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Danijela Barisic: All Countries in the Balkans Should Have a European Future

Published on , , Sofia

On December 9th Croatia will sign its EU accession treaty. There could have hardly been a more obscure moment this otherwise wonderful event to take place. An event, symbolising a significant transition to democracy, freedom and developed market economy and putting an end to Europe's division. Alas, if with the accession of the two remnants of the fifth enlargement (2004) - Bulgaria and Romania, who joined in 2007, it was talked about enlargement fatigue, now it is talked about a division. A division of the union to several gears and turning a back to all achievements so far.

Of course Zagreb is following the developments in the eurozone with concern, as it becomes clear from our conversation with Croatia's ambassador to Bulgaria Her Excellency Danijela Barisic. Nonetheless, she is full of optimism because for the Croats Europe has always been a home of their own and they have always been part of it. And more - because the Croats perceive reforms as something natural, like the Sun and the Moon, and not like something imposed on them in order to achieve an objective. This is a good lesson that gives hope that a union of common values does have a future.

In the interview, that you can watch in the video file, we are talking with Mrs Barisic about the political environment in Croatia, about her wonderful Bulgarian language and about the future that has to be European, especially for the countries from the Western Balkans.

A transcript of the interview:

euinside: We are in a very important moment for the EU and for Croatia too. Currently we are with the ambassador of Croatia in Bulgaria, Her Excellency Danijela Barisic. What will impress you very much is that she speaks a wonderful Bulgarian language. Hello and thank you for accepting us. It is rare a foreign diplomat to speak so well Bulgarian, how did you learn it?

Danijela Barisic: Thank you very much. I came here almost 3 years ago and started normally with a teacher. Then a read, watched TV, listened to the radio and thus I learnt it not that bad.

euinside: Does it help for your work?

Danijela Barisic: Of course, it helps a lot.

Definitely. As we will be talking about Croatia's accession process, we will turn to English for our foreign public too. OK, now Croatia is on the final stage of its accession process after the EU leaders decided in June that Croatia should sign its accession treaty, do we already have a date? When is the treaty going to be signed and where?

Yes it is confirmed that the accession treaty would be signed in Brussels on 9th of December right before the meeting of the European Council.

euinside: Right, it was discussed before that to be signed in Warsaw, what happened?

Danijela Barisic: Yes, but we talked to our Polish friends, as they are the presidents of Europe, so we decided it's good to be signed in Brussels.

euinside: This is a very hot issue right now - is there going to be a referendum in Croatia for the accession?

Danijela Barisic: Yes of course it's going to be a referendum because we are obliged to according to our constitution to have the referendum anytime when Croatia is acceding some integration or going to be a union of the states, so we have to have a referendum. But I don't think it's going to be a problem because it was our national aim, our national cause to become a member of the union. I can say that we feel it like we are coming back home to Europe because we always felt that we are part of Europe. So I don't think there is going to be any problem.

euinside: And the people would like that and the polls show probably that a positive reaction ...

Danijela Barisic: Yes, that's right. According to the polls and the research of the sociologists somewhere between 55%-60% of the people are in favour of joining the European Union. Of course there are some of them who are not in a favour but that's a democracy everyone should speak and should tell their feeling. But I don't think that there is a problem - we've been informing our citizens since we started the negotiation process. Of course that information campaign was not always so intense or so, let's say, visible. In this final stage, since we finished negotiation in June, we started, as I said intensified campaign, we can see billboards, many many TV or radio clips but of course also before we had booklets, leaflets, we have TV shows or radio shows to explain to the people what is going to be like when we join the EU. So, of course, you cannot conduct a campaign for six years, as long as we conducted the negotiations, so it's hard to preserve a focus. So, we can say that the information campaign was in stages and it was in various, say, models.

euinside: And when is this referendum going to take place?

Danijela Barisic: When we sign the accession treaty, after that, according to the Constitution, two-thirds of the majority of all members of Parliament has to decide that we are going to be part of the Union. So, after that, within 30 days after the decision we have to organise and to go to the referendum.

euinside: Does Croatia feel prepared? You said that it's like a national goal and most Croatians feel that this is their place that they've always belonged to but the accession process is full of a lot of tough things. Is Croatia prepared?

Danijela Barisic: Yes, we are prepared since we had the 35 chapters for negotiations, so it covered all the areas of society - life, economy, everything and we had the benchmarks for the opening and for the closing of the negotiating chapters, so, yes, we are prepared and maybe it's for the usual people they're maybe not so, how to say, they think - OK, tomorrow when we enter the EU it's going to be everything OK but there are some things that they are aware of - the rule of law and all of us should obey the law, that there is no some of us who are untouchable and some of us who are obliged to follow the law. There are some things. I would say that during these 6 years people accepted some changes and we conducted some reforms and they are like a part of our lives - we don't think about those reforms or those changes as something that was imposed on us and that's not part of us. No, that's something normal like the Sun and the Moon. You don't think about that as something strange.

euinside: This is very important because we had a problem that I think we still do with doing that because of Europe, because of becoming members, so obviously you've always been like that. I remember that during our accession in 2007 the biggest problem for the EU was the so called enlargement fatigue because of the big wave in 2004. Now the EU is facing much tougher problems. Is Croatia a little bit concerned to what kind of a union it is going to join?

Danijela Barisic: Of course we are concerned because those problems are not just going to be our problems but they are our problems, of course. But I think that in the time of crisis you can do some things, let's say, quicker and you are forced to make some decisions. OK, they can be hard, they can be tough but it's for all of us. So, about the enlargement fatigue - yes, it can be a problem but we think that all those countries in this region have to have European future because that future would be peaceful, that means that we will be a stable region and we know what happened in the past, so for us it's very crucial for all those countries to have that path to the EU. Of course that process can be long, it is going to be hard but it should be a European future for all of us. Not to forget that.

euinside: And Croatia is also obliged to join the euro area once it fulfils the criteria. Do the authorities in Croatia and the people themselves follow with some kind of anxiety what's going on in the eurozone? Is there a kind of scepticism?

Danijela Barisic: I can say also that we are concerned because first of all when citizens take credits or loans from the bank they are usually pegged to the euro. 80% of foreign direct investments are from the EU countries. Our tourists mainly come from the EU countries. So, we are really linked to the EU. So, of course, yes we are concerned about the future but we think that we are going to solve that.

euinside: And against the background of all these a little bit dark events and things that are going on are there going to be some kind of celebrations when the treaty is signed?

Danijela Barisic: Of course we are going to mark that but right now I really don't know the information where it's going to be or how huge or how, let's say, happy or whatever it is going to be. It was our really national goal. I think that on the 9th of December all of us will say - OK, right now we are coming back home.

euinside: The current government, could we say that it actually fell victim of the accession process? Because it was this government that finished the negotiations and a lot of people related to organised crime and the war tribunal for former Yugoslavia, they've finished all this process and now you are going to have early elections. So is this a victim of the process?

Danijela Barisic: It is not early elections because the last elections were in 2007, so it's after the four years. Whoever wins the elections, it's up of course to the voters, they will proceed with the European future. There is not going to be any eurosceptic government or any less European oriented government because since we started the negotiations we had like a national consensus - all of us have been in favour of joining the EU. In fact there is just one parliamentary party that is against the EU but they have just one member of the parliament, so there is no fear of Croatia becomes eurosceptic. OK, maybe we would not be so optimistic, we will of course accept and since I said we were deeply concerned about the problems having in Europe, but since we are going to be a member, OK we will be a relevant partner and of course we will follow all things that are going in Europe.

euinside: So, you're not afraid that, as was the case with Bulgaria and Romania, we of course have this mechanism in the area of justice and home affairs you are not going to have one, but do you think that there will be a kind of scepticism on behalf of Brussels that maybe with a new government all the efforts towards the organised crime and corruption might fall behind?

Danijela Barisic: Right now we are not afraid of that. Of course, it's up to us to present ourselves that we are stubborn, that we are willing to conduct all the reforms we still have to make. As I said we did many many hard reforms but you can never say that you are ideal or perfect. There is always a room to improve and of course we will continue to improve everything.

euinside: Thank you very much for your time.

Danijela Barisic: You're welcome.

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