What does Croatia bring to the EU?
Croatia celebrated joining the EU with a ceremony of fireworks at the beginning of July, amidst sceptical views from home and abroad as to whether there is any real benefit to Croatia’s membership. Although their celebrations were more modest than those of Bulgaria and Romania, the only two EU nations that are poorer than Croatia, only 7% of the nation in a survey thought that it was even worth celebrating joining the EU. As the third poorest and the second most corrupt country in the EU, is there anything positive to take from the EU welcoming its 28th member?
It must be noted that Croatia’s membership is a great achievement in terms of the country’s history. Having won independence from Yugoslavia through a bloody war in 1995, joining the EU marks a historic turning point for the country and somewhat cements its status as in independent nation.
However, Croatia is plagued by many economic problems which is why some were not happy at Croatia’s acceptance. German newspaper, Bild, asked, “Is the Bloc doing itself any favours by admitting this Balkan country of debt, corruption and unemployment? It will be the new graveyard for taxpayers’ money.” With an unemployment rate of around 20%, rising to 50% amongst its youth, an economy that has been in recession for the past five years and an incredibly poor international credit rating, some fear that Croatia has the potential to become another Greece, needing bailouts when many EU nations are only just getting by.
The stronger countries fear that out-of-work Croatians will flock to them in search of employment even though they are already facing an unemployment crisis. Although the Schengen Agreement and subsequent legislation created a border free Europe, allowing EU citizens to freely move between countries and work, Croatia must wait seven years before it can become part of the free-movement Schengen zone any of its citizens can accept a job in another EU country. This will at least delay a potential immigration problem but it most definitely will not stop some uninformed Croatians from travelling to other countries.
It was encouraging however that the president, Ivo Josipovic, told the Associated Press that ”There are not too many festivities because the general situation is not brilliant. We have to develop our economy, take care of those people who are jobless now, and there is no time and money for big celebrations.” In another interview he said that, “We don’t expect to be handed money. We need to earn it, fight for it. We have to carry out more reforms.” Furthermore, Croatia’s foreign minister, Vesna Pusic, has rubbished claims that they will request a bailout immediately after joining, commenting that only Eurozone countries qualify for Greek-style bailouts and confirms that they have no plans to join the single currency anyway.
Even though Croatia’s prospects looked bleak at first, joining the EU can be seen as a positive for them and shows that they do want to better themselves.
University College London professor and expert on the Balkan country, Eric Gordy, said “Even with Croatia in economic crisis, even with the European Union in economic crisis, having access to the market and the funds is a benefit to them. It’s still a bigger advantage to be part of the EU than not to be.” In particular, Croatia will now have access to EU subsidies for infrastructure projects which will undoubtedly produce a lot of new jobs as well as kick starting their economy. Along with that, EU membership means they gain a closer trade partnership with all EU nations. It also means that the EU has taken its first steps in strengthening relations with the South-eastern flank of Europe – The ”accession of Croatia to the EU strengthens stability in a volatile region at the EU’s doorstep and also brings new opportunities for the businesses and customers on both sides,” said Stefan Füle, EU commissioner for enlargement.
While there is some understandable scepticism, it appears that Croatia had joined the EU in order to help fix their problems, not just seek a quick-fix solution. However, only time will tell whether the nation does stick to the intentions they relayed to the media.