EU Forum

Social Europe

Rule of law in the EU: the Croatian example - Debate

05 Nov 2012 - 00:00

With the recent statement of Štefan Füle, EU commissioner for Enlargement, in which he hailed Croatia as a successful example for both the region and EU enlargement, Croatia is ready to become the 28th member state of the European Union on July 1st 2013. On April 4, ProDemos and the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia in The Hague organised a debate on the Croatian accession to the EU and on the implications for the rule of law in the EU. 

Rule of law criteria, which gained more importance after the difficulties with the Romanian and Bulgarian accession, were at the heart of the Croatian pre-accession procedure. Croatia managed to adhere to these strict criteria and made significant progress in the field of the combat of corruption and organized crime and the reform of the judiciary. According to Josip Kregar, Croatian MP, these reforms are not only to be seen in the context of EU accession. They would mainly derive from a desire to fulfil the ideals on which the EU is built. 'Europe is not only about the acquis or Brussels, but is rather a goal and the destiny for the countries in the region', added Dutch MP of the Labour Party Michiel Servaes. Consequently, the Croatian accession should not be seen as an additional problem for the EU but rather as an advantage with, for instance, economic prospects, stated Kregar.

Although Croatia meets all the criteria for accession and was praised by the Commission for its performance, challenges and fears for backslide after accession are still present. Monitoring mechanisms are increasingly seen as the most useful tool to oversee the progress of Croatia and candidate states after their accession. However, the question remains as to the scope of this tool. With mutual trust and recognition as founding principles of the EU; should not all EU member states be subject to monitoring? For Servaes, 'monitoring should be a responsibility for us all'. During the debate, panellists also suggested the application of a mechanism like the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), which is currently used to monitor Romania and Bulgaria, on all member states and even one that goes beyond mere rule of law criteria.

For now, the technical dimension of such a framework -notwithstanding its complicated definitional issues- is the easy part. It is the lack of political commitment to be subject to such a mechanism which is posing the biggest obstacle. All in all, the Croatian example will probably tell us if this is desirable and necessary and as such Croatia truly seems to be an example for the region and the future of EU enlargement.