Croatia becomes 28th member of European Union
Today, Croatia becomes the 28th member of the European Union after a decade of negotiations and reforms. The country’s accession to the Union was celebrated in the capital city Zagreb with fireworks, welcome speeches, and a wordless rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” the EU’s official anthem. Croatia is the first new member for the Union since Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007.
Amid the celebrations, however, both the Croats and long-time EU members have expressed concerns over the merger. Many of these concerns match the general tone of news out of the EU today, that is to say concern with current and impending economic crisis. Croatia, for its part, currently has an unemployment rate of 18% (with youth unemployment at 51%) and is in its fifth year of recession. While these figures significantly outpace the unemployment rate of the EU in general, the Union itself is certainly also facing a time of economic crisis, leading people on both sides to question the desirability of Croatia’s accession. However, Croatia will not join the euro or take part in the visa-free Schengen Zone, somewhat mitigating the initial impact of economic integration.
Beyond economic concerns, Croatia’s access to EU membership has been predicated upon its efforts to reduce corruption in the state and ameliorate its human rights record. The state has attempted to abide by EU requirements, most notably, perhaps, by putting on trial over a dozen people accused of war crimes in the brutal war of independence for the former Yugoslav republic. In fact, it was two years after Croatia formally applied for EU membership that talks were officially opened with the EU, at which point it was determined the country was fully cooperating with the UN war crimes tribunal.
From a more positive perspective, though, the EU’s 28th member can be seen as a symbol of the Union’s raison d’être 50 years ago: regional peace and stability. Today, Croatia becomes the second former Yugoslav republic to join the EU (after Slovenia, who joined in 2004), but President Ivo Josipovic stated Sunday, “We don’t want Europe to stop at our borders, it must be open to other countries.” In fact, the attractiveness of EU membership led to Serbia and Kosovo recently signing a power-sharing agreement under the supervision of EU officials, a step that could go a long way in Serbia’s own quest to join the Union. For a region 20 years out from a war whose crimes still make headlines, the draw of EU membership has been a catalyst for reconciliation and peaceful interdependence.
In the end, despite the ever-present worries and potential for negative returns, Croatia’s accession to the EU does mark an occasion to celebrate the continued relevancy and effectiveness of the Union’s original vision. In this time of crisis and doubt, such an occasion deserves some optimism.