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COMMENTS 

Britain has lost a role, and failed to find an empire

Theresa May's long-awaited Brexit speech must be understood as an aspiration, rather than a roadmap, since its realisation requires the consent of other parties and the removal of important contradictions, argues Benjamin Martill.
17 January 2017
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Starts: Jan 17, 2017 12:00:00 AM

The aftermath of Berlin: what implications for German politics?

Uta Staiger, Executive Director of the European Institute, comments on the German political and media responses after the Christmas market attacks, in a piece originally published by the New Statesman.
20 December 2016
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Starts: Dec 20, 2016 12:00:00 AM

What will Brexit mean for London's digital entrepreneurs?

Oliver Patel, Research Assistant at the European Institute, offers three reasons why the Brexit vote is worrying for London's tech community.
Oliver Patel (UCL European Institute)
19 December 2016
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Starts: Dec 19, 2016 12:00:00 AM

Croatia’s long overdue EU accession

Publication date: Jul 03, 2013 09:33 AM

Start: Jul 03, 2013 12:00 AM

B Aleksov

Dr Bojan Aleksov
July 2013

If there is one significant thing worth contemplating with regard to Croatia’s accession to the European Union on the first of July this year, then it must be that it was long overdue. Compared with other former Socialist states in the Warsaw Pact, Yugoslavia, of which Croatia was a part, was much better suited to join the Union once politically and economically transformed.

Some changes indeed began taking place by the late 1980s, even though not necessarily induced by the then European Community or indeed by Yugoslavia’s desire to become a member.  But then, instead of reforms, the leaderships of Yugoslavia’s constitutive republics – best personified by the former Communist apparatchik, Slobodan Milošević – chose a struggle: to keep their privileges, for power and for domination within the country. The inherited control of media and security services, a huge unreformed army and fiery nationalist cultural elites all helped turn these largely personal struggles into a mass inter-ethnic conflict. Eventually, Yugoslavia’s political and economic transition gave way to a series of bloody wars from which only Slovenia came out lightly scathed.  Other newly formed nation states were doomed by unresolved territorial disputes, minority and refugee issues, an unreformed political and economic apparatus, and decades of isolation on the European periphery.

The European Union notoriously failed to prevent the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the wars that ensued. It was also unable to bring these wars to an end; all final peace deals were led by or at least included a US intervention. Only after the end of hostilities could the EU begin to exercise its influence and initiate its expansion into what it then (politically correct) termed the Western Balkans. Paradoxically, it only granted Slovenia early negotiations and accession, entirely disregarding its role in the Yugoslav conflict; Slovenia joined the EU with the other Central European countries in 2004.  Years of wars and non-democratic rule set back Croatia for almost a decade. It only began the accession process in 2000 after the death of its authoritarian nationalist ruler Franjo Tudjman. Even so, it was for held back further still due to the country´s refusal to hand generals accused of war crimes over to the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. In recent years, other former Yugoslav republics have also slowly begun negotiations but it might take another decade before they are “in”. The EU decision-making process – involving so many countries and burdened by bureaucracy – leaves it with limited leverage over the accession process. A case in point is another former Yugoslav republic, Macedonia, which has been blocked in its negotiations by Greece for almost a decade because of the historical dispute over its name. Serbia was dragged back for years over the unresolved issue of Kosovo, which the EU is also split about. Only a few days ago did the EU finally give Serbia a date to start negotiations, a major breakthrough to rival Croatia’s accession.

Given the current European economic outlook, the most tangible benefits for Croatia joining the EU remain peace and security. But Croatia will be really safe only when the regional instability in the Balkans has been resolved by incorporating the rest of the troubled ex-Yugoslav countries in the European block. And this will take years, if not decades. No wonder then that there is so little enthusiasm for celebrating the country’s long overdue accession.

Bojan Aleksov
Lecturer in Southeast European History
UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies