Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Vesna Pusic to Serbia: There Are No Fair or Unfair Membership Criteria

Adelina Marini, June 30, 2013

From a request to convey a message to Serbia on the basis of Croatia's experience with EU accession, through cooperation with the countries in the region, EU funds absorption and membership in Schengen and the eurozone, to the dark and bright moments of the Croatian past. This is one way to summarise the questions journalists asked Vesna Pusic, the first deputy prime minister and minister of foreign and European affairs who, before lunch, held a special news conference in the international press centre, established especially for the celebrations of tonight's accession of Croatia to the EU.

The most important thing is to accept that the EU membership criteria cannot be fair or unfair, Pusic advised Serbia, which at the EU summit on June 27-28 got a green light to start accession negotiations. Another very important thing is to communicate regularly with the member states, the Croatian deputy premier added. Her entire message you can watch in the video file.

Quite an expected question came from a German TV station - do German taxpayers have reasons to be worried. Ms Pusic said, however, that neither German nor any taxpayers in Europe have reasons to be worried, first because, as she explained, Croatia or any other country can get of the "notorious" bailouts only if it is a member of the euro area. The first deputy prime minister tried to raise optimism saying that the data from the European semester, in which Croatia this year participates on a voluntary basis, show that improvement of the economy is expected next year. She also took advantage of the occasion to invite foreign investors to turn to Croatia's potential. No matter if it is a eurozone member or not, if a country has financial woes it could get help from the EU and IMF as did Romania.

As the question was not asked very specifically, Pusic did not respond to the real fears of donor countries in the EU budget how will Croatia ensure that there will be no abuses with European money. An Austrian journalist was also interested in the EU funds. According to Vesna Pusic, Croatia has increased essentially its absorption rate from only a third in 2011 to more than 60% for the first six months of this year. In the next financial period (2014-2020) Croatia will divide its money into two. One half will be aimed at large projects, which Vesna Pusic says will be five, and the other half will be targeted for funding a series or a network of projects in municipalities, towns or regions. As the needs on local level are very similar, a series of projects of the same type will be prepared for infrastructure, culture and economy, which will be easy to adapt to local specifics.

It remains a goal for Croatia to become a member of Schengen in two years. A reason for optimism is the fact that during the accession process Croatia had fulfilled many of the criteria for Schengen as well, the deputy premier explained. Regarding the eurozone, from Ms Pusic's response it becomes clear that Zagreb will not be in a hurry. It is important to fulfil the criteria because a stable union is possible only with well prepared criteria, she believes. Nonetheless, her expectations are Croatia to fulfil the euro area criteria in five years.

And although the country went through a much more difficult accession than Bulgaria and Romania for instance, in the past days before the membership a scandal cast a shadow on the possibility Croatia to become the successful story of the overburdened enlargement process. A coincidence or not, but right after Germany (last) ratified the Croatia's accession treaty, the government proposed amendments to the legislation about penal cooperation with EU members. Local analysts and media believe that this legislation is aimed at a former officer of the Yugoslav secret services (UDBA) Josip Perkovic, sought by Germany for the murder of a Croatian immigrant in Germany in the 1980s. After July 1st,  Croatia is obliged to respond to a European arrest warrant and to hand over sought by other members suspects.

This scandal replaced even the preparations for tonight's celebrations, which were expected to be attended by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. Although neither Berlin nor Zagreb officially recognise that the reason for her not attending is the changes of this law, local media and the public believe that Croatia made a mistake, especially on behalf of its biggest ally ever since the independence. Asked by this website whether Croatia is done with its past and whether it has reconciled with it, Vesna Pusic said that as any other country Croatia, too, has its dark and bright moments. She underscored, however, that this law undeservedly took over all the attention of the public and that it is yet to be harmonised with the European standards. The entire response you can watch with subtitles in English in the video file.

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