A BRITISH U-TURN OVER CROATIA?
by Brian Gallagher
Are the British gearing up for a U-turn over Croatia?
Previously, the United Kingdom, in the form of Europe
Minister Denis McShane and the Foreign Office were
insistent that Britain would block Croatia joining the
EU if it did not hand over General Ante Gotovina. Yet
within days of negative comments, the UK has not
blocked the EU from giving a positive 'avis' to
Croatia's desire to join the EU. There are a number of
reasons for this, but one factor that may be
overlooked is the rather larger U-turn by Prime
Minister Tony Blair over the European Constitution.
Britain has seemed more concerned with Gotovina than
with the Serbian indictees Karadzic and Mladic, no
doubt because of the British role in supporting
Belgrade during the war.
But in Zagreb on 19 April, MacShane was full of
glowing words for Croatia. He believed that Croatia
would join the EU before the end of the decade. He
even mentioned Croat partisans working with Britons
during the second world war - a far cry from the
'Ustasha' propaganda of old. Of course, MacShane did
not explicitly say policy had changed - the UK could
still veto Croatia's entry into the EU and may yet do
so. Even so, he went out of his way to be positive.
"Gotovina no longer remains an obstacle to saying
Croatia can start accession talks," MacShane told the
A large part of this turnaround has no doubt much to
do with anti-British feeling developing in Croatia; it
appeared from MacShane's interview statements that
Britain did not care if Croatia could not get hold of
Gotovina - they would block Croatian entry anyway.
Anti-British feeling is not in the UK's interests. A
negative 'avis' from the EU would have meant no more
hold over Croatia by the UK, EU or Carla del Ponte.
Furthermore, the emergence of the 1995 videotape of
General Gotovina berating his officers for their
soldier's criminal acts has severely damaged the
credibility of an already highly dubious UN indictment
- which ludicrously claims that such acts were part of
some master plan by Gotovina and others. This cannot
have passed unnoticed in the Foreign Office.
However, British domestic politics may have played a
major role. On 20 April, Tony Blair announced a
British referendum - bizarrely not mentioning the word
'referendum' - on the proposed European constitution.
This is regarded as major U-turn - he previously ruled
out such a referendum. There has been much humour
about Blair's 'reverse gears' - he once said he had
none. It is certainly one of the most extraordinary
turnarounds in recent British political history.
What has this got to do with Croatia? Blair will no
doubt campaign for a 'yes' vote. He is already making
strong pro-EU comments. He will not want any arguments
or discords with his EU partners; this would play into
the hands of 'no' campaigners.
It is known that Britain - with the Dutch - are the
ones preventing Croatian entry into the EU. In June,
if Britain votes against Croatia to start accession
talks it would create an EU split. This would annoy
other countries - who then may be disinclined to work
with Britain on other matters. MacShane's U-turn seems
to follow straight on from Blair's - which had been
extensively leaked to the press days before Blair made
Of course, the Croatia issue is a small thing in
relation to UK politics, and we can expect similar
changes on other EU policy issues. But Blair wants to
show the UK working with Europe in a harmonious,
positive way. Will he really want a split - big or
small - with Europe over General Gotovina? Especially,
as mentioned above, when the indictment is so flimsy?
Let alone the questions that may - justifiably - arise
again over Serbophilia in the Foreign Office.
Certainly, the various generals Croatia has sent to
the Hague of late has provided a good excuse for
Britain to change tack - they can now report how
impressed they are with Croatia's co-operation.
It is revealing that this Croatia U-turn it has
nothing to do with morality and all the rest of it -
but everything to do with Britain's interests and the
politics of the Blair government. Something Croats
would do well to bear in mind.
© Brian Gallagher