The future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom may be in flux, but the future of Croatia and the European Union has been set. The Adriatic state of 4.5 million is set to become the 28th member state of the EU on 1 July 2013. Croatia’s membership comes after 10 years of negotiations with Brussels and seven years of formal talks to introduce and meet the “acquis,” the adoption, implementation, and enforcement of all current EU rules.
Croatia will become the second former Yugoslav state to enter the EU, Slovenia joined in 2004. Croatia will become a model for the Europanization of the Balkans as EU integration in the western Balkans continues to grow. As history has shown, integrating Albania and the former Yugoslavia to a common Europe is key to ensuring a stable, secure, and prosperous Europe. Looking at a map of the region, it is less of a question of “if” the western Balkans will be admitted, but more a question of “when.” As the EU continues to expand, including Bulgaria and Romania in the last round of expansion (2007), it is clear that the hole created in the western Balkans will be included in the EU in due course.
Despite the current debt crisis that is engulfing the Eurozone, Croatia and other states see EU integration as a pathway to prosperity and greater economic security. Current member states see EU expansion in the Balkans as a key to maintain a safe and stable Europe. Expanding to the Balkans allows Brussels economic base and opportunities to leverage relationships in other parts of the world.
Croatia makes sense as the second former Yugoslav republic to join the EU. Like Slovenia, it has a relatively small population that is ethnically homogenous, 90 percent Croat and four percent Serb. Other former republics continue to face internal ethnic tensions that have prevented them from beginning to adopt the acquis. Both Slovenia and Croatia will become models for other countries in the region to follow if they too are to seek membership.
The UK’s response to Croatia’s membership has been lukewarm. While Parliament informed Brussels in January that they have ratified the accession treaty, the Home Office has created restrictions on the rights of Croatians work in the UK. Once Croatia becomes an EU member, citizens of Croatia will be able to freely enter, travel, and reside in the UK, but the home office has required that in order to seek work authorization, Croatians will be required to meek the skilled economic migrants threshold outlined in tier two via application procedures, or they can meet temporary employment requirements under tier five.
Although this reception has left Croatia with mixed reactions, their intent to join the EU has been solid. In a January 2012 referendum vote, citizens of Croatia voted 2:1 to join the EU.
Croatia will not immediately join the Eurozone as some suggest. Once the country’s economy is able to support the Euro currency it will adopt the single unit. That point is not expected until at least 2015 or 2016, so the future of the Euro very much remains a Brussels centered discussion for the coming years.
The impact of Croatia in the EU has yet to be decided; the bulk of the continent and the world has been focused on assessing the debt crisis that limited thought has been invested in this issue. I suspect much of Brussels will go unchanged (similar to the 2004 and 2007 accession rounds) and Croatia will pave the way for the other Balkan states to seek EU membership. The Balkans will benefit for a strong centralized EU, but the EU will benefit from a unified, complete Europe. The UK’s consideration to move away from the EU devalues and challenges this goal and leaves Brussels, and Europe, with much to think about in the coming years.