Tens of thousands of pages of legislative activities, notes, plans, experts, negotiators, in sum - a huge intellectual labour created by Croatia in the course of the country's European integration, is available and open for all the countries in the region which are yet to start on that path. Croatia has established a Centre of Excellence which unites all that labour and the experts who took part in the negotiations process and intends to provide it to all the countries in the Western Balkans plus Tunisia and Morocco. First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Vesna Pusic presented the centre officially on February 22nd, but work on it has started back in the autumn.
The centre contains not only Croatia's experience with EU accession, which is expected to happen on July 1st, but with its path toward full-fledged membership in NATO. The ways through which the country intends to "sow" its experience in the region is via seminars, lectures, round tables, conferences, forums and any other forms of exchange of experience. The country's biggest advantage is the language it speaks and all the documents are written on, as it is very close to the language spoken in Montenegro (which is already on the path toward EU membership), Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia. This means access to almost 20 million people.
But the country is also open to help Kosovo, Albania, Moldova, Tunisia and Morocco. Why Morocco and Tunisia? Because, Ms Pusic explains, those are either post-conflict countries or they are going through a period of overhaul reforms, institution building and that is why "our experience is interesting for them not in terms of preparation for membership, but in terms of building state institutions".
According to her, there is nothing more dangerous than dysfunctional states, especially when they are neighbours. The initiative is Croatian and for now the centre is funded through the country's budget which is living through a period of continuous spending cuts. The centre has a budget of its own, but it will rely on additional funding from the EU funds, but also from other EU member states, the first deputy prime minster said. Croatia will sign bilateral agreements with all countries interested in its experience. They will decide in what way to use it - be it "borrowing" experts or using the documentation, or organising forums at which Croatia to share its experience with the public in that country.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina 4 seminars have been organised so far and another 3 are planned to take place in the following months. Over 140 people took part in them. With Montenegro, too, intensive work is under way as this country is mostly interested in Croatia's experience with chapters 23 and 24 - "Judiciary and Fundamental Rights" and "Justice, Freedom and Security". Such an interest is justified given that Montenegro is the first the Commission will apply its new approach on - starting the negotiations from the chapters that have proved most difficult for the region. Chapters with which Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU unprepared and with a special mechanism.
Slovakia, too, has a Centre for Transfer of Know-How from the process of transition and integration. Since its establishment the centre has implemented a number of activities. Slovakia is one of the countries which are greatly interested in the region of the Western Balkans. According to the Slovak foreign ministry, Croatia has a very fresh experience from the accession, while Slovakia has experience from its almost 10-year membership. In that sense Slovakia is open to explore ways of cooperation with Croatia's Centre of Excellence if there is such an interest.
The European Commission has also welcomed the idea of Croatia to share its experience with the rest in the region. However, any request for European funding will be studied on the basis of the existing rules.
During a meeting with her Serbian colleague in Zagreb recently, Vesna Pusic said that Croatia is an "empirical proof" that the countries from the region are capable of handling the accession process. A proof for successful accession yes, but will the membership be successful is still a question raising doubts in Europe, most of all because of the failure with Bulgaria and Romania, but also with the retreat from the European values in Hungary. Undoubtedly, the experience not only of Croatia, but also of countries like Slovakia, but Bulgaria and Romania as well, would be to the benefit of all the future candidates. Wwhat nobody can help them with, though, except themselves, is implementation of genuine reforms in a sustainable way, not only on paper, with the aim of ticking off another task and in the end the membership.
As this website wrote many times, the experience with Greece in the euro area is the most illustrative example of how unpreparedness of a country for membership not only in the eurozone, but in the EU at large, is a prerequisite for instability in the entire Union, not only the country in question. Those are lessons the EU is learning on the move and for sure the current candidate countries from the Balkans will have a much tougher accession process than all the others before that. First, because of the lack of trust in their own capabilities to succeed; second, because of unresolved post-conflict problems, especially bilateral ones; third because of the shrinking support for European integration in the societies mainly due to "reforms" fatigue, but also because of the economic woes. In other words, Croatia's initiative indeed is wonderful and should be supported, but it is only an element of a much more complex and continuous process.