Croatian EU Membership Under Threat?
It appears as though issues related to two of my current areas of study, organised crime and disputed borders, may conspire to scupper or at least postpone Croatia’s chances of joining the EU.
Croatia applied for EU membership in 2003, was granted official candidate country status in mid-2004 and entered official entry negotiations with the EU from October 2005. Croatia had been making good progress and was hoping to complete pre-accession negotiations by the end of this year, clearing the way for full membership by 2011. While the most recent European Commission progress report on Croatian accession (published in November 2008) remained generally positive about levels of progress, it did raise serious concerns about continued high levels of corruption and organised crime, strongly stating that ‘more needed to be done’ in this area to meet EU requirements before the country could be considered for full membership.
I explored these developments in a short article (‘Croatia Tackles Crime to Calm EU Jitters’) published by Jane’s Intelligence Digest in December 2008. In brief, the 1990s were a boom time for organised crime in Croatia because post-socialist economic privatisation, opportunities for profiteering and sanctions busting during the Balkan wars and the endemic corruption under Franjo Tudjman’s regime encouraged the establishment of close links between political elites, law enforcement, big business and organised crime. As a result organised crime has often been at best tolerated and at worst promoted by those in positions of power. Croatian intelligence reports highlight the activites of organised smuggling chains dealing in narcotics, arms, cigarettes and human traffic, with high levels of money laundering and counterfeiting linked to organised criminal activities. Working relations have been established between Croatian criminals and their counterparts elsewhere, particularly throughout the Balkan Region and Former Soviet Union, Turkey and Italy. A range of gangland slayings towards the close of 2008 (including the contract killing of lawyers daughter Ivana Hodak on 6th October and the murder of contraversial media magnate Ivo Pukanic in a car bombing on 23rd October, both linked to organised crime) led to demands for concrete action to fight organised crime from both the Croatian public and EU monitors. After a series of public protests against gangland violence and condemnations of the killings by the EC and OSCE (Hans Svoboda, Croatian monitor within the European Parliament declared that ‘either the government must impose some stability and order or Croatia will not be able to join the EU any time soon’), Prime Minister Ivo Sanader ‘declared war’ on organised crime,acting quickly to push a package of anti-mafia laws through parliament and establishing a new police unit, the National Office for Suppressing Corruption and Organised Crime. Dubbed ‘The Croatian FBI’ by the press, a well-publicised anti-organised crime crackdown was launched and dozens of arrests were made before the close of 2008.
While the Croatian government wait for the 2009 EC progress reports to find out whether their recent efforts have been sufficient to convince the EU they are taking a serious enough approach to resolving their crime problem, another issue has raised its ugly head, threatening to derail accession negoiations, this time concerning a disputed borderline along the Croatian-Slovenian coast.
The Bay of Piran is only twenty square kilometres (eight square miles) in area, but provides a treasured outlet to the Adriatic sea for Slovenia, whose total coastline is only 46 km (29 miles) long. Croatia, whose coastline stretches for 1,700 km (1056 miles) argues that a dividing borderline should be drawn down the middle of the bay, but Slovenia fear this would deny their ships access to the sea. This isn’t a new dispute, indeed it dates back 18 years to the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991. However the issue has recently been given new impetus as Slovenia (currently the only former Yugoslav state to have joined the EU) are now threatening to veto Croatia’s EU application unless the issue is resolved. While Slovenia are requesting EU mediation to resolve the dispute, Croatia argue that this is a legal, rather than a political issue, so should be resolved by the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
On February 20, European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn encouraged the two countries to ‘work on finding a solution to their border dispute if Zagreb’s EU membership negotiations are to stand a chance of making progress’. Slovenian and Croatian prime ministers Borut Pahor and Ivo Sanader are to due to meet tomorrow (24th February) in an attempt to resolve the matter. If they are unable to reach a satisfactory resolution Croatia may be unable to complete membership negotiations by the end of this year, which will almost certainly delay their entry into the EU.
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