09 05 2012 - Graz, Austria
Address by President Josipović on the conference ''Croatia - 28th member of the EU''
Mr. President of the Federal Council of the Republic of Austria,
It is a great honour and pleasure for me to celebrate Europe Day with you here in Graz today. I appreciate the opportunity to speak at this conference and thank you for having decided to put focus on Croatia.
In its recent past Croatia was more often in the focus of attention in the context of tragic events – war, crimes committed during the conflicts, and the general context of dissolution of one state and difficulties in forming a new one. However, today we speak of Croatia as a successful example of Europeanisation and democratisation, a country that has successfully finished its accession negotiations with the European Union and that expects, as soon as next year, to become a full-fledged member of the EU. This fact taken by itself indicates the profound change that we have undergone. This change would not have been possible if it was not for joint work of those in Croatia who persistently promoted reforms and transformation of our entire society, and our friends from the EU member states who encouraged and motivated us to push through with such reforms. Our success is thus your success as well. We all have reasons to be proud of what we have achieved to date.
What are the main lessons from this long-lasting process of transformation stretching over some ten years, notably from the year 2000 onwards? I believe that it is important to identify the main lessons in order to present them to other countries that are now on the path of their accession to the European Union – our friends and neighbours in the countries of the Western Balkans that rightly expect to open soon their accession negotiations with the EU.
First, I would like to stress that in Croatian politics and, to a large extent, in the entire Croatian society, there was a strong consensus about the primary direction of Croatian policy – about the need and desire to join the European Union as soon as possible. This consensus was important because it made possible the continuity of European policy regardless of change of government. One needs to wish the European Union and we wished it. We wished it because we considered it to be a symbol and a tool for developing our society. We wished it because this is a community of peace and peace is the value to which we attach utmost importance considering our experience in the 1990s. Further, we wished the EU because we considered the EU membership to be recognition of Croatia’s becoming a “normal, ordinary country”. When I say “normal”, I do not mean “perfect”. No country, Croatia included, is so perfect that it could not further advance its democratic potential, the efficiency of its institutions and raise the level of freedom and justice. The membership in the EU is for us confirmation that on the path of transforming our country, its institutions and the entire society, we have reached a satisfactory level – not only measured by our criteria but also by stricter, international standards.
The second lesson I would like to single out concerns the importance of the EU accession negotiations themselves. We opened the negotiations after the conclusion of the large enlargement round of 2004. We differed from the countries which then joined the European Union – although with some, like Slovenia, we shared many common experiences. However, our transition was more complex than the transition in most other countries which then became EU members. This transition comprised five elements: political transition from an authoritarian into a democratic system; economic transition into an open market; state transition – the process of creating a new state and its institutions; social transition which affected the way we lived our lives in our society; and finally transition from war to peace. Considering the complexity and multiple character of the transition process, we needed the support of foreign protagonists to make progress and transform our society as soon as possible. The membership in the EU was that primary motive and objective for whose sake we undertook more resolute actions in all five aspects of the transition process. We used advice and, at times also, admonitions coming from the EU to change our economic structure more boldly, to consolidate our democratic system and – in particular – to improve overall relations in our region and thus create prerequisites for lasting peace. At times, it appeared to us that European criteria were to strict not taking account of specific nature of our transition process. It seemed to us that one should still take into account the conditions under which we set out on the path of our democratic transition. At times, we were expected to resolve issues of post-conflict reconciliation within ten years – Europe sometimes needed 30 years to resolve them. However, generally speaking, we can conclude that incentives coming from the European Union were an exceptionally important factor for transforming our politics and were useful to reform forces in the country.
The third lesson drawn from our experience on the path to the EU membership is the link between European and regional issues. Right after the establishment of Croatia and its international recognition in 1992, the country was faced with war that left tragic consequences in our area. During those years, it was difficult to talk about cooperation in the region, with our neighbouring countries. There was a view that the EU was, in the first place, a way out or even “escape” from the Balkans. However, after the year 2000, when the policy of cooperation prevailed both in Croatia and in other countries of the region, the stage was set for a different approach. This approach is based on the assessment that EU accession and cooperation in the region are two sides of one coin. Cooperation in the region is the greatest contribution we can give to the policy underlying the European Union. One should not forget that the European Union is also an anti-war community of states which came into being with the intention never again to let old animosities arising from nationalisms in Europe revive again. Croatia considers cooperation in the region as well as membership of all countries of the region in the EU, once the membership criteria are met, to be its lasting national interest – and the basis for its own security and progress. We shall continue pursuing this policy as an EU member state as well. We believe that we can be a constructive factor of further transformation and Europeanisation of the Western Balkans and we remain a true friend of all in the region who are oriented towards values promoted by the major project of European unification.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Croatia brings new energy into the EU and is encouraged by the recognition of its results and its acceptance as a consolidated democracy and a constructive partner. We are aware, of course, that the process of transforming our society is not yet finished. Even after the EU accession we will undertake serious reforms. This serves our interest and the interest of the European Union. What lies ahead is our more direct integration in the institutions, actions and political decision-making processes in the European Union. Over the next year and beyond, we will have to increase our capacities in order to be able to more actively participate in the processes. We wish to be a responsible and active member of the European Union.
In the contemporary economic and social crisis, it is more difficult than before to talk about development. However, development projects must not stop. The European idea is the idea about narrowing the gap between developed and underdeveloped parts of Europe. The questions of development remain relevant to us – not only in Croatian, but also in a broader regional and European context. For Croatia, it is important to exploit the advantages of an open market and the idea of solidarity within the European Union to develop its potentials. It would be easier to resolve many issues in the Western Balkans if we had more articulate development policy and if the European Union and its members more actively involved themselves as friends, partners and investors.
We would also like to offer our specific experience from the transition process to others undergoing similar processes – both in the countries of the Western Balkans and in the new democracies in Europe’s vicinity, f.i. in the countries of southern Mediterranean. Croatia has been already present in the countries of the Western Balkans and, considering our similar experience in the transition process, we believe that we can play a very constructive role. In the countries of southern Mediterranean, the situation is somewhat different since these countries have no chance of joining the European Union in the future. This necessitates a somewhat different approach. However, it is important for Europe that all the countries in its neighbourhood are democratic and oriented towards peaceful resolution of conflicts by legal means rather than conflicts and threat of force – be it in home policy or foreign policy. We neither wish nor can impose models on anyone – it is up to each and every country to find its way to stabilisation, democratisation and development. However, we are at the disposal of all who may find Croatian experience useful.
The Republic of Croatia accedes to the European Union without second thoughts, fully committed to the ideas which the Union symbolises. We accede wishing to be an active and constructive member state which will give its contribution to the project of European unity. We join the Union as a country that aspires after further enlargement of the European Union so as to include all countries of the Western Balkans since we believe that this policy is the best tool to achieve the European goals of peace, democracy, development and solidarity.