The European Union will not be complete until it can admit the Balkan states, Croatian President Ivo Josipović said while in London for talks with the British Government ahead of his country’s EU accession on 1 July.
“Definitely Europe will not be complete without other south east European countries,’ he said during a visit to London, ahead of Croatia’s accession to the EU on 1 July. “We are going to bring interesting cultural heritage and some natural beauty. We are going to bring a society of goodwill. I think that is very important.
“Croatia will help because we are connected with those countries, historically, culturally, politically. We are not burdened by an enormous weight of crime, we have a very open society who accepts foreigners, especially during the touristic season, and finally but not least, we are some kind of road to the south east. So I think Europe will benefit from our accession.”
While being careful to avoid wording that could be misconstrued by leaders of neighbouring states, President Josipović was quick to point out the advantages of Croatia’s membership to the entire Balkan region, including with regard to their own EU dreams.
“Having in mind the situation in the region, I try to avoid the word leader,’ he told Marcus Agar (Wild Rooster) in a meeting at London’s Ritz Hotel. “I am more attached to the word partners. Croatia can be a new chain of partnership between the European Union and south eastern countries, and yes, I think we can have an important role.
Despite some existing member states already raising questions over further expansion of the European Union, the president believes that the other Balkan states will follow Croatia down the path to Brussels. “For me, it is in the strategic interest of Croatia, definitely, but I hope also of the EU, to widen the European Union to all south east countries because Europe is not complete without them,’ he said. “They will need some time to meet the criteria – we needed too many years for it – but they will take advantage [of our position]. They now have the good will and they will probably make it relatively quick.
“The main obstacle for them of course in some countries is their internal problems. All of us must be aware of the fact that those problems can be resolved – especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina – only by themselves. They cannot improve by any solution from outside. They have to agree what type of society and country they want to have and I think our task it to support them, to motivate them, to make them understand that Europe is the future.”
Serbia is already driving forward under its own steam and hopes to agree dates for the next stage of its European progress, soon. President Josipović was keen to express his country’s support for Serbia’s ambitions to follow Croatia as a full EU member state.
“We will definitely be supporting Serbia,’ he said. “It is in our strategic interest and we have a declaration by our parliament that we are going to support all countries. Definitely, we are not going to misuse our bilateral issues, like borders or whatever, to prevent their membership.
“Realistically, present activities of the European Union lead to the conclusion that it is interested in enlargement. Lady Ashton was in Zagreb and I had opportunity to discuss some issues with her. I was impressed by her activities, especially her last successful efforts regarding Serbia and Kosovo. So why wouldn’t this positive energy move to other countries.”
Josipović is very much in favour of the deal brokered between Kosovo and Serbia, believing that, if both sides play their part in making the agreement stick, the entire region should benefit. “It is very positive,’ he said. “But now it must be put in practice. That is important. If it is correctly put in practice I think it is the beginning of other agreements to make this area more and more peaceful and successful. So my compliments to Serbia and Kosovo for this agreement.”
In recent times, relations between Serbia and Croatia have been strained after ill chosen comments from Serbia’s President Tomislav Nikolić kicked off a war of mutual disregard between the neighbouring Balkan states. The pair will see each other at a meeting of the Igman Initiative in Zagreb, later this month.
“After the election of President Nikolić there were some statements that were not welcomed in Croatia,’ Josipović said. “I have had the opportunity to meet President Nikolić on several occasions, and at the Olympics as well, and very soon we are going to meet in Macedonia and Slovakia for multilateral meetings. He and the Prime Minister are invited to the celebration [on June 30]. I hope they will be there.”
Serbia Could Boycott Croatia’s EU Party if Kosovo Attends
However, Serbia’s attendance at the ceremony in Zagreb is open to question since President Josipović confirmed that leaders from “all sovereign states have been invited, including Kosovo” to attend the celebrations to mark Croatia’s EU entry. This would seem to be at odds with the Serbian president, who said previously that he would not attend if Croatia made the decision to “insult Serbia” by inviting Kosovo to the ceremony. Time will tell if Nikolić allows these feelings to keep him away, and what impact Croatian-Serbian relations would feel from that.
Unlike his more bullish Serbian counterpart, President Josipović, an international lawyer, scholar and accomplished musician, was keen to play down any antagonism during the meeting in London. “I have to stress something,’ he said. “Media always ask whether now we have an icy period in relations between Croatia and Serbia: No. It has been a visible change in the last five years, so we are discussing all sensitive issues. We are working together to find the destiny of missing persons. It is very significant cooperation we have now, even a military agreement with Serbia. We have many open issues, like borders, like the succession of the former Yugoslavia, refugees still, but all those issues are handled in good spirit.
“I hope that we are going to meet together somewhere officially. It will happen after we are convinced that our meeting will give a proper result, when public opinions of our citizens will be satisfied and will consider this meeting as further improvement, not as a new quarrel.”