|Croatian Herald, December 14, 2001. |
IS CROATIA HEADING EAST?
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
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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