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EU Membership Fails to Spark Enthusiasm in Croatia

  • Henry Ridgwell

Croatia joins the European Union on July 1 - marking the end of its journey to accession, and a remarkable turnaround for a country that was ravaged by war during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. But there has been a marked absence of enthusiasm for E.U. membership among much of the population.

In Brussels, the fireworks are already being set off as the Croatian flag joins 27 other member countries in the political heart of the European Union.

So how will life change for the ordinary Croatian? James Ker-Lindsay from the London School of Economics and Political Science explains.

“A lot of the day-to-day elements of life, if you like, have already probably come into force with the laws that have been changed as part of E.U. harmonization," said Ker-Lindsay. "But, of course, it is that sense of actually being there, being part of the club, having that freedom of movement across the European Union.”

Full membership means that Croatia will be able to sell its products tariff-free across the E.U. President of the Croatian Chamber Of Commerce, Nadan Vidosevic, says the country is joining the E.U. with its eyes open.

“We will jump in the cold water and start swimming, you know," said Vidosevic. "But, we decide to jump in the water, because we believe it will be at the end, something that will make pleasure to us. What is the meaning of pleasure, it is the welfare for the citizens of my country."

But after five years of economic crisis in Europe, polls show a lack of enthusiasm by Croatians. Again, James Ker-Lindsay.

“Polls show in actual fact trust in European institutions is lower in Croatia than even in the United Kingdom, which is really saying something."

Croatia is enduring its own economic crisis. Government debt is growing, and two ratings agencies have downgraded government bonds to junk status. The E.U. has already set aside $855 million to subsidize Croatia this year.

While Croatia will gain access to the E.U. market, the reverse also applies - and many analysts, including European Policy Center's Corina Stratulat, say uncompetitive businesses will struggle with the competition.

"We have worked very hard during the ten-year-long engagement and now both parts, I think, are entering this marriage very much aware of the fact that hard work lies ahead," said Stratulat.

The E.U. funds will help renovate Croatia’s heritage in cities like Dubrovnik.

In 1991, the city came under siege from the Yugoslav army and navy. Over the following years Croatia and her neighbors were consumed by the Balkan conflict.

Ker-Lindsay says many believe the E.U. should have done more back then.

“There were a lot of voices in southeast Europe which were appalled when the E.U. was awarded the Nobel (Peace) Prize last year," he said. "They just felt that this was completely unacceptable, that the E.U. hadn’t done nearly as much as it could have done in the 1990s. But I think it’s fair to say that a lot of the peace and stability that we see in the region now is a direct consequence of the project, the process of E.U enlargement.”

Ker-Lindsay says that transformation is providing encouragement for other E.U. candidates like Serbia.