Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Paul Vandoren: There Are So Many Important Reforms, No Time Should Be Wasted

Adelina Marini, March 8, 2013

The politicians in Croatia know very well which are the important reforms that have to be undertaken. Those are reforms which all international financial institutions and the European Commission have been repeating for a year that should be implemented, said in an interview with this website Paul Vandoren, head of the EU delegation in Croatia. The Belgian diplomat has been monitoring the country for three years now. He came to Zagreb from Moscow where he, too, headed the EU delegation. According to him, Zoran Milanovic's government had enough time to decide what to do since it has been elected to govern the country, and it can be seen now that it is trying to handle these reforms. The economic situation is difficult not only for Croatia, but for many other countries. But reforms are indispensable, the diplomat said and was confident that the government will use the time until the end of its mandate to undertake them.

One of Croatia's biggest achievements in the economic area, Mr Vandoren believes, is the recently signed privatisation contract for the biggest Croatian shipyard Brodosplit. Privatisation of Croatian shipyards has been demanded by the EU ever since the negotiations started, but it proved a difficult political decision due to the severe social consequences. Aside from economic reforms, Croatia, according to the European ambassador, is generally on the right track. The implementation of the remaining tasks is on track and implementation is such that it does not require the introduction of a special post-accession monitoring mechanism. Paul Vandoren believes that such a mechanism is almost impossible to be imposed on Croatia after accession, but recalled that the Commission even now is following some member states every year how are they doing with the fight against corruption. Something which can be applied to Croatia too.

He did not name the countries the Commission is following, but said that work is never finished. The biggest lesson for the EU from Croatia's accession process is chapter 23 - the rule of law. This chapter, Paul Vandoren tells us, was opened for Croatia at a relatively late stage from the negotiations and the efforts that were and still are required from the country are huge. That is why the Commission has changed the approach and will start the negotiations with all the other members queueing for membership from the toughest chapters. First on the line is Montenegro.

One of the biggest challenges the country is facing in the remaining three months and a half until accession is the completion of the ratification process. While we were talking with Mr Vandoren was revealed the deal between Croatia and Slovenia about the transferred old savings from the former Ljubljanska banka, which were an obstacle for the ratification of the Croatian accession treaty by the Slovene parliament. For now the dispute is to be frozen and Slovenia is starting immediate ratification of the treaty because, as the Belgian diplomat explained, if by June 3rd in the evening that process is not completed, there will not be an accession on July 1st.

The deal is in the air, the diplomat said and underlined that it is important the two sides to share the substance of their agreement with the European Commission as well to see whether it is fully in line with the acquis communautaire. The problem with the Yugoslav Ljubljanska banka is now 20 years old and successive governments on the two sides of the border failed to find political will to solve it. That is why is logical the question whether the Commission was not underestimating the bilateral issues between some of its members and their neighbours. Paul Vandoren firmly rejected such doubts saying that the Commission is very well aware which are the unresolved issues not only between Croatia and Slovenia, but between other countries in the region too. But he recalled that the nations should solve these by themselves.

Recently Commissioner Stefan Fule said that the EU does not want that type of problems to be imported to the EU. Next on the line for membership have sufficient time to solve their problems, Vandoren said, because in the near future they are not expected to be close to accession. But they should take these issues very seriously. The EU ambassador in Zagreb admitted that Ljubljana and Zagreb could have resolved their problems earlier, but he believes that the negotiations are always unpredictable. "So, let's keep fingers crossed", he added.

Another big challenge the small Mediterranean country faces are how will the small and medium-sized enterprises handle competition in the common market. He invited them to prepare well in order to be capable to benefit fully from the opportunities the common market reveals. A challenge too is the administrative capacity of the Croatian authorities. There are still unfilled vacancies for specialists capable of preparing projects, as the role of local and regional authorities is very important, too. It is not important experts to be present only in the ministries in Zagreb, but in the country side too, Vandoren concluded. You can watch the entire interview in the video file.

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