Croatia in the New Millennium:
Toward EU and NATO Membership
Prime Minister Dr. Ivo Sanader
Mediterranean Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 1, Winter 2005
Croatia has come a long way since independence in advancing social, democratic, institutional, and economic reforms at home and pursuing the goal of joining the Euro-Atlantic community. The strategic objectives of our foreign policy are to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Croatian government is working diligently on preparing Croatia for the challenges of membership by adopting key policy measures aimed at improving the business environment and attracting foreign investment and know-how. Croatia is also working toward reforming its judiciary and public administration and protecting the environment to preserve Croatiaâ€™s natural assets so that generations to come can enjoy the splendor and the azure calm of the Adriatic Sea and the magic of its thousand islands.
I was privileged to be in Dublin on 1 May 2004 to witness the historic enlargement of the EU. It was one of those rare moments when one genuinely senses an irrevocable, historic step forward, a long-time dream of many generations becoming a reality. As the prime minister of Croatia, being present at the expansion of the EU from fifteen to twenty-five members reinforced my commitment to ensure that Croatia is part of the next wave of enlargement and that we, too, take our place at the heart of a growing union.
I believe that this historic enlargement process has a continuous, inclusive, and irreversible character. The EU stands for economic prosperity and cooperation; it means stability and security. Above all it is the shared values of the members that stand out so strongly. The new enlargement has inspired a common vision of a better tomorrow stemming from the same values, the same principles, and the same dedication to European integration. I believe no European nation that shares and is committed to this vision and the fundamental values of parliamentary democracy, the free market economy, the rule of law, and human rights should be left behind. Croatia is also convinced that enlargement contributes directly to the strengthening of the EU. The frontiers of Europeâ€™s values are expanding, and each new country adds to united Europeâ€™s capacity to fulfill its global role. Believing that the true potential of the European project will not be realized until the countries of southeastern Europe join the EU, I warmly welcomed the EU decisions in spring 2003 in Thessalonica to open real EU perspectives for all the countries of this part of Europe.
Croatia has worked hard to move closer toward membership in the EU. A major step forward in achieving this important strategic objective was taken on 18 June 2004, when our country was officially granted the status of a candidate country, thus joining Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey in this select club. The accession negotiations are expected to commence in early 2005, and I have no doubt in their successful outcome. Croatia has already demonstrated its reform-making and decision-taking capabilities through the fulfillment of the Copenhagen Criteria required for candidate status. This achievement is a milestone in Croatiaâ€™s integration process into Europe. The start of accession negotiations will enhance future reforms and economic policies conducive to advancing structural reforms in the legal, regulatory, and judicial areas and will achieve harmonization with the EU.
Croatians harbor no illusions about the challenges that candidate and associated countries face along the long and demanding road to accession to the EU. In Croatia, support for European integration has been consistently high. Our citizens are aware of the benefits and the costs of entering the EU. My government and I are also acutely aware that integration in the EU will not be an easy process for some segments of the population, and that we have to do everything in our power to mitigate negative aspects of integration. That is why we have embarked on a number of reformsâ€”no matter how painfulâ€”that will prepare the country for the challenges and opportunities of membership. It is abundantly clear that postponing reforms only makes their implementation more difficult in the future. I have no doubt that the Croatian government and people have the strength, knowledge, and determination to bring about positive change. After all, the hard work and reform-oriented policy are the best possible investments in a countryâ€™s future.
To succeed abroad, we have to do our work at home. Achieving the central pillars of our reforms hinges on improving social and economic conditions as well as on strengthening our institution-building capacity. Croatiaâ€™s economic policy rests on measures aimed at improving competitiveness, raising exports, and enhancing the business environment for domestic and direct foreign investment. Croatia is also establishing a transparent business environment aimed at reducing the bureaucratic barriers to investment, fighting corruption, and improving the legal framework.
A key factor of Croatiaâ€™s economic policy is to encourage the development of the private sector, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises that will spur job creation and increase exports. In recent years, Croatia has worked intensively to implement key reforms, harmonizing numerous laws, regulations, and practices with the acquis communautaire in order to achieve full compatibility with EU standards. And now we are prepared and deter mined to embark on this process with full commitmentâ€”not only the government but also the citizens and the public in general.
Croatia is preparing a nine-point program to spur economic growth and job creation that will increase the countryâ€™s competitiveness and boost exports. This economic plan aims to bolster small and medium-sized enterprises and attract greenfield and brownfield investments. The program encompasses the following measures:
1. improving the business climate,
2. restructuring and rehabilitating public enterprises,
3. accelerating privatization,
4. removing administrative barriers and red tape,
5. ensuring legal security and acceleration of procedures,
6. introducing tax reforms,
7. reducing the gray economy,
8. introducing fiscal discipline, and
9. supporting small and medium-sized enterprises.
In addition, the Croatian government has taken steps to create a new agency to facilitate inward investment through a one-stop-shop approachâ€”the CROATIAINVEST initiative. The economy has been robust: Croatia has a record of solid growth and low inflation over the past decade and real gross domestic product growth has averaged about 4.5 percent, with inflation in the low single digits. In this context, Croatiaâ€™s performance is comparable to many of the EU members.
Croatia is fully committed to sparing no effort to strengthen democratic values and principles, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the development of an adequate framework for the full enjoyment of these rights and values by all its citizens. The Croatian government has clearly proven in practice its unequivocal commitment to protect the rights of all individuals belonging to national minorities. The validity of this policy is confirmed by the support of the representatives of national minorities that my government enjoys in the parliament.
Furthermore, the Croatian government has also made an important contribution to the creation of adequate conditions for and has undertaken necessary measuresâ€”including the allocation of significant financial resourcesâ€”in support of a process for the return of refugees, restitution of property rights, and the reconstruction of property damaged as a result of the war. All these steps have had an impact on the creation of a climate of tolerance, confidence, and prosperity throughout the country. Along with paying tribute to the tremendous dedication and persistence demonstrated by the Croatian people during the difficult war years, the Croatian government wishes to turn a new page, look toward the future, and offer all Croatian citizens a better life, unburdened of the national disputes and wrangling of the past.
Croatia is fully committed to continuing its full cooperation with the Inter national Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). This cooperation has evolved significantly and has been positively assessed by the inter national community, including the tribunal itself and the chief prosecutor. In addition, Croatia is prosecuting war crimes cases through its own judicial system and stands ready to take over some of the cases from the ICTY.
Croatiaâ€™s relations with neighboring countries are based on the principles that regional and crossborder cooperation are indispensable components of regional security, democratic stability, prosperity, and economic development. Croatia today as a candidate country for membership in the EU stands ready to assume another important responsibilityâ€”to serve as a model country in southeastern Europe, encouraging and assisting its eastern neighbors to achieve their Euro-Atlantic ambitions. The prospect of EU membership has proved to be the best incentive for countries in Central and southeastern Europe to implement comprehensive political, economic, institutional, and democratic reforms. This formula, which has worked well so far, needs to be applied throughout southeastern Europe.
The progress that Croatia has made with respect to achieving candidate status for membership in the EU represents an incentive rather than a barrier to others in the region as the affirmation of a clear European perspective for all. Our first-hand experience can well serve those who are following us along the difficult path we are traveling toward Brussels.
Croatiaâ€™s determination to be part of the EU is inseparable from friend ship and partnership with the United States. We firmly believe in the enduring values, principles, and interests that bind the transatlantic community. Croatia is committed to joining Euro-Atlantic institutions not only because of the economic, security, and democratic benefits but also because there is no alternative to a robust European and American relationship. The Atlantic bridges Europe and America rather than divides them. Croatia refuses to choose between the EU and the United States; it is in the strategic interest of Croatia to be part of the former and to be as reliable a partner as possible with the latter.
In terms of national security, membership in NATO is Croatiaâ€™s main objective. In a rapidly changing and increasingly turbulent and unpredictable global environment, we believe that our security will be best served collectively within NATO. In addition, membership in NATO will enable Croatia to assume a more active role within a community of nations that share the same values, principles, and interests.
The threats we face today are profoundly different from the very visible and powerful adversary of yesterday. They are unpredictable and difficult to detect, but two of them clearly stand outâ€”terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. If synergized they could bring upon mankind devastation on an unforeseeable scale. A regional crisis, if neglected and mishandled, can also grow into a major threat to global security. In order to adequately prepare for all these threats, NATO is transforming and modernizing itself. It has accepted new members that provide Europe and the world with more stability. No country can do it alone, no matter how big and powerful it is. For that reason, good bilateral relations, crossborder and regional cooperation, constructive multilateralism, and Euro-Atlantic integration remain the bedrock of Croatiaâ€™s foreign policy.
NATO is arguably the most successful political and military alliance in history and it is quickly adapting to new challenges in an ever-changing and complex world. Through its elaborated structures and effective missions, NATO has become a key player in shaping cooperative security in the postâ€” Cold War Europe. The admission of seven new members represents a historic moment for the alliance and marks the end of the division of Europe in more ways than one. However, the epic process of unifying Europe and making it whole, free, and stable is still not complete, and the NATO enlargement process, as much as the EUâ€™s similar process, must continue with the same momentum.
Croatia has actively worked as a partner with NATO allies through the Partnership for Peace and will seek out opportunities to further contribute to the evolution and efficiency of the alliance. We presented our first Annual National Program shortly after the November 2002 Prague summit as a key precondition to joining NATO. Having completed the second Membership Action Plan cycle, Croatia made an important additional step toward full membership and has proven to be a stable and fully functioning democracy with a vibrant market economy. To achieve full membership in NATO, Croatia has embarked on key reforms, including efforts in the judiciary and defense, that are designed to prepare the country for future tasks as a member of the alliance. My country is no longer a consumer of security but rather has become a major generator of stability in the wider region. We are already contributing to various NATO missions and expect to be invited as a full member at the next enlargement summit.
Though Croatia has been a recipient of international security operations by hosting a number of United Nations peacekeeping missions on its territory, it is now a net provider of security. Croatian officers and soldiers are presently active in seven UN peacekeeping operations throughout the world as well as in the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. Croatia recently signed a joint agreement with Germany on sending civilian administrators to Afghanistan to help that country rebuild its civil infrastructure, accordingly expanding the scope and substance of its activities in this immensely important mission.
Croatia has worked intensively with its partners on forging security in the region of southeastern Europe through the US-Adriatic Charter of Partner ship. This initiative brings to the same table the United States, Croatia, Albania, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It sends a powerful message of our commitment to regional cooperation and promotes the core values of the Euro-Atlantic partnership: freedom, peace, good neighborly relations, stability, and prosperity. Through the US-Adriatic Charter, we are working with our partners to ensure that the region builds strong democracies, both working individually and sharing best practices on reforming economic, military, and political institutions. Croatia appreciates and values the support the United States has provided us under the auspices of the US- Adriatic Charter. It certainly represents another milestone toward the goal of a Europe whole and free, stretching from the Baltic to the Adriatic Sea, from the North Sea all the way to the Black.
Croatia in the twenty-first century sees itself firmly anchored in the Euro- Atlantic community. Our determination to be part of united Europe is inseparable from our commitment to forge a long-lasting partnership and close cooperation with the United States. Our membership in the EU and NATO will undoubtedly bring benefits to the citizens of Croatia, but this is not the only inspiration that guides us. We believe that Croatiaâ€™s geographic position at the crossroads of Central Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Balkans represents a unique added value both to the EU and NATO. On the way for ward in this process of our integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions, Croatia wants to be judged on its own merits and ability to contribute to the collective interest, security, and shared values. I know that we can do what has to be done. And I remain convinced that for Croatia the best is yet to come.