Croatia's rapporteur in the European Parliament Libor Rouček (Socialists & Democrats, Czech Republic) is convinced that the country does not need a post-accession monitoring mechanism, similar to that imposed on Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. The reason, according to him, is that Croatia is fully prepared for EU membership, if, of course, it does its homework. In an interview with euinside, Mr Rouček disagreed with the proposed amendment to his draft resolution on Croatia's progress for EU membership by his colleague Monica Macovei (EPP, Romania). She proposes for Croatia to be introduced a post-accession monitoring mechanism because she believes corruption remains a serious problem in the country.
According to Ms Macovei, the mechanism should monitor the Croatian efforts in the fight against conflict of interest, corruption and organised crime, as well as the implementation of the reforms plan in the judiciary. In other words, precisely the same mechanism which was the pre-condition for Bulgaria's and Romania's accession in the EU on January 1st 2007, instead when they are ready with the reforms. But Libor Rouček is of the opinion that with every enlargement wave, the candidates are better prepared because of the experience and because more specific problems are addressed. Croatia is much better prepared for EU membership than some countries from the big bang enlargement in 2004 or compared to Greece 30 years ago.
The rapporteur emphasised, however, that this does not mean that the efforts by the Croatian authorities should end with accession. On the contrary, the Croatian citizens need rule of law, they need the state institutions to work, the country to be able to absorb EU funds. Reforms should continue even after accession on July 1st, he reminded.
Theoretically, it is possible Croatia not to succeed joining in time because of problems with ratification. So far, only in three member states the ratification procedure has not started yet. Those are Denmark, Germany and Slovenia. The latter is the biggest obstacle for the ratification process because it has put pre-conditions to initiate the procedure - solving the issue with the failed Yugoslav Ljubljanska banka. Currently, the top diplomats of the two countries - Vesna Pusic and Karl Erjavec - are holding a series of meetings together with the special financial experts, appointed by the governments in Zagreb and Ljubljana, to find an expert solution. The last meeting ended on February 6th after marathon negotiations in Slovenia, after which the two ministers announced that they have found a solution but they refused to name it before the prime ministers of the two countries - Zoran Milanovic and Janez Jansa - have approved it.
Reaching a mutually acceptable solution is in a race with time because Slovenia is shaking in a severe political crisis and the break-up of the ruling coalition is being delayed literally because of the ratification of Croatia's accession treaty. The party of pensioners of Foreign Minister Erjavec will leave the coalition on February 22nd which means that by then a solution must be found and the ratification must have started.
Libor Rouček says that he is constantly reminding his Slovenian colleagues that it is of the interest of Slovenia, too, to ensure there are no problems. The two countries have to demonstrate not only to their citizens, but to Europe as well, that they are mature enough to be able to sit when there is a problem and discuss it, find a solution or a compromise. He hoped that this will happen, but acknowledged that in many EU capitals there are fears that the unresolved bilateral problems between member states and candidate countries put enlargement process at risk, especially for the Balkan countries. He recalled the issues Italy brought up in 2003 for Slovenia's accession, and also the problems between the Czech Republic and Germany. But he hoped that in the end of the day reason will prevail and the problems will be overcome.
Transcript of the interview:
euinside: Mr Roucek, as a rapporteur on Croatia, do you think that Croatia is prepared for EU membership?
Libor Rouček: Of course, Croatia is prepared for EU membership because if it wasn't prepared there wouldn't be a fixed date. The date is the 1st of July. So, Croatia is prepared. Of course, it still has to do some work before July 1st, but overall the country is prepared.
euinside: Do you think it is better prepared than the first post-communist wave in 2004?
Libor Rouček: It's hard to say. I think all the countries that are joining now since 2004, we can say that they are better prepared than, let's say, Greece. Because, looking back to 1970s, 1980s, everyone who wanted to join the EU was accepted, but sometimes without doing the necessary homework. So, with the enlargement 2004-2007 and now of course Croatia this year the conditions were set what the new members have to fulfil in terms of political democracy, functioning of the market economy, human rights and so on. So, we can say that these countries are better prepared than, let's say, Greece 30 years ago.
euinside: Yes, but given the problems with Bulgaria and Romania and that very special mechanism they have, do you think that the fears that Croatia might be the next Bulgaria and Romania are justified?
Libor Rouček: Of course with every new enlargement the experience is made. After 2004 and especially 2007 of Romania and Bulgaria more emphasis, more stress is put on the functioning of the public administration and what we understand under rule of law, justice, fight against corruption. So, in this sense we can say that Croatia, answering your previous question, that Croatia perhaps is better prepared than some of the countries which were admitted in 2004.
euinside: Yes, but I've seen the amendments to your draft resolution that your colleague Monica Macovei has proposed an amendment calling for the imposition of a monitoring mechanism juts like the one for Bulgaria and Romania. Do you think that such an idea could be some kind of a guarantee or is it reliable?
Libor Rouček: I'm convinced that this monitoring at this stage is not necessary and that is why I'm not proposing it. You can ask why Monica Macovei is proposing that. Maybe she wants to see another country in the same category like Romania and Bulgaria. But what I want to achieve and I think that's also the position of the Commission that at this moment there is no need of further monitoring. But of course Croatia has to do the homework. Also, what we have to think about and especially people in Croatia both in the government, in local administrations and so on, is that these reforms are not only meant till 1st of July of this year because it is of the interest of Croatia that the state works properly, that the rule of law is applied, also that Croatia can use to maximum extent the money that will be available. So, for this reason, it's of vital interest for Croatia to make sure that everything will work well not only before the 1st if July, but after.
euinside: And do you think it's possible Monica Macovei's proposal to be adopted?
Libor Rouček: We will be discussing all those proposals for amendments this week. I will look at all of them, so we will see, but as I said I don't agree with this amendment.
euinside: Do you see any obstacle that could prevent Croatia from joining on the 1st of July?
Libor Rouček: Theoretically, of course Croatia has to do the homework, but also 27 member states have to ratify. We have ratifications in 22 or 23 so far, we still have to finish the complete work of those 4 countries. So, theoretically, yes, there could be an obstacle. I hope that in practise it won't happen.
euinside: How do you see the efforts that Croatia and Slovenia are now investing to solve the bilateral issues they have between themselves.
Libor Rouček: Of course, it's in the interest of Croatia but also what I'm telling to our Slovenian friends that it's also in the interest of Slovenia that there are no hick-ups, there are no problems as far as the ratification is concerned because I think it's a good opportunity for both countries to show maturity to their own citizens, but also to Europe, that both countries are mature enough when there is a problem to sit down, talk about it, find a solution, find a compromise and do the work. So, there is still a chance this will be done.
euinside: Do you think that the requirement for all candidate-countries to have solved their regional and bilateral issues before membership is kind of compromised because obviously Slovenia has joined the EU without having solved its bilateral issues with other countries in the region?
Libor Rouček: There is a fear in many European capitals these bilateral issues, especially in the Balkans, can hinder the further enlargement. So, its in the interest of every country, every single country in the Balkans, to work on those issues even before the negotiations start or before the enlargement. So, that's we are as far bilateral issues are concerned. Because, nobody wants to repeat this situation and by the way this is not the case only between Croatia and Slovenia. If we take Slovenia as an example, in 2003 the Italians tried to use that opportunity and bring some of the unresolved bilateral issues from the past. Or part of the German political spectrum tried to do the same vis a vis my own country - the Czech Republic - but luckily both countries - Italy, Germany - played very constructive role and I also believe that Slovenia will do the same.
euinside: And finally, Croatia has been through this accession all alone, which is different because Bulgaria and Romania were together, they could compete with each other, the 10 member states in 2004, they had company as well, do you think that this kind of deprived Croatia of some boost and how do you think it would feel joining a crisis-hit European Union being in crisis itself?
Libor Rouček: I personally, don't think that this is to disadvantage of Croatia because Croatia, you know there was no pressure as with the big bang enlargement in 2004 because even before 2004 there were debates how many countries will join - will it be 1, 2, 3 or 5 and in the end it was 10 countries. So, Croatia didn't go through this process. That means that Croatia had to fulfil all the requirements on its own. No country was waiting for Croatia, Croatia is not waiting for any other country. So, everything is being judged on Croatia's merit. So, we have to congratulate Croatia for this achievement.
euinside: OK, thank you very much for this interview and for the time you spent with us.
Libor Rouček: Thank you very much, thank you.