Thursday, November 5, 2009

Croatia moving one step closer to EU

Croatia's bid to join the European Union, something it has sought going all the way to the Balkan conflict nearly two decades ago, got closer to reality when it agreed with its neighbour Slovenia (an EU and Eurozone member) to send a long standing dispute over where a harbout is demarcated to binding arbitration. While it is welcome news, it does feel like a bit of déjà vu all over again. At least two former Yugoslav states, perhaps three if Serbia continues to cooperate with The Hague on the war crimes issue, will in a sense be put back together under the European umbrella.

Europe stands for the kind of freedom many progressives here admire -- individual rights and free enterprise tempered by collective responsibility and a hard line on arrangements that thwart competition. Unfortunately, some of the countries already in the EU have some very troubled pasts. With the celebrations this week of the end of Communism in most of Europe 20 years ago, one has to constantly remind oneself not just of the brutality of the Securitate in Romania but also the long simmering anger of Germans over the expulsion of their fellow men out of the Sudetenland by the former Czechoslovakia after World War II (to the point where the Czech Republic, one of the successor states, had to get promises from Germany that its citizens would not use the updated European Charter of Rights to file lawsuits for being so dispossessed as a condition for Czech accession to the Lisbon Treaty).
The Balkan conflict still weighs heavily all this time later. Very heavily. It's been going on for centuries, to be fair, but World War II and the atrocities committed then made the forty-six years that followed before the bloody breakup more like a ceasefire. Ethnic cleansing went around on all quarters. And it's going to run up against one of the pillars of Europe -- free movement of people.
Make no mistake, the right of free abode held in common by those who live in an EU or EFTA country is going to be a huge pill to swallow for both Croatia and Serbia, many of whom were only too happy to force their long time neighbours to move further down or upwind. And the attitudes don't just end in Europe. Here in Canada, where minor league soccer matches regularly break out into riots. You think NHL games are bad on the ice, you've never seen how uncivilized fans can be at soccer just because one has a name someone else doesn't like.
It's not at all a genetic thing. But I do worry somewhat if there's too much of a rush to get Croatia and Serbia into the club just as there was with Romania and Bulgaria back in 2007. Not just the ethnic conflict. The economies are relatively stable, a necessity to join of course, but there's still a lot of corruption both within and without the governments and court systems are to an extent still stuck in the communist area with judges still wont to do the government's bidding rather than independently applying the law. Guess who those judges favour in case of a civil dispute between two parties from the two ethnic groups? Hello. And organized crime is still a big problem. It's a common problem across Europe of course and one of the goals of the EU in common is to eliminate the Mafia in its various forms but Romania lost several hundred million euros in transfer payments this year as a sanction for its lack of action. I believe that any country should face similar shunning if they are also so inclined not to act.
Membership should be approved -- it's been delayed too long -- but the European Court on Human Rights needs to keep a very close eye on the situation and apply appropriate sanctions if the wont to fall into old habits bubbles back to the surface and this should be strictly enforced. However, 2010 is way too fast a timetable even if the Lisbon Treaty has now been approved. I think 2012 should be more realistic but if and only if economic tests are met (and the current economic crisis does raise red flags about the chances) a fast track into the Euro rather than a three year waiting period should be considered.

I still sense a bit of stubborness, however. Piran should have gone to arbitration years ago.

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