EC Progress report on Croatia: critical but objective?

Institute for International Relations

In Croatia, media coverage of the Commission’s Enlargement Strategy, as well as reactions from the Government, opposition parties and NGOs have been focussed on the Croatia 2007 Progress Report. Prevailing opinion is that the Commission’s Report is objective, but different segments of public have rather wide spectrum of views on it, whether it is positive or critical.
 
The Prime Minister Sanader claims that the Report is very positive for Croatia, and that the Commission recognised progress in all areas.[1] On the other hand, the opposition parties are of the opinion that the European Commission gave critical opinion on the progress towards the EU.[2] Reactions from NGOs indicate that the Commission’s Progress Report is objective, while highlights vary in line with specific interests. War veterans are concerned with political criteria, i.e. return of refugees and regional cooperation.[3] The coordination of GLTB NGOs focuses on limited progress in the area of protection of human minority rights and lack of national strategy and action plan for all types of discrimination.[4] Animal Friends Croatia highlights the necessity for implementing Directive 93/119/EC on the protection of animals at the time of slaughter or killing.[5]
 
Return of refugees and minority rights are also among the most important issues (together with the reform of public administration, the reform of judiciary and the fight against corruption) identified by the Commission’s report and presented in the media.[6]
 
However, interpretations of the Commission’s evaluation range from very positive to rather negative. Positive evaluations are mainly focused on achievements, indicating, for instance, that the first results in the fight against corruption have been achieved.[7] More critical views indicate the scope of necessary reforms (policies and measures to prevent, detect and prosecute corruption), e.g. highlighting that the progress in the fight against corruption has not been sufficient.[8]
 
Summaries of foreign news agencies’ comments on the Croatia Progress Report presented in domestic media indicate that Croatia was not evaluated so well[9] and that hopes for fast inclusion did not hold.[10] A look at the Commission’s wording in the Report supports the critical view: the Commission estimated that there was “some progress” in most of the chapters (14) and “good progress” was recognised in 6 chapters.[11]
 
Concerning the enlargement strategy, the media focussed on Croatia’s relative position compared with other candidate and potential candidate countries, the membership criteria and implications for possible date of accession.
 
The relatively advanced position of Croatia compared with the countries of the region was indicated in most media reports.[12] The statement of Commissioner Rehn that Croatia is likely to become an example for the countries of the region was also cited in most electronic and printed media.[13]
 
The Enlargement strategy[14] also gave new impetus to the discussion whether the same criteria apply as in the previous rounds of enlargement and when it is likely for Croatia to join the EU. The government has already indicated that the process of enlargement has become more complex,[15] while the Commission keeps repeating that the same criteria apply for Croatia as in the previous round of enlargement,[16] but that the enlargement process continues to further improve.[17] The comparison between the benchmarks and transition periods in the last round of enlargement presented in the media supports the view that present candidates are subject to closer scrutiny than it was the case in the fifth enlargement,[18] thus making Croatia suffering for past mistakes made in the last round of enlargement.[19]
 
Despite Olli Rehn's statements that the Commission will not provide an accession date, the estimate from the Enlargement Strategy that accession negotiations with Croatia are advancing well and are entering a decisive phase serves as a basis for various forecasts. The government considers that negotiations could be finalised in 2009 and that entering the EU in 2012 is later than acceptable.[20] Zoran Milanović, leader of the opposition, considers that the government is not realistic in its forecasts, while the government blames the EU for slower pace of negotiations than planned.[21]
 
EU to decide on Kosovo
 
Croatia considers that solving the Kosovo issue is crucial for regional development in South-East Europe.[22] Following the failure of negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, Croatia has been reluctant to reveal its preferences on the future Kosovo status.[23] The official Croatian position is that any solution not posing a threat to the peace is acceptable to Croatia[24] and that it will follow the position of the majority of EU member states.[25]
 
Croatian President Stjepan Mesic, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and Parliament Speaker Luka Bebic met on 18 February to discuss the Kosovo declaration of independence, agreeing that Croatia would follow the European Union on the issue of recognition.[26] The timing of recognition is not officially set yet. The Deputy Prime Minister Đurđa Adlešić[27] stated that Croatia should be very cautious and should not hurry with the recognition of Kosovo in order to protect its business interests and invested capital in Serbia. A similar view is presented by Deputy Prime Minister Slobodan Uzelac, representative of the Serb minority in the Government, who considers that the time had not yet come for Croatia to recognize Kosovo.[28] Nevertheless, the public Croatian Television (HTV) and commercial NOVA TV have already reported that Croatia is likely to recognise Kosovo on 15 March 2008.[29] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration has not reacted to this announcement, and the members of the cabinet refused to comment it.[30]
 
Serbia in the EU, but after Croatia
 
The Government supports democratisation of Serbia and its integration into the EU.[31] The focus of the media coverage of EU-Serbia relations is the progress in meeting political criteria, namely cooperation with the Hague tribunal. The most important events marking recent EU-Serbia relations are presented, such as visits of Carla del Ponte to Serbia[32] and initialling Stabilisation and Association Agreement.[33] The evaluation of Serbia’s readiness for cooperation with the Hague tribunal and the concrete results of such cooperation are given special attention (such as the conviction of Serbian war criminal Milan Martić and the extradition of general Mladić). There are explicit concerns that Serbia will not have to comply with the political criteria to the same extent as Croatia, that war criminals from Serbia will not be punished.[34] Speeding-up of Serbia’s integration towards the EU is partially seen as threat to Croatia’s leading position in the region.[35]


1] Ivo Sanader, Speech in the Parliament, 12.1.2008, quoted according to HINA (news agency), 12.1.2008.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cf. http://www.dragovoljac.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=52&..., accessed on 12 January 2008.

[4] Press release of the GLTB coordination Kontra, available at: http://kontra.hr/kontra/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=146&It..., last accessed on 15 January 2008.

[5] Animal Friends Croatia, available at: http://www.prijatelji-zivotinja.hr/index.hr.php?id=1113, last accessed on 15 January 2008.

[6] “Insufficient progress in judiciary reform and fight against corruption”, in: Poslovni dnevnik (daily), 6.11.2007.

[7] “The first results in the fight against corruption have been accomplished”, in: Vjesnik (daily), 7.11. 2007; Radio Programme “European connections”: Annual Report on Croatian way to the EU, Croatian Radio, 9.11.2007.

[8] “Insufficient progress of Croatia in judiciary reform and fight against corruption”, in: Poslovni dnevnik, 6.11.2007; and “Critics of EC because of state aid, privatization, pensions and taxes”, in: Poslovni dnevnik, 7.11.2007.

[9] “Negative reading of the Commission’s Report in Germany”, in: Poslovni dnevnik, 13.11.2007.

[10] “UK: Croatian negotiations model for the region!”, in: Poslovni dnevnik, 8.11.2007.
 
[11] Lada Stipić Niseteo (journalist), comment, on Voice of America, 18.11.2007.

[12] “Croatia significantly ahead of the region, but still far away from Brussels”, in: Poslovni dnevnik, 2.11.2007, available at: http://www.poslovni.hr/59096.aspx last accessed on 15 January 2008.

[13] Rehn: Croatia becomes a benchmark for other countries in the region” available at: http://www.jutarnji.hr/dogadjaji_dana/clanak/art-2007,11,6,komisija_izvj... last accessed on 15 January 2008.

[14] "Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2007-2008", COM(2007) 663 final, EC, Brussels, 6.11.2007.

[15] Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Vladimir Drobnjak, chief negotiator at the conference “Two years after the opening of negotiations: where does Croatia stand?", Zagreb, 3.10.2007. Cited according to Jutarnji list (daily), 4.10.2007.
 
[16] Vincent Degert, Head of the EC Delegation to Croatia, at the conference “Two years after the opening of negotiations: where does Croatia stand?" Zagreb, 3.10.2007. Cited according to Jutarnji list, 4.10.2007, available at: http://www.jutarnji.hr/dogadjaji_dana/clanak/art-2007,10,4,spori_pregovo..., last accessed on 18 January 2008. See also Olli Rehn: “Croatia will be the 28th EU member, if Island does not surprise us”, an interview for WAZ and Jutranji list, 11.10.2007, available at: http://www.jutarnji.hr/dogadjaji_dana/clanak/art-2007,10,11,intervju_reh... last accessed on 15 January 2008.

[17] European Commission, Enlargement Strategy 2007-2009, p. 4.

[18] Lada Stipić Niseteo: “Comparison – the old and the new EU waiting room: tickets are much harder to get now”, on Voice of America, 15.11.2007.

[19] Borić: “Croatian Progress in 2007 – slower than expected”, in: Poslovni dnevnik (daily), 27.12.2007.

[20] Prime Minister Sanader, Statement quoted according to HINA news agency, 6.1.2008.

[21] “Negotiations will not be closed by 2009”, in: Jutarnji list, 21.9.2007.

[22] Prime Minister Sanader’s statement at Croatia Summit, Dubrovnik 7.7.2007. available at government's web pages, available at: http://www.vlada.hr/hr/naslovnica/novosti_i_najave/2007/srpanj/predsjedn..., last accessed on 20.1. 2007.

[23] Novi list (daily), 12. 1. 2008.

[24] President Mesić, speech on future of Croatia and the Balkans, 17 December 2007 - Paris, quoted according to Croatian news agency, HINA, available from president’s Mesić official web pages at: http://www.predsjednik.hr/default.asp?mode=1&gl=200712180000002&jezik=1&..., last accessed on 7 January 2008.

[25] President Mesić at the Bertelsman conference in Berlin, quoted according to the article “We could be satisfied with the course of negotiation process with the EU”, in: Poslovni dnevnik, 23.11.2007.

[26] Government, Press Release, 18.2.2008, available at: http://www.vlada.hr/en/naslovnica/priopcenja_za_javnost/2008/veljaca/pre..., last accessed on 25.2.2008.

[27] Đurđa Adlešić at the Press Conference, 1.3.2008.

[28] Slobodan Uzelac, interview for Banja Luka’s Nezavisne Novine daily, 2.3.2008.

[29] HTV prime evening news programme, 29.2.2008, Nova TV news, 29.2.2008.

[30] E.g. Đurđa Adrlešić at the Press Conference 1.3.2008.

[31] Statement of Prime Minister Sanader at Croatia Summit, Dubrovnik, 7.7.2007, cited according to the government's web page: http://www.vlada.hr/hr/naslovnica/novosti_i_najave/2007/srpanj/predsjedn... last accessed on 15 January 2008.

[32] “Del Ponte: Serbia made no progress”, in: Jutarnji list (daily,) 25.10.2007.

[33] “Extradiction of Mladic –condition for signing the SAA with Serbia”, in: Poslovni dnevnik, 10.1. 2008, available at: http://www.poslovni.hr/66646.aspx, last accessed on 15 January 2008.

[34] “Rupel wants Serbia in the EU without extradiction of Mladić”, in: 24sata (daily), 20.12.2008.

[35] "Leskovac. Croatia and Serbia will enter the EU together”, Javno, news portal, 20.11.2007, available at: http://www.javno.com/hr/hrvatska/clanak.php?id=99974 last accessed on 15 January 2008.