Wild Wild East is an exclusive feature that covers Eastern Europe via international affairs, culture, and economics. The Mindthis team believes Eastern Europe is overlooked in discussions about the future of the EU. Far too often we see the failures of Western Europe flood the media markets whichdrown out the success stories of Eastern Europe. However, Mindthis is not blind to the critical issues that prevent Eastern Europe from fully realizing her potential.
In our first topic Milana explained why Croatia and Serbia with a clear message of economic unity , would over the politics of division and march towards the Next Great European Renaissance. Kuba Karas takes a stark contrast as he lambasts the inclusion of Croatia into the EU.
Enjoy the easy reads on hard topics!
When asked what would cause the next great European war, Bismarck famously answered, “Some damn thing in the Balkans.” Even today, this forecast seems foreboding if we remember that Greece, the current poster child for economic despair in Europe, is a Balkan state.
To counter this pessimism, European leaders have recently highlighted the fast approaching accession of Croatia in to the EU. In 2013, Croatia will be joining the EU, marking a political turning point for the trouble region, which has witnessed brutal conflict, genocide and ethnic cleansing throughout its history. Croatia’s membership is toughed as the first step in a process that is set to bring final and lasting peace to the region.
From the beginning, the European project has been just as much about peace as economic prosperity. After all, the initial European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was designed to intergrade primarily French and German steel production to prevent the possibility of future rearmament and conflict. This part of the European project has succeeded. Deep economic, social and political integration in Western, Central and Eastern Europe has made war very unlikely. Since the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, EU leaders have hoped to expand this success into the Balkans.
As of 2003, Croatia and the EU have been preparing for the nation’s membership. The process has been delayed in large part to boarder disputes with Slovenia. Significant energy has been diverted into settling those disputes, shifting focus from critical economic matters that, if left unresolved, can further undermine Europe’s tenuous economic situation. The underlying reality is unpleasant. If Croatia does not resolve its alarming governance and corruption issues before membership, another stumbling economy will add its weight to the EU, exacerbating the problem that already exists. There will potentially be more debt, more risk of loan defaults and further need for costly bailouts and austerity measures.
In addition to Croatia’s large budgetary deficits, unproductive economy and high unemployment (20%, 2011 figures), there is the larger problem of socialized and institutionalized corruption. Corruption in Croatia is ruthless and systemic in the way that altogether should change the dialogue from “how” Croatia should enter the EU, to “if” Croatia should enter the EU.
The EU has already invested nearly one billion euros over the past decade in a reform process without any measurable results. A perfect example of the problems facing Croatia and the EU is the slow pace of judicial reform. Croatia is a country of four million that has over one million backlogged court cases. Critics have observed that this produced a deadlock in the justice system that has allowed ruling elites to arrest a few of their own for show without actually a single conviction. Furthermore, recent instances of EU funds being misappropriated in Croatia have been prevalent in Western European media. Yet, the EU has committed an additional four billion euros to government institutions apparently mired by rampant corruption. It appears to be another vicious circle, similar to those evident during Bulgaria and Romania’s accession processes in 2007.
The EU cannot afford to get Croatia’s accession wrong. The financial crisis that has gripped the Union has highlighted its structural and political deficiencies as well as limiting its available financial means. The EU should dangle the membership carrot to at least achieve some tangible results. Half-hearted or incomplete reform will only prove detrimental to both Croatia and the EU. Croatia’s membership of the EU is not only about bringing peace and prosperity to a troubled region of the world. A lot more is at stake. As Greece, Portugal and Ireland have recently shown, there is a delicate balance in the world. If nations like Croatia play a larger role on the international state without stepped-up efforts in economic and institutional reform and anticorruption initiatives, this balance will be strained beyond endurance. To date, the slow pace of reform and the persistence of systematic corruption, add further ominous foreboding to Europe’s future.