Article by Alessandro Polvani
Translation by Danielle Moodie
The negotiations for Croatian accession to the European Union should be concluded by next June, but the matter seems to have come to a standstill. The Commission recently requested that the State double its efforts to meet certain criteria, namely, its cooperation in matters of war crimes and its endeavours in the fight against corruption, which is of course related to judicial reform. These issues are considered crucial in the decision to allow Croatia’s accession to the Union.
What progress can we expect in this regard?
As far as judicial reform is concerned, organisations which represent Croatian civil society issued a joint statement in mid-February. They expressed concern that the negotiation of chapter 23, which refers to “judiciary and fundamental rights”, could be concluded before effective reforms are set in motion. Urgent reforms falling under both categories are demanded: the fight against corruption, which requires substantial progress; and the restructuring of the judicial system.
The Croatian branch of Transparency International – the main European think-tank operating in the field of anti-corruption – has been among the organizations detailing a report on the matter. Its conclusions reveal the huge implications of corruption in Croatia, a problem which is evident given local protests. Unfortunately, these issues are also prominent in Romania and Bulgaria who completed the accession process in 2007. Moreover, the independent report published by Transparency suggests that the 2010 Corruption Perception Index in both these countries was worse than that of Croatia.
With regards to the restructuring of the judicial system, which has also attracted criticism from the Commission, it can be said that progress is required to ensure that the magistrate operates with more independence from executive bodies. Although new legislation advocating civil liberties was approved, 57 judges were hastily appointed last January, before the new procedure came into force. This is an indication that the political class lacks enthusiasm for effective and substantial reform. It is also worth noting that the constitutional judges are still appointed using a simple parliamentary vote (in Romania this has not happened since 2003; whilst in Bulgaria only a third of constitutional judges are selected in this way).
Bearing this in mind, it can be considered that, by some accounts, the safeguard of civil rights in Croatia is no worse than the realities of some community areas, such as Bulgaria and Romania. It therefore stands to reason that Croatia could enter the Union prematurely thanks to this misleading argument: if Romania and Bulgaria have been admitted despite not having objectively completed their reform process, then this should also be the case for Croatia. We maintain that this kind of logic induces the condition of European civil rights to be lowered, and as such supports a “two-speed” Europe.
It is important to note that the attention that the EU must rightfully lend to its choice of candidate countries cannot be branded futile pedantry or obsessive attention to detail. Europe has a great power: through the mechanisms inherent in the accession process it can influence change within the countries who apply for membership. This power, known as Europeanization, can permit Croatia to make great advances in terms of civil liberty. It is, however, necessary to be rigorous when setting out the indicative criteria for each negotiation chapter.