Croatian concerns about the enlargement prospects after the Irish ‘No’
1. How does the future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’ look like?
After the negative outcome of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, Croatian media mostly focused on its impact on the further enlargement. In this context the media quoted optimistic statements from EU officials like the one made by Luc Van den Brande, President of the EU Committee of the Regions — during his visit to Croatia — that the country had made excellent progress toward the EU membership and should not be discouraged with the results of the Irish ‘No’.This was also a central message of the international conference “Croatia Summit 2008” held in Dubrovnik on the 5 July 2008, as journalist Luka Brailo summarised. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader stated at the Summit that the Irish ‘No’ should not stop the enlargement and leave this part of the continent in undefined, disordered and uncompleted shape. Journalist Bruno Lopadić wrote that Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty came at the most unfortunate moment when the Union was expected to show all of its capabilities for cooperation and mutual work in facing the needed changes and the upcoming financial crisis.
The conclusions of the European Council of December 2008 on the fate of the Lisbon Treaty welcomed with a relief in Croatia
The political agreement between Ireland and the French Presidency in the eve on the December 2008 European Council dealing with the second referendum and possible ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of 2009 was welcomed with relief by the Croatian public and government. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was an optimist on the issue already during his visit to the Republic of Ireland in October 2008, after meeting with the Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen, who stated that the Irish referendum should not be a problem for Croatian accession. During his official visit to Croatia on 12 November 2008, the European Commissioner for the enlargement Olli Rehn, stated that even the slowest scenario of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty was expected to be faster than the fastest scenario of Croatian accession.
Media analyses emphasised that the process of ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and Croatian negotiations with the EU are the two parallel ongoing processes. In this context, there is a chance for the simultaneous completion of the process of Croatian accession to the EU and ratification of the Lisbon Treaty as journalist Jurica Köbler wrote in November 2008.. Another journalist, Augustin Palokaj, stated that Croatia could even help in the salvation of the Lisbon Treaty. Namely, there was an idea that Irish demands on ratification of all agreed guarantees regarding the Lisbon Treaty might be connected with the ratification of the future Croatian accession treaty and thus simplify the procedure. The so called ’Irish protocol’, containing guarantees given to Ireland could become a part of the treaty.
The comments in political daily “Vjesnik” particularly welcomed the European Council’s endorsement of the Commission’s new Enlargement Strategy. Expectations that Croatia might become EU member in 2010 or 2011 are widely spread in the Croatian public by the media. Views expressed by the EU officials during December 2008 European Council meting that an indicative and conditional timetable for conclusion of negotiations with Croatia by the end of 2009 is a useful tool and was commented in Croatian media. Vladimir Drobnjak, head of the Croatian accession negotiation team expressed his satisfaction with the Council’s conclusions related to the Enlargement Strategy.
Concessions given to Ireland in the European Council’s conclusions considering the posting of an EU Commissioner for Ireland, guarantees of neutrality as well as family and labour law issues, were elaborated on by the Croatian press. Some media reports speculated on the date of the second referendum in Ireland, with most of them expecting that it might happen at the end of 2009 (Croatian journalist, Ines Sablić) or in October or November 2009 (Vesna Roller). In the second half of December 2008, the Croatian media’s focus considering EU issues shifted from the European Council’s conclusions on the Lisbon Treaty to the Slovenian blockade of the Croatian accession negotiations. Professor of Political Science at Zagreb University, Damir Grubiša, commented that concessions given to Ireland should enable the Irish Government to successfully pave the way for the Lisbon Treaty ratification. However, his opinion is that the Slovenian blockade of the Croatian accession negotiations, leading to a slowing down of the Croatian accession process at the same time endangers the faith of the Lisbon Treaty, because it means that the ratification of the Irish guarantees would also be postponed.
The upcoming European Parliament elections in June 2009 has so far attracted little attention in Croatia
As Croatia is a not an EU member, the upcoming EU Parliament elections are presently not focused on or given attention by political parties and the general public.
In hope that the accession process might be completed by mid 2009, the Croatian government has adopted a proposal for an act on elections of Croatian members of the European Parliament in the summer of 2009. However, it has become clear that Croatian citizens will not be able participate in the 2009 European Parliament elections and the government has revoked the urgent procedure for this legislative proposal on 10 July 2008. Siniša Rodin, university professor of EU Law at Zagreb Law Faculty, warned on his blog page on the possibility that an act on elections of Croatian members of the European Parliament proposed by the government might be in direct violation of the EU Law anti-discriminatory clause from Directive 93/109/EC. The reason for it is the fact that voting in Croatian diplomatic offices abroad is still reserved exclusively only for Croatian citizens which means that (other) EU citizens would not be able to use this privilege.
Croatian media are also dealing very little with the upcoming European Parliament elections in June 2009. Croatian journalist Vesna Roller in her comment in December 2008, concluded that it has become quite clear that reaching the goal of the Lisbon Treaty ratification before the 2009 elections for the European Parliament is impossible and the new goal is the end of the 2009 or the beginning of the 2010.
The formation of the new Commission in autumn 2009
During the reporting period, Croatian media were not dealing at all with the formation of the new European Commission in the autumn of 2009. The political parties were also not discussing it so far.
The appointment of the High Representative not in focus in Croatia
Croatian media so far has paid little specific attention to the appointment of the future High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. However, some of them speculated on possible candidates for the position of the future President of the European Council under the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty. For instance, in an article by journalist Martina Hrupić Danish Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen was mentioned as a potential favourite, but Bertie Ahern, Jean-Claude Juncker, Tony Blair and Angela Merkel, were also among others mentioned.
Long-term implications of Irish rejection concerns analysts in Croatia
Croatian political scientist Anđelko Milardović commented in his newspaper column that Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, as well as previously the destiny of the Constitutional Treaty, had clearly shown that the concept of a Europe as a superpower seems to be in nobody’s best interest. He elaborates on possible scenarios for the development of the European integration process among which one might be a total weakening of integration (first scenario), closed core Europe and lose of the consensus between member states (second scenario) and possibility of further enlargement and successful institutional reforms (optimistic scenario). Luka Brkić, professor at the Zagreb Faculty of Political Science stated in his interview that current global developments reflect the relationship between the obsolete political and economic powers. He said that the EU must impose itself as a strong global player, become a leader and impose its model in coping with a current crisis. The fate of the EU is in integration, but the Union has reached the level where it faces the following problems: one side of the problem is the fact that the EU is not (neither will it become) a nation state, there is a multi-level governance of EU bodies and national governments; while on the other side there is a need of achieving deeper political integration. The question is how to solve effectively these problems without bringing into question future integration progress.
2. Transatlantic relations renewed after President Bush: top priorities
Hope for renewal of the transatlantic relations for the benefit of both EU and Croatia
The problem of transatlantic relations has been scrutinized in Croatian public and politicians, mainly from two aspects: the aspect of the global financial crisis and the aspect of the new American administration under the new elected President Obama. The daily “Vjesnik” has pointed out the differences in the starting positions between the EU and the USA during the G20 summit in November 2008 in Washington, where the EU leaders have advocated stronger market regulation while USA supported as much as possible safeguarding of liberal capitalism. Connecting this aspect with the aspect of expectations from the new administration, EU leaders have discretely expressed the hope that the new American administration will have more potential for improving the performance of the American economy than the Bush administration. Comments published in daily “Jutranji list” found this disagreement as evidence of the conflict on leadership between the EU and the USA and not only on that issue, but on many others. Discussing this issue, professor Luka Brkić from the Faculty for Political Science in Zagreb, had stressed that EU countries have understood that no single country has potential to cope neither with the US economy nor with giant corporations in the world. There is still a profound difference between the two concepts: mainstream neoliberal, which is preferred by the USA and market-regulated, which is implemented in the EU. Although these two market concepts have been discussed for a long time, they are different especially with the view of the current crisis and possible outcomes.
Regarding the impact to Croatia, comments in pro-government daily “Vjesnik” have expressed the opinion that the upgrading of the partnership between the EU and the USA, which is one of the important priorities of the foreign policy of the new American administration, will also promote Croatian prospects to become a full-fledged member of both Euro-Atlantic structures as soon as possible.
In some comments and statements by top Croatian leaders, fine differences could be noticed. For instance, President Mesić keeps stating in each possible occasion that Croatian foreign policy must not neglect other parts of the world, and must not focus only on the USA while Prime Minister Sanader evidently prefers the US-Croatian partnership, which will probably help Croatia to become a full-fledged member of NATO very soon.
3. Financial crisis and challenges of global governance: the EU response
Mixed responses on the EU’s reaction and growing fear of recession in Croatia
Croatia’s fears of recession and devastating effects of the global economic crisis
The intensive preoccupation of the Croatian public with the world financial crisis and its reflections on Croatia started in the summer of 2008. First reactions of government officials reflected the attempt to play down the proportions of crisis and its possible effects on the Croatian economy. It was hoped that the financial crisis would be limited to US financial institutions and its economy.
The autumn of 2008 brought the sobering up of and acknowledgement of the realistic scope of the threat and since then, governmental and public interest is primarily directed on the potential impact of the crisis to the Croatian economy as well as its accession process to the EU.
The reactions to the crisis and how to overcome it have come from practically all social actors; the government, employers, banks, trade unions, experts, opinion makers, media analysts etc. Trade unions for instance, have focused mainly on the protection of jobs and the living standards of employees and citizens. In the expectations of a worsening of financial crisis and its spill-over effect into the real sector, the government offered social partners, employers and unions, to freeze salaries in the 2009 in order to bring the state budget deficit closer to zero, however the trade unions declined it as an unfair attempt to put the burden of crisis solely on the shoulders of workers. The government also formed the ‘Council of Economic Advisors l’ in November 2008 to ensure the needed expert advice on prudent economic policies and measures to mitigate the immediate financial crisis effects on the Croatian economy. In February 2009 the government however rejected a set of anti-recession measures suggested by the economic council; and adopted a much milder policy approach to deal with it. As local elections are scheduled for May 2009, the government which is led by HDZ was for a long time reluctant to declare openly that Croatia has entered into recession. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) has come out with its proposal of anti-recession measures earlier.
Thanks to prudent regulation of Croatian National Bank (CNB), banking sector in Croatia is still strong and has not been hurt much by the crisis thus far. The CNB is presently helping to preserve the monetary stability by using the high foreign currency reserves for intervening on the money market and also ensuring the debt service of the government. The thorough assessment of the financial crisis’ potential impact on the Croatian economy was presented in the recent CNB Bulletin. It has emphasised that the consequences of the international financial crisis on the Croatian economy will be first seen in the increased interest rates on foreign debt and in the decrease of Croatian exports of goods and services. Within the conducted simulation model, CNB illustrated that the cost of borrowing from abroad (for Croatian banks, companies and the government) will increase by 4 percent, due to which commercial banks might increase interest rates on households and corporate loans (by 5.8 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively). Finally, this would result in a decrease of household loans by 28 percent. As a response to such a scenario, the Governor of CNB, Željko Rohatinski, emphasized that forecasts from the model do not necessarily become reality and that some of these negative effects, can be mitigated by the already adopted CNB measures such as the lowering of the obligatory reserves for banks.
The perceptions on EU response to the effects of the financial crisis are mixed in Croatia
The Croatian media reports focused quite intensively on how the EU is handling the financial crisis – its role in dealing with the consequences of the crisis, undertaken measures, and cooperation with the rest of the world, as well as the analysis of the EU plans for overcoming the crisis.
Most of the debates and analyses were focused on the dynamics of the crisis and the performance of the EU in this context. The fears of recession were portrayed as reasonable, while the reports were centred on the measures of the EU governments which were desperately trying to save their financial institutions. The media reports stressed the lack of a clear vision of EU actions in solving the problems in the financial sector. Most media reported on the appeal of José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, for the cooperation between member countries since neither of them will be able to overcome the crisis alone. The media also initially reported that the Union rejected the possibility of setting up agencies which would monitor bank operations throughout its territory and announce the ad hoc meetings which would deal with each individual company. The EU also rejected the French proposal to establish a European fund that could react similarly as the American Ministry of Finance with large injections of money in the squalid business. French President Nicolas Sarkozy concerns on the future of the Eurozone if it continues to function without a clearly defined economic management body, were also widely reported here. Such economic government should cooperate closer with the European Central Bank (ECB), but the French President also stressed that cooperation would not disrupt the independent monetary policy. The Croatian media also reported about the divisions in the reactions of the members of the European Parliament e.g. that Germans fear that it will undermine the independence of the ECB and create division between the EU member states. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s opinion was often singled out by media as the strongest opponent to the joint action.
Opinions on how the EU is handling the crisis have been expressed also by the experts and academic analysts. Ivan Lovrinović, Professor at The Faculty of Economics and Business, is of opinion that the economy of the European Union is about to face major challenges, especially the European Central Bank which thus far has not been influenced by external pressures of such kind. He also stressed that the European Union does not have a unique strategy for overcoming the financial crisis, yet that each member state individually creates the arrangements for dealing with it, which can easily be seen in the actions of Sarkozy, Merkel and Brown. Lovrinović also addressed the role of the European single currency – Euro – in dealing with the crisis. In the last two years, the exchange rates for the dollar and the Euro have depreciated by fifty percent which made the EU countries unable to protect their economies. In addition, depreciation of the dollar represents also an external shock to the economic activity, and according to him the EU has no instruments to fight back the ‘intercurrency war’ that has spread to the Japanese and Chinese currency.
The relationship between the EU and the USA as well as with other countries in the context of solving the crisis was also commented on in Croatia. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader considers that Europe cannot be separated outside the Euro-Atlantic line and thinks that it is important for the EU to coordinate measures with the United States because both economies are mutually dependent. In his speech on the 16th Conference of the “Croatian Society of Economists” held on 12 November 2008 in Opatija, Croatian President Stjepan Mesić pointed out that the world is searching for common solutions, while simultaneously trying to protect both existing international integrations and their individual interests. After the G20 summit, from which much was expected, the countries ended without specific measures for economic recovery. The market expected a joint strategy, not a decision on leaving each government to tailor the response to the crisis according to their individual circumstances. In addition, the media reported different views on the approach to the financial crisis – that of Europe and of the USA. There are also other countries, such as Brazil and China, with large developing markets, which seek to participate more in the decision-making process. Some analysts note that all of these directly imply a decrease in the influence and power, both of the United States and European countries.
Also, of considerable public interest were analyses related to the present desirability of the membership in the European Union. The main question that appears in media is how much is it worth to be part of the united Europe now. Almost ironically, the financial crisis could play an important role in the process of EU enlargement which can be seen on an example of Iceland, Denmark and Ireland. Comments conclude that, even with the crisis, the integration is very much desirable and worthwhile. Croatian media closely followed the chain of events in these countries. After being shaken up by the dimension of the economic crisis, Iceland expressed interest in joining the European Union, and Denmark enunciated the possibility of entering the Eurozone. The crisis also pushes Ireland to the EU – it has finally announced some progress associated with the Lisbon Treaty, which is important for the realization of further EU enlargement. Irish people are starting to wonder whether they act wisely while saying ‘No’ to the Lisbon agreement. Croatian public is very much interested in the situation in Ireland, because their growing support to the Lisbon agreement opens the EU door to Croatia.
Regarding the potential implications of the crisis on Croatia’s status as one of the candidate countries, Croatian Government and the general public welcomed the statement of the European Commissioner for enlargement Olli Rehn who said that the process of Croatian accession to the EU will not slow down due to the global financial crisis. However, he added that it is true that the EU suffers from an increased fatigue from an enlargement which is associated with the financial crisis. Jadranka Kosor, Vice-President of the government and Minister of the Family, Veterans’ Affairs and Intergenerational Solidarity, believes that Croatia will triple the efforts in finishing the negotiations by the end of the year 2009, partly due to the fact that in times like this, it would much better to be part of the EU.
Several Croatian experts commented also on the European plan for solving the crisis by lowering the taxes and increasing spending. This plan is based on the belief that the economy will recover if each member state takes some money from the budget and redirects it in to spending. The fiscal incentives (in a large number VAT reduction), will be launched and completed in the year 2009. Although each country will individually draw up a program that best suits her needs, countries will have to be coordinated in their measures. In her comment on the EU plan on tax incentives, Katarina Ott, the director of the Institute of Public Finance stated that Croatia may even have to raise taxes, not reduce them. She pointed out that the measure of reducing taxes in a time of recession does not have to increase spending and employment. Furthermore, economies are in different circumstances, and there are countries like Croatia that cannot afford such a fiscal stimulation. She also thinks that this measure cannot be undertaken in a country with high fiscal deficit and foreign debt. At the same time, Daniel Nestić from The Institute of Economics, Zagreb, also points out that Croatia should not follow the EU in its measures and impose large fiscal benefits because this money would spill over in import and would not encourage the recovery of domestic industry.
In short, the crisis within the Union, as mentioned in the media, can be seen as two-sided. On the one hand it can be said that the crisis hit the Union a few years too early, before the joint system of financial operations and its control was organized. In such a situation the actions of individual governments of the member countries could create a chaotic situation within the Union (for example, the Irish and Greek rescue of national banks is highly criticized). On the other hand, the crisis can be helpful, since the Union will find the need for the establishment of a common strategy and safety measures for similar crises in the future.
During the conference entitled “The impact of world financial crisis on Croatia” which was held on 8 December 2008 in Zagreb, one of the leading lobbyists in Brussels, Daniel Gueguen, said that the problem the EU will have to face is much bigger than the recession. In his speech he stated that, in the EU, there is no fiscal, economic and social coordination and that he is very disappointed by the poor management of the Union. He also added that the Union’s rescue plan is the worst document that he has seen so far.
In its recent analysis, the Croatian Association of Banks concluded that Croatia should carefully monitor developments in the EU, since in the context of the crisis the old rules are being redefined and the new ones established. Some of the changes could even redefine the relationship between large and small countries within the Union. As an important historical event that determines the direction of reforms, they point out the provision of five billion Euros in loans to Hungary by the European Central Bank, in the light of the fact that Hungary is not included in the Eurozone.
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