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By Nenad N. Bach | Published  01/6/2002 | Politics | Unrated
Croatian Herald, December 14, 2001. 
by Brian Gallagher, 
On 29 October Prime Minister Racan signed the Stabilisation and Association 
Agreement (SAA) between Croatia and the European Union (EU). EU External 
Relations commissioner Chris Patten denied any intention of recreating 
Yugoslavia. Prime Minister Racan claimed that Croatia could accept regional 
co-operation but not regional fate. Not only do articles 11-14 of the 
contradict the Prime Minister, but a speech made by Chris Patten demonstrated 
a desire to recreate Yugoslavia in some form leading to a 'West Balkans' 
political structure; a vision seemingly publicly agreed to by the Croatian 
foreign minister. 
  Articles 11-14 firmly of the SAA link Croatia to the rest of the SAA 
states: former Yugoslavia - minus Slovenia plus Albania. These articles 
require Croatia to sign 'bilateral' agreements on 'regional conventions' with 
other states that sign and SAA agreement with the EU. The 'regional 
conventions' cover areas such as political dialogue, a free trade area, 
mutual concessions on movement of workers and capital as well as matters such 
as the field of Justice and Home Affairs. 
  These 'bilateral' agreements must be concluded within 2 years of each SAA 
state signing such an agreement. If not, all relations with the EU cease. 
Croatia's fate is very firmly tied then with that of Macedonia, Yugoslavia, 
Bosnia-Hercegovina and Albania. All countries with serious problems, with 
which close association will do Croatia tremendous harm. 
  A few days before the signing of the SAA, on 25 October, Chris Patten gave 
the opening statement to the Regional Conference for South East Europe 
(Stability Pact) in Bucharest. His speech focused on the SAA. What he had to 
say should cause every Croatian citizen grave concern. 
  Patten said that one way of shoring up strong institutions in the 'Western 
Balkans' is by the EU strategy of "re-connecting the ties that bind peoples 
of the region together". A somewhat clear admission of his desire to restore 
some form of Yugoslavia. 
  In the speech, Patten elaborated on the 'Western Balkans' plan. He clearly 
states that the SAA is "more than a bilateral process." He wants to see 
countries "weave a web of bilateral and regional relationships between 
themselves, as a basis for greater economic and political stability in the 
region". He wants the region to establish "a network of close contractual 
relations among themselves mirroring the bilateral relationship with the EU 
contained in SA agreements". It is clear that from this that Patten sees a 
regional fate for Croatia in the 'Western Balkans'; one cannot conclude 
otherwise. He appears to advocating a 'Western Balkans' mini EU. Indeed, it 
sounds like it may be a structure even deeper than the former Yugoslavia. 
  He firmly states the a country's ability in implementing this part of the 
SAA agenda will be highly influential in the EU assessment of a country's 
ability to join the EU - create a mini Balkan EU or you don't get into the 
European Union. It is worth noting here that Chris Patten was the former 
British Conservative Party chairman between 1990-2, the period during which 
the Conservative government did tremendous damage to Croatia, and was a close 
confidante of John Major. In other words, he is not a natural ally for 
  At the same conference, Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula gave a 
speech. Did he disagree with Chris Patten's West Balkan's 'web' destiny for 
Croatia? Did he advocate an individual approach for Croatia, as Slovenia did 
with such success? Not a bit of it. "Croatia will not fail to remain true to 
the aspect of the Stabilisation and Association Process which promotes 
regional stability in our common interest". It would appear that Minister 
Picula is sold on the 'Western Balkans' vision for Croatia. 
  However, it seems that all this is not being made clear to the Croatian 
people. Indeed, the contrary impression is being given. The joint declaration 
of the EU and Croatia on political dialogue at the signing of the SAA has 
amongst its aims merely a comment on "promoting regional co-operation" and 
developing "good neighbourly relations". This hardly gives an indication to 
the reality of articles 11-14 or tie in with Chris Patten's 'Western Balkans' 
vision. The comments in the declaration on the matter mask the reality of 
what is meant by "regional co-operation". 
  On the occasion of the signing of the SAA, Chris Patten claimed that the EU 
does not wish to create a new Yugoslavia. He did not mention his 'West 
Balkans' web vision or his "reconnecting ties" ideas. Prime Minster Racan 
stated that Croatia is prepared for regional co-operation but not ties. 
  This conflicts somewhat with both articles 11-14 and Patten's Bucharest 
speech. It would appear that one thing is told to Croats; another to the 
international community. Indeed, the Croatian government approach seems to be 
to domestically claim that they are firmly against any idea of regional 
structures - but signing up to them anyway in the hope that nobody notices. 
  It is important to note that Croatia is not being forced to do anything 
here; Slovenia ensured it was not part of this plan simply by refusing all 
regional ideas. Croatia has accepted the SAA with enthusiasm. Chris Patten 
said that creating ties between the SAA countries would be a factor in 
determining EU entry. Yet, by creating ties with such economic and political 
disaster areas such as Serbia and Albania, the chances of Croatia joining the 
EU will fall dramatically. 
  What is truly insidious about the whole SAA/'West Balkan' process is that 
it will not happen overnight - it will happen over a period of years. Only 
Croatia and Macedonia have signed the SAA, and the agreements have to be 
agreed by all EU national parliaments. Essentially, this is a long process. 
In about ten years time Croats will suddenly realise they are in something 
called the 'West Balkans' and not the EU and wonder how it happened. 
  In Serbia, there are no illusions about what is happening. Serbian Prime 
Minister Zoran Djindjic recently visited the United States. There, he put 
forward ideas to "advance the region's economic integration". He even gave a 
report on countries in the region, expanding to include Bulgaria and Romania. 
Of Croatia, he noted that it was "not so fast in doing reforms as expected". 
It would appear that Mr Djindjic perhaps has ambitions beyond being merely 
Prime Minister of Serbia. It is supremely ironic that the Croatian people's 
eagerness to join the EU and the West may be used against them to end up in a 
'Western Balkans' association firmly faced East. 
  My thanks to Claire Wardley for pointing me to the Patten speech. 
  Chris's Patten's Bucharest 'West Balkans Web' speech can be found at: 
  Foreign Minister Picula's Bucharest speech can be found at: 
  The SAA can be seen at the EU website at: 
  Articles 11-14 'Regional Cooperation' are on pages 18/19 
Submitted by Brian Gallagher 
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