Timetable for ratification vs. Croatian accession timetable

The signing of the Lisbon Treaty was very much welcomed in Croatia, having in mind the fact that it opens a clear perspective for integrating the country and the region into the EU. The signing of the Treaty was a historic day for the EU, stressed the Prime Minister Sanader at the meeting of the European People’s Party (EPP) in Brussels. In his opinion, the assumption for integrating Croatia (and later the other countries of the region) is to finish the process of Treaty ratification in 2008 or at the beginning of 2009, which will prepare the legal ground for the enlargement.[1]
The signing of the Lisbon Treaty was by some analysts in Croatia compared with the emperor's new clothes![2] The EU finally got its new clothes – instead of the Constitution (which could, according to its extensiveness, be compared to the Constitution of the former Yugoslavia, dating from 1974), European citizens got the Lisbon Treaty, which is a shorter but not easier document to understand.[3] A lot of compromises could hardly contribute to transparency, openness and democracy, which were demanded from the Constitution before. Luckily the request to incorporate the Copenhagen criteria into Lisbon Treaty was not accepted (which would have given the Court of Justice the possibility to have a final say on the accession of a country into the EU). Thus, further enlargements have been enabled, what is among the most important achievements.

A lot of attention is paid to the Slovenian Presidency, since the future of the EU and the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty are among its top priorities. The Croatian Government very much supports the intention of the current Presidency to have the Treaty ratified by the national parliaments at the beginning of 2009, as this would hopefully allow its entering into force before the European Parliament elections in 2009.[4]
The announced ratification procedures are followed with interest. The timing of the Treaty ratification process is often compared with the envisaged time frame of Croatia's integration into the EU, as it is the precondition for Croatia’s entry into the EU. There are expectations that Croatia might close most of the chapters in 2008 and the remaining ones in 2009, i.e. before the dismissal of the European Parliament, so that the Accession Treaty could get the assent and hopefully take part in the new EP assembly.[5] The readiness of the European Parliament to give the assent to Croatia during the current assembly was confirmed recently on the occasion of the third meeting of the Working group for Croatia held within the Committee of the Regions EU, devoted to the negotiation accession perspective,[6] although it was underlined that Croatia is “catching the last train for the EU”. In the case that this would not be possible, the accession would be postponed for several years.[7]
Another, more realistic approach would be that Croatia makes more significant progress in negotiations in 2008, finalise the negotiations in 2009, while the Accession Treaty could be drafted, signed and ratified by 2010 allowing Croatia to enter the EU in late 2010 or early 2011.[8] For other analysts even 2012 sounds more realistic.[9]
Communication with citizens/wider public – mostly regarding Croatia’s future EU membership
The role of communication with citizens is in this respect different in Croatia, having in mind that the country is not an EU member state. There are no preparations taken so far for the immediate ratification of the Lisbon Treaty but there is a strong need to raise the awareness on EU integration issues among Croatian citizens which do not seem to be very Euro-optimistic.[10] There is a series of projects that are finalised (or are being finalised) in Croatia within the PHARE programme framework[11] aiming to raise the awareness, relevance and the impacts of the EU integration process for citizens. Due to the relatively low public support for the EU integration and lack of effective two-way communication, there is a need for raising awareness and enhancing public debate in Croatia on the impacts of EU membership. The recently completed national study “Attitude of Croatian citizens towards the Croatia’s Membership in the EU”[12] that was promoted on December 19, 2007 in Europe House Zagreb, is one of such projects. It is focused on knowledge, attitudes and beliefs of Croatian citizens related to the EU seen from the prism of human rights’ protection and gender equality. Self assessment of the knowledge about the EU and Croatia’s accession covers the reasons for establishing the EU, the functioning of the EU, political developments and economic relations within the EU, and the course of negotiations of Croatia’s accession process. The study showed that the majority of the Croatian population (about 40%) evaluated their knowledge about all these topics as moderate, while at the same time much more respondents assess their knowledge as poor than as good.[13]
The academic view on the communication strategy in Croatia is that it should be focused on “critical” segments of the Croatian population and their fears and expectations regarding EU integration. It should not be implemented on a general level of newsletter, workshops and conferences, but implemented through concrete answers and measures, adjusted to everyday-life situations. Everybody should contribute – there are particularly good possibilities within the education system, local political elites, better use of pre-accession funds, etc.[14]
Ratification of the Treaty is not an obligation for Croatia
Croatia is not an EU member state and as such does not have an obligation to ratify the Lisbon Treaty either in Parliament or by calling a referendum.
The reactions to the establishment of a ‘Committee of the Wise’ – the most important issues are not in the agenda/mandate
The final agenda and mandate of the „Committee of the Wise“ to consider the Union's future was not much debated in Croatia. On the opposite, most of the media paid attention to those issues that will not be covered by the Committee's work. Media reacted on the first suggestion of president Nicolas Sarkozy that the group should deal with vexed questions which will not be the area of the wise men's Committees work – the final EU borders, further enlargements and institutional issues.[15] The final border issue was found to be very important by journalists, as there was a belief that the EU should agree upon what kind of borders the EU will have (if any), are they geographical, how far the enlargement could go, could Tunis, Israel and Grusia become EU members, etc.[16] There were practically no reactions (except pure informative reporting) on the mandate of the „reflection group“, most probably due to the fact that the issues such as European social model of economic success, competitiveness, rule of law, energy, global stability and other issues were not seen as controversial. Finally, the idea to chart the European Union's long-term future within the horizon 2020-2030 was seen as a very useful one.
Committee’s members/personalities and its expected results
There were some speculations about potential names and the composition of the „Committee of the Wise“ but without special interest for the issue. The names of the Committee were reported without many comments.
The general expectations are that the EU should be faced with fewer challenges in the future than it was the case in the previous period.

[1] „I expect speeding up of negotiations“, Vjesnik, 15/16 December 2007.

[2] Grubiša, Damir, Europa, Supplement for the EU integration, No 55, Novi list, 7 November 2007.

[3] De Prato, Stojan (journalist), Večernji list, 14 December 2007.

[4] Irena Frlan, journnalist, „Small country for a great presidency“, Vjesnik, 5 January 2008.

[5] Jurica Körbler, „The EU wants Croatia to get Government as soon as possible“, Vjesnik, 27 December 2007.

[6] The member of the EP and reporter on Croatia Hannes Swoboda said on mentioned occasion in Brussels, 23 January 2008, that Croatia should conclude the negotiations by the end of 2008 or very early in 2009, to allow a few months to prepare and translate the Accession Treaty to all languages, before the last plenary meeting of the EP which will be held in April 2009. His comment was that it is not impossible to achieve this goal, but very difficult. He reiterated earlier calls for Croatia to speed up reforms in order to finalise accession negotiations in time.

[7] Zlatko Komadina, the county-ruler of the Primorsko-Goranska County, in Novi list, 24 January 2007.

[8] Zlatan Frohlich, negotiator, on the occasion of the book promotion “Manual on agreements and competition procedures for the EU funds”, Zagreb, 15 December 2007.

[9] Dr. Damir Grubiša, Faculty of Political Sciences, on Croatian radio, the first programme: “In the Network of the First”, 30 January 2008.

[10] According to results of EUROBAROMETAR, published by the EC on 18 December 2007, the Croatian citizens’ support for EU membership is at level of 35%, which is an increase compared to the very low support of 29% in spring 2007.

[11] PHARE 2005, Multi-beneficiary programme on” Small Projects Programme”.

[12] The study was conducted for the purposes of the project ”Exploring unknown sites of the EU – guided through labyrinth of regulations that matter and influence our lives”, carried out by B.a.B.e. – the Women’s Human Right Group, Croatia and financed by the EC Delegation in Croatia from the PHARE programme and supported by the Office for Gender Equality of the Croatian Government.

[13] Čulig, Kufrin, Landripet: “Attitude of Croatian citizens towards the Croatia’s Membership in the EU”, FF Press B.a.B.e., pp. 184; also underlined at the book promotion in Europe House Zagreb, 19 December 2007.

[14] Nebojša Blanuša „Breaking the fears of young population regarding the EU“, interview based on the outcome of a wider research entitled „Public, elites, media and communication strategy for Croatia's accession into the EU“ carried out by the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Zagreb. In: Europa Actualities, Supplement on EU integration, No. 55, 7 November 2007.

[15] Poslovni dnevnik, 14/15 December 2007.

[16] Sabalić, Ines (journalist), "The wise plan big Europe“, Slobodna Dalmacija, 13 December 2007.