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(E) What can Croatia offer to a unified Europe
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  02/14/2003 | Politics | Unrated
(E) What can Croatia offer to a unified Europe
Distributed by CroatianWorld

 

Whatcan Croatiaoffer to a unified Europe

Speech of the President of the Republic of Croatia
at the Royal Institute for International Relations,
Bruxelles, II February 2003

Viscount Davignon,

distinguishedmembers of the Diplomatic Corps,

ladiesand gentlemen,

Igladly accepted the invitation of the Royal Institute for InternationalRelations to present to you tonight my views on the topic: "What canCroatia offer to a unified Europe?"

As you probably know, in a few days my country will officially apply formembership in the European Union. I expect that our application will be receivedwith understanding. I think, however, that the understanding could be greater ifthose already in the Union get a clearer idea of what a unified Europe gains byadmitting Croatia to its membership.

Of course, any serious consideration of our application cannot be countedon, as long as Europe is not convinced that we are not only willing but alsoable to fulfill what is expected from us. Now, I am not referring to what theEuropean Union gains through our membership, but rather what the EU requiresfrom us in order to accept us as a serious and credible candidate.

To make the picture complete I shall mention that this is, generallyspeaking, the issue of accepting European standards, or - specifically, and justto mention the most basic requirements: full co-operation with the InternationalCriminal Tribunal in the Hague, basic reform and depoliticisation of thejudicial system, minority rights, return of refugees, making possible forreturnees to freely dispose of their property, transformation of CroatianRadio-Television into a public institution etc.

It is known that there have been certain misunderstandings between theCroatian Government and the European Union concerning the fulfillment of theseobligations. I am confident that the time of misunderstanding is over and thatthere will no new misunderstandings in the future. As far as I am concerned Ihave always clearly and without any reservations held the view that Croatia hasto, I repeat, has to meet the international commitments made, which impliescooperation with the Tribunal in The Hague as well, without any reservations andexceptions. I have held and publicly warned that Croatia has to depoliticiseboth the judicial system and the armed forces that it has to make possible forall its citizens who, for whatever reasons, fled from Croatia to return - ifthey want to - and that they freely and without disturbances use the propertybelonging to them.

I said there were misunderstandings about some of these issues but Ithink that we have definitely shelved them. In other words: we know what isexpected from us and we are willing, ready and able to implement it. There willbe resistance, I have no doubts about it, but I neither have any doubts thatthis resistance will not obstruct us on the path we are heading for, on the onlypath that we, objectively speaking, can be heading for.

I shall add here one point to make this perfectly clear. Everything weshall do in the context of meeting the conditions for membership in the EuropeanUnion, we shall not do because this is required from us by somebody else, butfirst of all for our own sake, because we are aware that we simply have to go toEurope. However, we are also aware that we shall not be able to join Europebefore we acquire European manners.

If we have completed the question of what is required from us and what weshall do, let us try to outline the answer to the question that is the topic ofthis address: what we offer, or what is gained, or - to put it very precisely -what the European Union gains through our membership in its ranks.

This may sound as a phrase but it really is not. The first thing that isoffered by Croatia's membership in the Union is the possibility of starting theimplementation of the final phase of the project "Unified Europe". Atthe time when the world was bipolar and divided into blocs it was possible tospeak about a unified Europe just in the context of one of its parts - itswestern, democratic one. This, however, is no longer possible. The fall of theBerlin Wall and the collapse of communism, or socialism as a world orderdefinitely changed the political landscape of the Old Continent.

We are today realizing a Europe from the Atlantic to the Ural, whichGeneral de Gaulle many times referred to. Such a Europe can neither be conceivednor achieved on the assumption that in its Southeast, or to use an expressionthat has become established over the past years - the Western Balkans - thereremains a blank area.

Europe from the Atlantic to the Ural is possible only if really allEuropean countries are included in it.

A major step on this path was made at the EU Copenhagen Summit late lastyear. I know that many people tend to say: let us take a time-out now, let uspause for a while until the Union swallows this large bite. However, I do notthink this way. I am confident that just now, after the Copenhagen round of theEU enlargement, it is the right time to continue. It is necessary to workimmediately on creating the conditions for the next rounds of the enlargement aswell - both in the interest of the Union and in the interest of its potentialmembers, predominantly countries in transition.

More than once I heard a comment that the European Union is tired of theenlargement and of the unification. However, believe me when I say thatcountries in transition are also tired of transition. These countries, Croatiabeing one of them, will conclude the transition process by integrating into theUnion. The Union, on the other hand, will conclude the project of its owncreation by integrating these countries. What is needed, then, are furtherefforts and energy, positive, political energy, on both sides, to make the grandidea of a unified Europe finally and ultimately a reality. By our integrationinto the Union we offer the Union progress on this very path.

Further - we offer the opportunity that the Southeast of Europe, thescene of the last wars on the Old Continent in the 20th century, starts totransform into a zone of stability, peace and security. I do not have to remindyou that a unified Europe is inconceivable as long as outstanding issues smolderamong its member states and as long as their mutual relations areburdened with unresolved problems.

Through its policy pursued toward countries in the region, the Republicof Croatia undoubtedly assists in overcoming a situation that I would describeas still somewhat fragile and partly imposed peace after bloody and brutal wars.We are working on creating a situation characterized by normal mutual relationsamong countries and by co-operation on the basis of equality and satisfaction ofmutual interests.

Croatia has today several dozen free trade agreements, not only with itsclosest neighbors but with countries of a wider surrounding area as well.Croatia has fundamentally changed its policy to neighboring Bosnia andHerzegovina, discarding all its aspirations to parts of that state's territoryand assisting the Croats living in that state - to their benefit and not to thedetriment of a united state of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Croatia is following the course of normalizing its relations with thestate community of Serbia and Montenegro. Liberalization of the visarequirements at the border of the two states will be the next important step inthat direction that will facilitate economic co-operation - already existing andshowing a tendency of expansion. Through negotiations we have reached an interimsolution concerning the Cape of Prevlaka, getting this issue thus off theinternational agenda, not prejudicing, however, the final solution by thisinterim arrangement.

We are also determined toresolve, through negotiations, the issue of the sea border in the Bay of Piranwith neighboring Slovenia. The final solution should not deprive either side.On the other hand, in the process of arriving at the resolution both countrieswould demonstrate political maturity that is expected of present or future EUmembers.

Giving its support to regional co-operation and practicing it as one ofthe priority goals of its foreign policy, Croatia is, objectively, invitingother countries in the region to follow suit. This will ultimately result in thecreation of a network of bilateral and multilateral relations that will bringthe Southeast of Europe, or the Western Balkans, ever further away from thehistorical and infamous term used to describe it, namely,"powder-keg". In doing so Croatia is not fleeing from the Balkans, asit sometimes may appear, but is rather getting the Balkans, in the standards ofconduct, closer to Europe and is helping that this region, in the modempolitical sense, transforms itself into Europe.

In the first decade of its existence my country formally did have amultiparty, pluralistic system. However, in reality it was very close toauthoritarian, not to say totalitarian systems, which drove it, of course, evermore away from a unified Europe to which Croatia, declaratively, aspired. It wasnot before the 2000 elections that chances for a full and complete democratizationand for the final rejection of totalitarianism andauthoritarianism were offered.

It is open to argument whether we have seized these opportunities fullyand quickly enough. However, it is beyond any doubt that we are using theseopportunities and that we shall continue to pursue the policy of strengtheningdemocracy and of promoting and implementing democratic values underlying aunified Europe.

Here, I have to lay special emphasis on commitment to antifascism,considering the fact that, during the recent wars, there were instances ofunfortunate flirting with fascism or of tolerating some forms of neo-fascism.Incidents still occasionally occur and will be occurring, just the same as inmany other European countries. However, these are incidents that should besanctioned, and are not state policy.

Taking such a position the Republic of Croatia renders additionalassistance in stabilizing the region and making it ever more thoroughly aEuropean region. The whirlpool of war lifted, namely, the dregs of fascism tothe surface in some other countries of the Western Balkans as well.

In the context of respect for and fulfillment of human rights, we havebeen, since the 2000 elections, working on the implementation of a consistentpolicy towards members of the national minorities. Minorities are one of theessential features not only of the Southeast of Europe, but more or less of theentire continent. Due to many circumstances that tonight I cannot and do nothave time to discuss, minorities were in the past, and not completely withoutfoundation, often looked upon as a factor of hindrance. Today, under the changedcurrent circumstances and with a vision of Europe's future, minorities arebecoming an element that links and connects.

Taking over European standards and sometimes even surpassing them Croatiacan, through its policy towards national minorities, serve as a guide and rolemodel to others in the region. Of course, it also holds true here that it isinsufficient to accept the standards, but they need to be, and I lay specialemphasis on this, consistently and vigorously implemented.

I should add one thing. The policy towards minorities is the very areawhere we arc faced with the difficult task of getting rid of the burden ofhatred in the relations between the majority Croatian people and members of theSerbian minority. This hatred is a consequence of war and, because it fed on thewar events and was spurred by some of the media, it poisoned many people on bothsides.

We are aware of such a situation and the need to overcome it. We areresolute to turn a new page in the interethnic relations. The positive exampleset by Croatia in this field is bound to have an impact on inter-ethnicrelations in other states of the region as well, and here I am referring firstof all to the states that emerged in the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

The stormy war time when the modem Croatian state was born was not idealeither for building a state based on the rule or of law, or for practicing thisrule. The consequences of this are felt today both in Croatia and in a broaderregion. Here too, we have been persistently working on changing the conditionswe found. To make it short and clear - we want to establish such conditions thatyou here may take for granted. However, they were not standard in our areaneither in the communist (or socialist) times in the former Yugoslavia, nor inthe first years following its dissolution, in the new states that grew on theruins of the former Federation.

We want a state where all laws will be at every moment equally applied toall its citizens, where nobody will be discriminated on the basis of race,nationality, religion, sex or political views. We are on the right path toachieve this goal although - frankly speaking - we are encountering stubbornresistance. It comes from those who are used to benefiting from favorable conditions of the absence of the rule of law. However, rest assured that weshall break this resistance, whether it comes from organized crime scene or fromthe circles of some former or, for that matter, some present protagonists on thepolitical scene.

Through this too we are contributing to the Europeanization of the wholeregion since a deficient rule of law was not a characteristic just of Croatia inthe years behind us.

Finally, we have also been working on the transformation of the mediascene. Following the break-up of the socialist System, the scene headed forunrestrained media freedoms. However, an abrupt disappearance of allrestrictions, inherent to the former System, including censorship andself-censorship occasionally resulted in unbridled sensationalism, who's onlyand single aim was to make money and only in passing to slightly inform.Moreover, new political options tried to usurp a vacuum arising in place of thesphere of influence of the Communist Party, once the only political force, byturning - often with success - some of the media into their barely disguisedpropaganda organs. To a great extent, this assessment holds true for the role ofthe state television until the year 2000.

Croatia stands now before a complex but inevitable task of transformingthe Croatian Radio-Television into a public institution. I think that the newlaw on the Croatian Television, regardless of all its shortcomings, is animportant step forward on this way. Thus we are not just achieving Europeanstandards within our borders, but we are also setting an example, I even daresay a guide to those living on the other side of these borders that are alsofacing the same or similar problems. The same also holds true for the effortsmade by professional journalist associations to re-establish the professionalrules and principles of professional ethics in the media scene.

I would try now to sum up everything I have said, if only in some basicoutlines, and to say what it is that the Republic of Croatia can offer or giveto a united Europe.

Through our membership in the European Union we shall make possibleanother step forward in the implementation of the project of a unified Europe.

Through our policy of regional co-operation we can contribute to stabilizingthe recent scene of bloody wars and in this way participate in theprocess of the transformation of this region that will render it acceptable fora united Europe.

Through our correct and good relations with neighboring countries we canhelp to overcome the consequences of war in the political, economic and allother fields. Through this we would make it easier for these countries to drawcloser to the achievement of their strategic goal - a united Europe - but wewould also induce the united Europe to open its doors to the rest of the WesternBalkans.

Through our policy aimed at a consistent building of democracy andstrengthening the foundations of the state based on the rule of law we canassist in creating a political climate where, in the context of a broaderregion, democracy and the rule of law will be established as unephemeral andirreversible values.

Through our human and minority rights policy we can help inaugurate a newapproach to the issue of minorities in our part of Europe. This implies thatminorities are given the place and position within society which they alreadypredominantly have in a unified Europe, or which they have to have if thisEurope wants to exceed the dimension of, historically speaking, just ashort-lived experiment.

I shall not enumerate further. I think that you have a clear idea of whatI want to say. Croatia is not a country that directs to a unified Europe justits requests and expectations. We really can be of assistance in getting thewhole region first closer to the European Union and then integrating it into theUnion. And this very capability is what we offer Europe and what we bring intoit.

I believe you have noticed that I have used the expression "we canhelp" several times. I have not said "we are helping" or "wewill help". With good reason. Namely, I have spoken about our potentialsand our capabilities. Whether we shall develop this potential, whether we shalluse these capabilities depends on us, but also on a unified Europe.

As far as we are concerned we have to persevere on the path we have beenfollowing. We have to continue pursuing the adopted policy in order to be ableto one day enjoy the blessings offered by the membership in the European Union.However, on the other hand, a unified Europe should recognize what we can giveit by our accession and also show its readiness to receive and use it.

In other words, I see the Croatian path to a unified Europe as a processof mutual giving and receiving. I am confident that this very mutuality inreceiving and giving does constitute a solid foundation for our accession to aunified Europe. I do not expect that you simply accept my point of view. I dohope, though, that this expose will at least encourage you to reflect upon theCroatian application for membership in the European Union within the framework Ihave tried to sketch here.

Thank you.

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