Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Croatian President: Do We Really Believe in the Rule of Law?

Adelina Marini, October 15, 2016

Now is a defining moment for Europe and Euro-Atlantic solidarity, when key values need to be reaffirmed. This was the main message in the speech of Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in the London School of Economics this week. During her half-hour speech (you can watch it in the attached video file) Mrs Grabar-Kitarović touched on a wide array of subjects, but the core one was Euro-Atlantic values, which had a considerably high effect after the stage, which Croatia passed through in recent years, including during her term. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović was nominated for President by the now former leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) Tomislav Karamarko, who relied during his term as leader on extreme nationalism, on a cultural revolution and even undermining the supremacy of law during the first half of this year, when the first coalition government of the HDZ and MOST of Independent Lists (MOST NL) was constructed with Tihomir Orešković as Prime Minister.

Despite unmistakable signals for Croatia’s Orbán-isation, Mrs Grabar-Kitarović kept rather silent over the whole year so far. In front of a modest audience of academics and students, among whom there were Croats as well, the President stated, that following the snap elections of September 11, there is hope that the country is detaching from its past and looking at the future. “I believe that finally Croatia will redirect the focus of the political debate in the country from the past to the future”, she said answering a question from the audience about the currently ongoing formation of the new Croatian government, headed by the MEP Andrej Plenković. The last election campaign was the first one in Croatia in which the Ustaša-Communist confrontation was not the central subject. 

"We still remember the values of peace and security. And this is what we need to tell people - you cannot take peace and security for granted. Somebody is working every single day to preserve it. So to remind people what is a Europe of walls, of borders, of divisions, a Europe where you did not have a choice as an individual citizen, where you could not leave your country without the permission of the government. So, today, especially the young people take everything for granted, but we have come a long way in order to be able to provide for those that are at the basis", stated Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović after reminding that the European Union was conceived as a peace project, which did not, however, manage to stop the war in former Yugoslavia. “The wars that the EU was not able to prevent or manage well and that took years to resolve.”

In her opinion, when difficult political choices need to be made and actions are to be taken, the starting point needs to be the conviction that the values and principles, on which our societies are built, are still beacons. These values, in her words, are respect of personal freedoms and human rights, democracy, rule of law, respect for international law, adherence to the peaceful resolution of conflicts, openness to cooperation, and genuine solidarity. “If we uphold individual liberties and human rights, we will not tolerate the existence of a barbaric movement such as DAESH which has demonstrated nothing but complete disregard for those values”, she said and continued: 

"If we uphold democracy we will not tolerate attempts to constrain the sovereign rights of democratically elected governments to shape their countries' futures. If we pride ourselves in supporting the rule of law, we will never concede to blatant breaches of international law, like the forceful changing of borders and illegal annexation of other countries' territories." Later, she came back to the Russia subject, stating that “Russia's aggressive posture” and actions in Ukraine undermine European stability. “The sooner that Russia modifies its behaviour with international law and eases pressure on its European neighbours the more prosperous this relationship will be. Let me be clear - neither the EU nor NATO are enemies of Russia”, underlined Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who before being elected President was Assistant Secretary General of NATO. 

She talked at length about the migrant crisis, continuing, although in a softer manner and without naming her, to criticise German Chancellor Angela Merkel on her open doors policy. Last autumn, the President sent out some surprisingly sharp criticism towards Mrs Merkel on her refugee policy. On October 11, in London, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović stated that since last fall the EU has practically been avidly supporting the trafficker’s illegal business. She recommended a careful choosing of a strategy for dealing with migrants, so as to avoid their ghetto-isation in Europe. “Such a mistake has been made in the past creating almost parallel societies. A heavy price has been paid”.  Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović was never too specific on what is to be done, but one could judge by her speech that she rather supports the position of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, that migration decisions need to be made at the national level. 

"We need a strategy that should be created at national level but followed by an exchange of best practises at the international level in order to establish guidelines or recommendations and synergy of our efforts", said the President. Surprisingly, she did not talk about the European level, but the international one. At the same time, she declared being against the closing of societies. "I firmly believe that in the current completely interconnected world attempts at closing off one's country and its citizens from the times of threatening changes are exercises in futility. Erecting walls cannot protect you fully from all threats in these digital times. Embracing and managing change is the right approach in my opinion".

At the same time, she stated that it is important to answer the question what Europe do we want to live in. “Will Europe 10 or 15 years from now still be a prosperous and safe place, where our common European future is forged on the anvil of mutual respect and shared interests?“. Her answer is that she wishes to be a part of a strong and inclusive Europe, which knows how to solve its problems. In her speech, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović spoke of the Brexit as well, stating that the leaving of Great Britain should work well for all. “Whether Brexit is in the end a harder or softer one is still difficult to predict”, she said, but reminded that not everything can be brought down to just trade relations or access to the common market.

"It is also about preserving our joint and unique accomplishments, our decades of strategic partnership and our commitment to the same shared values", she said. She was not elaborate at all, regarding the changes in the European Union itself, which became imperative after the decision of British voters. She was satisfied just to say that change requires the redefinition of common interests. How that would be accomplished, whether it would be at the price of a looser union, weakening of community institutions or just the opposite was not made clear in the speech of Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. 

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović spoke briefly about EU enlargement and that again in the context of European values. “Keeping the door open for those who share the same values as we do, who strive toward the same goals and with whom EU shares borders should remain a trade mark of our policy”. This statement raises several questions, which regrettably euinside was unable to ask during the discussion due to limited time. The most important one is are there currently any countries in the enlargement process that do not share European values and are not aiming for the same goals, and if yes, which are they? The Croatian President was sparing in answering questions about EU’s enlargement towards Serbia, limiting herself to repeating that she loathes the term “Western Balkans” and that every state should join when it is ready to, regardless of the progress of others.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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