Newsletter 28/2013 - Our South East Europe
ARTICLE by Orsat Miljenic, Minister of Justice, Croatia
Croatian support to European future of the region is based on unbiased respect for the European perspective of each potential candidate country
The Croatian accession process started 13 years ago with the Zagreb Summit that created conditions for negotiations on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) between Croatia and the European Union (EU) and opened the European perspective for the whole of South East Europe. The negotiation process was closed on 30 June 2011 and Croatia became the 28th member of the European Union on 1 July 2013.
Croatia’s path to the European Union was full of challenges and I would like to outline some observations regarding our negotiating process that differs in many aspects from the previous rounds of negotiations.
In our recent experience, negotiations have become more rigorous and technically complex, in particular due to the formalised opening and closing benchmarks. The benchmarks represented a novelty in the process, not only for the candidate countries but for the EU as well. Therefore, operational adjustments and additional administrative capacities have been required on both sides in order to efficiently keep up with the increased demands of the process. Still, we consider the benchmarks not as stumbling blocks to joining the EU, but on the contrary, as a substantial guidance to every candidate country so as to clearly set the tasks that need to be fulfilled for advancing to a new stage.
The complexity of negotiations was also reflected in the following numbers: the negotiations were conducted with 27 Member States, not with 15 as in the fifth wave of negotiations. The acquis has grown in volume, instead of 31, we had 35 negotiating chapters to open and close, each chapter containing a larger volume of the acquis to transpose and implement than it was the case in previous negotiations.
Furthermore, it has to be pointed out that our negotiations have been conducted in the period when the European Union itself was facing a variety of internal challenges, from the institutional crisis after the rejection of the European Constitution and the long and weary discussions regarding the Lisbon Treaty all the way to the global economic and financial crisis and its impact on the EU. The “enlargement fatigue” has indeed influenced the general feelings about further EU enlargement – both in "Brussels corridors" and EU capitals. The enthusiasm about enlargement was replaced by carefully managed step-by-step process based on precise and strict rules and procedures. In such an atmosphere it was a challenge to keep Croatian negotiations high on the agenda.
In order to fulfil the benchmarks set in Chapter 23 Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, Croatia has implemented the most demanding and comprehensive reforms, making necessary adjustments of its legal and institutional framework to the EU standards. These standards were not determined by the so called “hard acquis” but rather by the best, often diverse, practice of specific Member States which made the negotiations under Chapter 23 even more complicated.
In the framework of this chapter, Croatia has increased the efficiency of the judiciary. The majority of the procedural laws were amended and the network of courts and state attorney's offices was rationalized. Implemented reforms have simplified and expedited judicial procedures and reduced the number of backlog for more than 50%.
A strong legal and institutional framework for the detection, prosecution and punishment of corruption and organized crime was built. It introduced more effective system of confiscation of proceeds of crime as well as stronger control of the source and spending money in public activities. Additionally, the overall level of protection of human rights was significantly raised.
Overall, although extremely demanding and sensitive, the activities carried out under this chapter have been recognised as the biggest gain for citizens and society as a whole.
Having in mind Croatian experience as well as the current trends and developments in the EU, it shall remain a challenge for all the acceding countries to endure through the negotiation process and to meet all the set criteria, as well as to keep the enlargement policy in the focus of EU member states.
The enlargement of the European Union is one of the most important and difficult challenges Europe has been facing since the post-cold world period. It brings benefits to the EU Member States and still remains the most powerful instrument to stabilise the European continent. That is why the manner in which the EU handles the enlargement issue will have profound repercussions not only for the applicant states but also for the EU itself.
Through the current process of integration to the EU, the Western Balkan countries are undergoing comprehensive transformation. These thorough reforms are necessary and will allow achieving stability of institutions, guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with the competitive pressure and market forces within the Union.
Croatia will continue to assertively advocate the continuation of the enlargement process based on an individual assessment of achievements by candidate countries in meeting criteria and in transposing and implementing the EU acquis. Our support to the European future of the region is based on the unbiased respect for the European perspective of each potential candidate country.
Clear membership perspective, as well as honouring the achievements, still act as the best catalyst and the best impetus to address the remaining challenges in the region. With that in mind, we will continue to share our knowledge and experience with all the countries in the region, as being fully committed to promoting regional initiatives in justice and home affairs area and to help increase alignment of acceding countries’ judicial systems with the EU standards. Providing full political and practical support, Croatia is and will continue to be a strong supporter to all our neighbours on their path to the European Union.
Orsat Miljenic has been Croatian Minister
of Justice as of December 2011. Prior to that, Miljenic practiced law
(2004-2011); has acted as Assistant Minister for European Integration
(2002-2004), Head of the Government’s Office for Cooperation with International
Criminal Courts (2000-2002) and Advisor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
diplomat in the Embassy of Croatia in The Netherlands (1996-2000). He is a
member and one of the founders of the Transparency International. Miljenic
graduated at the Faculty of Law, University
of Zagreb and holds master’s degree
(LL.M.) in International Business Law Programme from the Central
in Budapest (Hungary).