II Europeanization in consolidated states

The trials and triumphs of Europeanization in Croatia. The unbearable weight of structure and state-building?

Mieczystaw P. Boduszynski1


Among the aspirant states in the Western Balkans examined in this volume, Croatia is by far the closest to full European Union (EU) membership. On 30 June 2011, nearly six years after becoming a candidate state and twenty years after its independence from the former Yugoslavia, Croatia finalized its accession negotiations with the EU, and signed the accession treaty by December of the same year. Assuming ratification by the existing member states, Croatia will become the twenty-eighth member of the EU on 1 July 2013. In short, Croatia has come a long way from the authoritarianism, nationalism and war that characterized its first decade of transition in the 1990s. Its privileged position in the EU queue is the result of the work of successive Croatian governments over the past 12 years, as well as the culmination of the EU’s effort to bring Croatia into the European fold and hold it up as a Western Balkan model for liberal reform and the rewards that such reform can bring. European Council President Herman Van Rompuy added his voice to a long list of EU officials when he stated in June 2011:

Croatia’s achievement serves as an inspiring example for the other countries of the Western Balkans. Croatia demonstrates that with political will, a strong national consensus and dedicated work, it is possible to overcome the shadows of the past and move towards membership in the European Union.2

Croatia’s success thus serves as a concrete expression of the power of democratization through Europeanization in the Western Balkans.

For some, these developments demonstrate that Croatia has finally (re)claimed its proper place on the European continent. After all, it shares most of the features of those post-communist states that were in the first round of EU enlargement: a relatively high level of economic development, a culture rooted in the rational- legalist traditions of Western Christianity, an Austro-Hungarian imperial legacy, and a communist system that was in many respects more open than those of the new EU member states admitted in 2004 and 2007. Thus, the argument goes, Croatia came to the EU later than Poland, Hungary, Slovenia or Bulgaria because it had to deal with the complications of war and the need to defend its territory from Serbian aggression in the 1990s.

Yet, as Croatia has negotiated the final accession chapters with Brussels in the past two years, the nature of some of the obstacles it has confronted — marketizing its shipbuilding industry, reforming its judicial sector, fighting corruption, providing a satisfactory degree of cooperation to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and resolving a border dispute with Slovenia — are reminders of the durability of legacies which have cast a long shadow on postcommunist transition in Croatia, thereby making Europeanization difficult. These are all policy areas that have been targeted by EU conditionality, and whose importance Brussels has noted in successive yearly progress reports over the past decade. Yet, despite the immense incentives and pressure to implement reforms, why is it that pro-European Croatian leaders were unable to do so to the satisfaction of enlargement officials in Brussels until only very recently? This chapter will argue that the impediments to full democratization and Europeanization in Croatia are rooted in two rather ‘heavy’ sets of legacies: (1) the weaknesses of Croatia’s economic structure and their political consequences; and (2) problems relating to what Arolda Elbasani, in her introductory chapter to this volume, calls ‘stateness’, here defined as the difficulties and insecurities that arise from incomplete nation-building.

This chapter will illustrate how these legacies have impeded reform in four key areas targeted by EU conditionality (and in the accession negotiations, by Chapters 8 and 23, justice and market competition, in particular): the rule of law and the fight against corruption; economic liberalization; regional cooperation; and cooperation with the ICTY. In so doing, it will both confirm and build on the conceptual framework presented at the beginning of this volume. It will highlight the variable of stateness, while specifying how it has constituted an impediment to the fulfilment of certain areas of EU conditionality. It will also expand the conceptual framework by delineating a set of domestic factors (economic structural legacies) and tracing how they underpinned the development of clientelism and corruption, while constraining political agents seeking to implement EU conditionality. Even in Croatia, the ‘poster child’ of the Western Balkans, Europe’s transformative power has been tested by domestic realities handed down from the past.

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