Vesna Pusić, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs
Speach on Johns Hopkins University
Good afternoon ladies and gentleman
I`m honored to be here on Johns Hopkins University Studies for Advanced International Studies, to speak today on the EU and Western Balkans and Croatian perspective of the future of the region.
In 1990s, situation was very different and I was speaking then with my friends and activists how great it would be if no one would be interested in us (Croatia), that we would be considered "a boring topic". In a very complex daily life, as it was then, we were not aware that these things do not coincide and that lack of interest comes in a long term perspective. When conflicts ended, the instability of national and local institutions became evident. It was clear that Croatia had to use that one opportunity, a chance that just opened for South-East Europe, to find a fast track of institution building, and sufficient strength to deal with problems through institutional procedures. It was perceived as a road from failure to success. All that countries in the region are looking at now, is to move away from arbitrary solutions and to finally add some predictability to their case.
But, in order to start a long process you need to make a choice and to have consensus within your own society.
Croatian way in our part of the world and the obvious choice was the European Union, and it was not because we thought that the membership will be the answer to all our problems. We started the process, not because the people expect the problems will be resolved by the European Union, but because of the two aspects.
One is the road itself, a long, long road to membership. Its´ great advantage is that it is not heroic, which is in many ways exactly what you need when you leave conflict and wars behind you. You need to transform your politics from dealing with historical issues and taking heroic stands, having to be extremely brave just to say something publicly, something that doesn't necessarily agree with everybody´s positions, let alone that is different from majority position. To transform that kind of politics to politics that is much more boring and ordinary.
And in that sense the European Union and whole process of accession to EU is extremely helpful. First of all, it is structured experience of at least fifteen or twenty states in state building. Experience of how you build institutions so they can work, using that experience as a shortcut since you need to build your own state in a short time because you don't have the luxury of going through decades and decades or centuries of slowly building the structures of your institutions and wait for them to start functioning in your broader environment.
The other thing of whole road is, in case of Croatia, famous 35 chapters. A lot of difficult things that you negotiate are important bur extremely boring and tedious and they require coordination on very specific issues not so attractive to a broader audience. They require coordination among different ministries, different institutions which is also a process, a process what transforms you from dealing with only executive or heroic issues, for example, what is your identity, nationality, or who was responsible for the war, who was responsible for the big things which are always sensitive and difficult questions let alone the answers when the history is so close to you, when the history is so imediate, or almost the part of your present.
And this whole process shifts the debate to something like phytosanitary standards, integrated border management or the size of cages for chickens. Which are all important things and all of them cost lots of money especially for the people who are raising chickens, it costs millions of euros. But at the same time they switch the whole context to the different level.
That process defines what is important for the politics and what is the task of politicians. Is it the defending the history of your nation from the enemy or is it to secure good working conditions for people raising live stock or fishermen or whatever segment of society.
And in that sense, the whole experience of accession to the EU has much broader effect than the reforms that you have to go through. Why are you going to these reforms that was unthinkable or undoable and you cannot build them if you first do not build the consensus and some kind of political tolerance around it but you definitely realize that the politics is something different from those during the war years and you might come back to these issues but from the different perspective and maybe, which is also very important some people from the different positions will be dealing with those issues.
So, the process of the accession apart from the meaning you have to go through the reforms, in the South East Europe or in the Western Balkans from where you have the first postconflict or postwar member of the EU means also something else. Means speedy exercise in changing the context and the meaning of the politics. European union on the other hand has also changed its approach to a new members and in that sense, us – and by us I mean all the countries from the WB, we are somehow at the tale end of something what was seen and is seen as something that pays tribute to most successful policy of the EU and this is the enlargement policy. But enlargement to the 8 states of the eastern Europe that joined in 2004 and whole atmosphere around it was very different from what you have today and what you had in the case of Croatia. Looking from the EU perspective. In 2004 everybody, both on the new members and EU side, thought that was something great. That was the reunification of the Europe and the final and definitive end of the cold war. And everybody was extremely enthusiastic, and figures that represented joining of these European countries were people like Adam Michnik, Vaclav Havel. People who were primarily known for their human rights work, for their impeccable records, for their dissident years, and this was a symbol of unification of Europe. Everybody was more sceptical when Romania and Bulgaria were joining the EU in 2007 and than, when it came to us, then they settled in famous enlargement fatigue. In other words, everybody thought that, it was in a number of countries and electorate, maybe we should stop for a while and see maybe this wasn´t such a great deal to have all these countries with short democratic histories with not very developed democratic culture, and on top of that they are poor and they are now in EU and we have to defend this to our own electorate who became less generous with the economic crises.
In the early 2000 economy was doing fine, and EU, especially in mid 2000 and that always goes with, or is combined with much more generosity within the societies than in the times of crises. And when times became tough everybody starts looking enlargement as something that is not so good idea, and certainly the enlargement to the countries of WB who are also unstabile that also have ethnic things, and who were killing each other a few years ago. That is general attitude.
At the same time, there is no other place where you have support for the EU among the general public as you do in the countries of WB. There is no other member state where you can get this much support for the European idea. There are many different reasons why, but actually there is one reason and that is that countries of WB do know, and do have personal experience of what the alternative is. And that actual alternative to long term peace, and it can happen, and it did happened, and if you are not careful enough it just might happen again. So the people are aware of the long term peace and stability that EU enjoyed after the second World War. And when all is said and done, this is why in this part of the world the EU still seen as the answer.
It took Croatia 12 years to join the EU, from the initial signing of SAA (Stabilization and Association Agreement), and this was something that was tailor made for Western Balkans and before it didn´t exist, and it took us 10 years from applying for membership to became full member.
We started with SAA, ratified it in 2001 in Croatian parliament, and in July 2013 we became fullfledged member. In the meantime we also negotiated from the 3rd of October 2005 and ended 30th of June 2011. After that we went to a process of ratification and it lasted until 2013.
In the meantime Montenegro started negotiations and Serbia started negotiating at the end of January this year. I went to the Intergovernmental conference in Bruxelles (when they opened the negotiations) although the ministers do not go. But I went because I thought it is important for the region. Many years ago the general atmosphere in the countries of the region was – we want to became the members of the EU and the benefit would be that our neighbours don´t. But this has changed, and I take this as a sign of political maturity and maturing politicly of society not only the political elites in the sense that people understand that you are not an island even in the Western Balkans, you need stable political context if you want to preserve your own stability. And the only instrument for that is this process of gradually reforming your political institutions, but also reforming your political culture and gradually moving towards the membership of the EU. So I thought, and everybody in Croatia thought, that this was positive thing. This has increased the stability of the region.
However, our context keep changing in the same way that for example when we were joining the enthusiasm wasn´t the same as it was in mid 2000. In the same way some of the things that the EU can use in the process have also changed.
One important instrument is instrument of conditionality. Using conditionality in the classical way in which it was used for instance in our case and we might have been the last one to use that in the traditional sense. It is not that you don´t need criteria or benchmarks. But traditionally how the EU is using the conditionality is assuming that a large majoritiy of people in one country is in favour of their country to join the EU. And if the politicians fail, they will punish them. But this works if this is proof. But if you don´t have the majority that supports the country joining the EU or if is half-half, or if it is not so certain, and in the current conditions and not the ones of the prosperity of the early 2000, then the concept of conditionality doesn´t work so well. Or you have to somehow rethink and I will use this one example where this has been done and will offer one suggestion.
One example was when the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo was reached, that laid the foundation for both countries gradually advancing towards EU membership. Obviously each going its own pace and steps. Because Serbia was ready to start negotiations and Kosovo was ready to start negotiations on SAA and then move forward. Both countries have to move forward that does not mean that they are in the same stage but they need to continuously moving forward. And this is the instrument for stabilising both countries. However in their case, something that under the old conditionality principle would have been used as absolute precondition and this was normalising the relations between Serbia and Kosovo, was not used as a precondition here but was built in to the negotiating framework of Serbia. So Serbia started its negotiations without having to meet the requirement of normalising the relations with neighbour, however it became part of its negotiating framework so by the end they finish their negotiating process, by the time they reach the end of the process, they have to normalise the relations with their neighbour Kosovo. In that sense the EU and the whole process is helping the country to reach the point where it can meet the conditions rather than saying – you find the way and meet the conditions and then you come back and start a process. I think this was a smart thing, a good thing because some of the effects of that are already showing in taking in much more practical if not rational approach to the relations in the region now.
Two countries which are very important for the stability of the region are Macedonia and Bosnia and Hercegovina.
EU has, for some time taken this approach to the region where it said ok it is still not open basically it is not going to explode, nothing is going to happened there we have bigger problems elsewhere. Ukraine, Southern Mediteranean, Eastern Partnership countries, all kind of things so this can either wait or the countries of the region maybe can take care of the region themselves. In my bravest thoughts and biggest ambitions this is something that I want for Croatia and the countries of the region, not become big power, but we do have the potential and the responsibility to take upon ourselves care of our future. For our own countries and for the stability of the region.
And considering, especially in 2014, that a lots of things destabilising the Europe in the past came from that region I think it is also performing European task because if we won´t do it someone else would have to. And this is, I think, where we need to go. We do need help because of our own history, conflicts of the past, our own relatively new and unstable institutions, and in that sense again the institutions and the countries of the EU are useful partner here and useful friend.
And one of the things in case of Serbia and Kosovo shows, that in case of Bosnia and Hercegovina was managed to put itself back on the agenda of the EU where we tried to put it in a months before but never succeeded so with this demonstrations they put themselves on the agenda and we think that we have to grab this moment.
- Because we need other countries to be interested
- We don´t want this to go further or to go in a direction which we have seen in the past
- Because partly these demonstrations were partly economic and because of genuine dissatisfaction of the people of BiH
Analysts will say that it wasn´t just genuine dissatisfaction but there were different political manipulations, different political agendas which is all true, but sometimes the simplest explanations is usually the most accurate and this is, on top of everything else, people are actually dissatisfied, they are not getting their pays, they do not have jobs, they completely mistrust their politicians, they don´t know who to vote for, don´t want to vote for anybody, they distrust the political process as such so there is a genuine dissatisfaction there and partly that is the reason why even when it is the political manipulation – it works. Because it falls on fertile ground.
And this is why I believe and this is something that we are trying to attract some interest around this that in many way this is a moment when EU agrees to design a tailor made approach for Bosna and Herzegovina. Where instead of saying “you can´t move until you resolve Sejdić- Finci case, you can´t move until you decide on your new constitution, you can´t move until you design a new electoral law, you can´t move until you cut down the number of parliaments, ministers,.. you have on different levels”, instead of saying that, which might be actually right because it would be much, much better if they solve problems and then start the process, but they won´t, and they can´t and they have tried and this is been going on now for a years and nothing is happening. If anything, is getting worse. So why not try to look at the whole country and whole problem from the different perspective, and say ok – these are the problems. And maybe we can make a bigger list, and say these are the issue this country is failing to deal with.
Let´s design a tailor made accession process for BiH that might last longer but that will in the eyes of the people be a real tangible guarantee that in the end this will happen. It had an effect on people in Serbia.
By designing this tailor made approach you can make it harder as benchmarks, as chapters, European institutions are very resourceable in that sense, these different requirements addressing this different issues can be part of the overall umbrella accession process. This process on necessity is also inventory of the institution, and by doing the inventory of the institutions you can almost in the same breath start to redesign them, make them little bit more efficient, you can see how they work and preform their tasks, so you can, by going through this whole process in making politics less about history, identity and more about everyday life and meeting the criteria for joining the EU, you can also use this instrument to make the internal institutions and functioning of the internal institutions a little bit more efficient and with everyday steps by time, by creating a pressure from below, pressure from the society. Because joining the EU is for people of BiH one of few things that they actually like, if they think that this is something real, reachable.
And that I think it is so important to pay a little bit more attention, put a little bit more effort into this one case that in many way means the long term stability of that part of Europe, but in many ways also would be an example how European union can have also a proactive role rather than just being great and sitting there expecting that everybody wants to join in the end and that is enough.