 1992 and 2011), Milanovic describes himself as "a liberal" and has championed equality, LGBT rights and women's issues. Croatian politicians simply weren't talking about these kinds of issues even ten years ago.

Hannes Swoboda, President of the group of the
Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats,
welcomed EU enlargement
What was particularly touching was the way in which the talented photographer responsible for the impressive and forward-looking exhibition of artworks marking Croatia's cultural heritage was given the opportunity to stand on the platform with Milanovic and Schulz and give his own speech. Damir Fabijanic didn't say much, but he didn't need to. His few words underlined the reality that it is creative, forward-looking people who have been responsible for Croatia's political recovery and reinvention as a modern nation.

Croatia was keen to showcase its artistic heritage,
including traditional dress.
Following the speeches an exhibition was opened, entitled (excruciatingly) Be CROATive. It could have been better, consisting mainly of non-persuasive arguments for relocating business in Croatia. The artistic work was pretty good, however.

Martin Schulz will welcome the 12 new Croatian MEPs tomorrow. Obviously this also means that a new portfolio will be created - perhaps by splitting maritime affairs and fisheries?

It's worth noting that Croatia has signed up to neither the Euro nor the Schengen regulations (although in regards the latter will have to do so before 2015).

So, welcome Croatia to the EU. Here's to a peaceful and prosperous future.

Dobrodošli, Hrvatska. Želim vam uspješan i miran budućnost.

All photographs taken by myself on 27.6.13

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lovely country, Great people. Have had two magical holidays there. Welcome to them indeed.

Škotska dočekuje Hrvatsku u Uniji

The family gets bigger :)