Croatia Joins the E.U., but Does Europe Really Need to Expand?

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Marko Djurica / REUTERS

Croatian police prepare to raise the E.U. flag for the first time at the Bajakovo border crossing between Serbia and Croatia on July 1, 2013

To much fanfare and celebration on July 1, Croatia became the 28th member of the E.U. Its accession comes nearly eight years after negotiations for its entry began and about two decades after it emerged as an independent state, born amid the brutal, bloody wars that surrounded the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The majority of Croatians supported the move, but others feared that their own financial troubles would be exacerbated by the E.U.’s crippling debt crisis, which has ravaged a number of other southern European countries. Ahead of Croatia’s admittance, the E.U. had to be satisfied that political reforms to tackle corruption and improve Zagreb’s rule of law have worked.

(MORE: Croatia Celebrates Joining the E.U.)

Here’s what Croatia is bringing to the table and why some other countries are headed down — or retreating from — the same path.

A History of Violence

E.U. membership is the latest sign that Croatia has stepped out of the shadow cast by the recent wars in the Balkans. During its fight for independence from Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, which left about 20,000 people dead, Croatian forces killed hundreds of ethnic Serb citizens and drove some 200,000 of them from the country, eventually winning independence as a state comprising almost entirely ethnic Croats.

Croatia has previously been less than cooperative with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, refusing to hand over former generals indicted by the court for war crimes. And Croatia’s complicated relationship with its past was evident last year when, after the International Criminal Court overturned the convictions of two Croatian generals charged with atrocities against Serbs in the 1990s, the nation celebrated and welcomed the generals home as war heroes.

But Croatia and its neighbors have also spent the past 17 years trying to turn the page. Local courts have convicted Croatians for crimes during the war, and more recent cooperation with the war-crimes court in the Hague was a precondition for E.U. membership. The governments of Serbia and Croatia have also inched toward reconciliation. In 2011, Serbian President Boris Tadic arrived in the Croatian border town of Vukovar and formally apologized for the killing of 260 ethnic Croats by Serb forces, marking a symbolic warming in relations. The E.U., itself a union forged among nations still haunted by the trauma of World War II, offers a cloak of peace and progress for the postwar Balkans.

You Want to Join the E.U.? Really?

Negotiations toward membership began in the early 2000s, long before the euro crisis brought the E.U. to its knees. Many Croatians have since protested accession, fearing the small country — with a population under 5 million — will succumb to the contagion of the euro zone’s debt crisis. Among Europe’s voting public, there is widespread discontent with the E.U., headquartered in its bureaucratic fortress in Brussels. Its members’ economies are in disarray, while their military budgets seem to shrink each year. From being a template for achieving continental — and perhaps even global — harmony and prosperity, the E.U. has become the latter-day “sick man” of the world stage.

But Croatia’s leaders are hoping E.U. membership will provide a much needed jolt for the country’s faltering economy that is in its fifth year of recession. About 21% of Croatians are unemployed, nearly twice as much as the E.U. rate, and Croatian per capita GDP is now the third lowest within the E.U. (after Romania and Bulgaria).

Croatians hope, in addition to gaining access to up to $15 billion in foreign aid from the E.U., membership will open the floodgates to further direct foreign investment and tourists — vital in a country with a long Adriatic coast and where tourism composes about one-fifth of GDP.

President Ivo Josipovic has dismissed critics who say Croatia, with E.U. membership, is digging itself deeper into a hole. On Croatia’s Nova TV, he said he responds to questions from E.U. journalists about why he wants to join with another question. “‘You come from the E.U. Is your country preparing to leave the bloc?’ They would invariably reply: ‘Of course not.’ Well, there you go, that’s why we are joining, because we also believe the E.U. has a future,” he said.

Josipovic said recently that joining the E.U.’s big market and culture was better than the alternative. “There are more reasons to stay together than split,” he added. “Fragmented European economies can’t compete.” British Prime Minister David Cameron echoed that sentiment on July 1 when he told students in Kazakhstan that despite Britain mulling an exit, a widened E.U. would strengthen continental democracy (especially in the Balkans) and elevate cooperation and trade among members.

Serbia’s Status

Nearly 20 years after it fought heavily against Serb forces in the early 1990s, Croatia’s accession may be a bellwether for Serbia. In late June, about two months after Serbia formally agreed to cede its last foothold in Kosovo, pushing the European Commission to recommend that accession talks be opened, E.U. leaders not only signaled commitment to begin negotiating Serbia’s admission in January 2014 at the latest, but also to ramping up discussion with Kosovo about framework for an association agreement. José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, called the decision “indeed historic.”

Expanding the E.U.’s Borders

Accession to the E.U. used to mark a European nation’s economic coming-of-age, but deepening financial troubles have tarnished that status. Still, four other countries may not be far behind in satisfying the acquis — the detailed set of requirements that must be met for entry.

For Montenegro, another former Yugoslav republic, its admission is largely dependent on whether it adopts a constitutional amendment that strengthens its judiciary. Macedonia won praise for its economic development, but its bitter dispute with Greece over the very name Macedonia — a region in northern Greece whose cultural patrimony Athens says Skopje is wrongly appropriating — could be a roadblock. Iceland is deep into its candidacy bid, but its new center-right government has walked back on joining in order to shield Iceland’s recovery from the E.U. debt crisis. Accession talks for Turkey, which began negotiations alongside Croatia in October 2005, were to resume in June after a three-year standstill. But E.U. Foreign Ministers backed Germany’s proposal to postpone talks amid concerns about its lacking reforms, recent antigovernment crackdown and human-rights issues.

39 comments
Christopher Double-u
Christopher Double-u

Larger, but not much. Europe and the European Union are becoming one entity so if I say that Europe wants to be more powerful, that invariably means that the European Union wants to be.

AnaK
AnaK

Ridiculous article....ridiculous made up facts and embarrassment to TIME

CllrKBoard
CllrKBoard

@TIMEWorld No, not until they have sorted out their financial problems and got themselves back to a trading market, then OK

dumancic
dumancic

Noah Rayman and Andrew Katz - Is it possible that Time magazine, once held in such high esteem, is now succumbed to such poor journalistic commentaries and complete distortion of historical fact. Either you have purposely lied and or you are simply incompetent. Either way, I am sad for Time Magazine.

IVukic
IVukic

Why does the author of this article, indeed Time World not check their facts and choose not to even acknowledge ICTY decisions? The answer could only be in an inclination to spread lies and innuendo. Check ICTY Appeal Chamber decision November 2012 in Gotovina & Markac cases, Croatian generals: Serbs WERE NOT DRIVEN OUT OF CROATIA - there was no joint criminal enterprise there - the only one that still exists is the one this article appears to be a member of: pile on any rubbish you can to cause as much damage as you can.  

Godsgift Abia
Godsgift Abia

EU should accept them if it has fulfil your admission requirement.i think thank u EU

Grace Monie
Grace Monie

Look what I found about Friday the 13th European superstition... Friday the 13th superstition costs businesses between $800 and $900 billion! For most people Friday the 13th is cause for jokes and minor superstition, but for some people it is a literal phobia. They fear what will happen to the point that they refuse to leave their houses, sometimes refusing to leave bed. They can experience anxiety and even panic attacks. Their fear is seriously debilitating; some miss work because of their fear! This depth of fear has resulted in an unexpected consequence: It is estimated that every Friday the 13th, businesses lose between $800 and $900 billion. People avoid scheduling on Friday the 13th because they think things are more likely to be unlucky and go wrong. People dodge flying on planes, purchasing houses, and buying stocks, all out of fear of a date. The reason for the superstition behind Friday the 13th has to do with the historical superstitions of both Friday and the number 13 separately. The unluckiness of 13 may come from a Norse myth about a thirteenth guest who becomes a murderer. Nowadays, we love Fridays, but fear of the number 13 remains in our culture. So what do you think, is Friday the 13th really unlucky? http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/02/0212_040212_friday13.html

Sava Savic
Sava Savic

Big mistake CROATIA fascist NATION !

Eraldo Eraldo
Eraldo Eraldo

have u ever seen a map??? have you ever read a history book? europe is larger tha, EU!!!

Dave Leary
Dave Leary

Just another country to drain the Euro!

Christopher Double-u
Christopher Double-u

That's the point of Europe, achieving as much power as possible. Of course it doesn't have to expand; it wants to.

Tereza Lévová
Tereza Lévová

There is a lot of things which need to change soon; the way of financing projects, more emphasis on regional governance insted of rules created in Brusels, etc. But on cultural, social and economic level it is very beneficial to be getting bigger! It is very important to support mobility of workfore across Europe. It is very important to make people realize we are one continent and as such we should be talking and working together more. Like this we will avoid conflicts in the future! I LOVE Europe and I am proud of its people ;-)

SmrkljuzhFranz
SmrkljuzhFranz

"During its fight for independence from Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, which left about 20,000 people dead, Croatian forces killed hundreds of ethnic Serb citizens and drove some 200,000 of them from the country"

Dear Noah and Time magazine. Out of those 20,000 killed a huge majority were actually Croats. As for the Serbs who were driven out, they actually mostly left on the order and intimidation of their own criminal leaders. This was confirmed in the ICTY trials and in the documents retrieved. So it's a fact. And if your intention was to remind the people of this period you should have then done it properly not half-heartedly. The war didn't start in 1995, it ended. It started in 1991 with over 200,000 Croats forced to leave their homes with an additional 300,000 fleeing from the areas of conflict due to bombardment of civilian targets such as towns and villages. Croatia also received another 500,000 refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina...mostly Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) fleeing their country from Serbian aggression.  The 1991 is the year Vukovar happened...you know the first city since WW2 to be complete razed to the ground while you watched on in your cozy little chairs far far away....

If you don't know the facts or don't care at all about this subject then don't write about it all. 

dmillen24
dmillen24

@TIMEWorld Europe is a landmass which doesn't expand. Integrating all its people is the best that can happen for sustainable peace.

g4rce2
g4rce2

@TIMEWorld @TIME Europe it seems Can DO whteva it wishes WE the hapless majority must wait, blue with baited breath,4 nxt inevitable failure

jerry48
jerry48

we will build a new and stronger ship !

jerry48
jerry48

@Sava Savic and what do you call Serbia ????

JanetJill
JanetJill

@SmrkljuzhFranz  

This is so true. From your article it seems that Croats just all at once went crazy. Do do research, you are the journalist after all!

Croatia wanted its independence in a peaceful way, but Serbs didn't want to hear about it and started the bloody war in '91. It's well known who started the war (Slovenia was attacked in the beginning as well). You can learn all these things, just do the research. Read something about attack of  Vukovar to start with, followed by many other places (especially Skabrnja, Srebrenica in BiH), including horrific attack to Dubrovnik and so on. All of these happened at the beginning of the war ('91) and the events you're referring to happened way way later.