Political leaders and analysts express hopes that the EU will carry on with the ratification process

Most of the debates and reports before and after the referendum were focused on the implications of adoption or refusal of the treaty on enlargement, more precisely on the position of Croatia. Vesna Roller, journalist, elaborated legal possibilities after the positive or negative outcome of the referendum.[1] She stated that even the Europeans did not know what the consequences of the eventual refusal of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland were. Does it mean that the treaty is ‘dead’ (like it was the case with the “Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe” after the Dutch and French ‘No’ three years ago), or will the ratification continue in other nine countries? The first solution meant that it would be necessary to continue work on improving the document, which was hard to expect. It was more likely that the problem would be treated as a specifically Irish one, leaving the country to find the solution for negative outcome.
Neven Mimica, chairman of the European Integration Committee of the Croatian parliament commented that the Irish citizens refused the idea of further federalisation of Europe but not the Lisbon Treaty itself. The gap between political elites and the wider population is increasing, which means that the Treaty was not well communicated to citizens. It is instructive for Croatia because it shows how important the referendum is. In his opinion the legal possibility for Croatia to become the 28th member without the treaty being ratified is to incorporate the related parts through the Intergovernmental Conference into Croatian Accession Treaty. It is complicated but possible.[2] At the same time Neven Šimac from the Centre for European Documentation and Research, Zagreb was searching for the solution after the Irish ‘No’, saying that the key problem is that the EU will have to deal with its own problems primarily. His opinion was that some changes should be added to the Lisbon Treaty, so that it could be seen as improved.
The academic debates on potential outcomes of the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty started in Croatia even before the referendum took place in Ireland. The Institute for International Relations (IMO) from Zagreb, the Institute for International and European Affairs (IIEA) from Dublin and the National Foundation for Civil Society Development from Zagreb organised a public lecture[3] entitled “A complex Treaty with a simple Message: The Challenge of Communications in a Referendum”, on May 19th 2008at the premises of the EU Info Centre of the Delegation of the European Commission in Croatia. Alan Dukes, the former director of IIEA explained in his lecture that difficulties in understanding the EU treaties represented important factors in influencing the outcome of referenda which in Ireland according to the Irish constitution needed to be held each time the EU creates a new treaty. The textual complexity of the Lisbon treaty is difficult for readers not accustomed to that kind of legal language. He stressed that in referendum campaigns the task of the opposition is always much simpler: all that it requires is to raise ‘concerns’ and ‘fears’ about the prospects of a step into the unknown. Raising such concerns and fears is always much simpler than explaining a complex text. Furthermore, trouble with referendums is that the people give an answer to a question differently to that which is posed. Alan Dukes concluded his presentation by stating that communication of the fundamentals of EU action should not be left for the last minute, because then the consequences could be irrational.
Concerns about postponement of the Croatian accession agenda
After the Irish ‘No’, the focus of public interest was directed primarily on potential impacts of the Treaty’s non-ratification to Croatia’s accession to the EU. The first reactions were given immediately after the referendum by the Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs and EU Integration, Gordan Jandroković; the Head of the Delegation of the European Commission, Vincent Degert and British ambassador to Croatia John Ramsden. They all shared the opinion that the Irish negative decision should not endanger or significantly slow down Croatian accession to the EU. Croatia should therefore not be afraid of the negative outcome of the referendum and should continue with reforms; while the EU will most likely be able to find the model that will enable Croatia to enter the EU (Jandroković). Vincent Degert shared optimism regarding Croatia’s accession but stressed that the European Commission had different expectations from the referendum. Neven Mimica, chairman of the European Integration Committee of the Croatian parliament was of the opinion that Croatia should ask for some kind of guarantee from the EU member states to find some framework for the enlargement. One of the solutions might be to put Ireland into “ratification isolation”, while another way is to continue with ratifications resulting with the situation in which Ireland will be the only country that has not ratified the Treaty.[4] Vladimir Drobnjak, Croatian chief negotiator with the EU, shared a similar opinion even before the Irish referendum, saying that Croatia should not be preoccupied with the entering into force of the Lisbon Treaty but should focus on completing negotiations in the best possible way.[5]
Most of the politicians and commentators shared the opinion that the negative outcome of the referendum should not affect Croatia (in spite of the fact that the Nice Treaty makes the ground for 27 EU members only) but might cause the slow down of accession in the other countries of the region. However, the statements given by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying that treaty’s entering into force is a precondition for any further enlargement including Croatia raised different reactions. Croatian President Stjepan Mesić is of the opinion that it does not relate to Croatia;[6] chief negotiator Vladimir Drobnjak agrees that the outcome makes things more complicated in a certain way, while Zoran Milanović, the leader of Social Democratic Party is of the opinion that this statement was primarily directed towards Europe and not towards Croatia, because it might motivate the eurosceptics to accept the Lisbon Treaty.[7]
Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was encouraged after meeting with colleagues from European People’s Party in Brussels where he was assured that some solution would be found for Croatia even in the case that the Lisbon Treaty would not be accepted. The other solution which might bring result is repeating the Irish referendum but with better preparations.[8] There were also reactions from academic circles. Mladen Staničić, the director of Institute for International Relations, Zagreb said that President Sarkozy’s statement was the outcome of the need to take into account his electorates which are sceptical towards enlargement and institutional strengthening of the EU; while Anđelko Milardović, professor of political studies from the Political Science Research Centre, Zagreb stresses that it was the wrong message to send towards the Western Balkans because it could discourage its pro-European forces.[9]
The recent meeting of the National Committee for Monitoring the Accession Negotiations was dedicated to this particular issue. Vesna Pusić, the president of the committee gave statement that within the negotiation chapter 34 the technical and legal possibility was envisaged for Croatia to become EU member independently of the confirmation of Lisbon Treaty. However, in such a case a very strong political will is needed from EU member states together with the absolute and precise fulfilment of criteria from Croatian side.[10]

[1] Vesna Roller: “The future of EU is in Irish hands”. Poslovni dnevnik, 13 and 14 June, 2008, p. 19.

[2] In the Network of the First Programme, Croatian Radio, 16 June 2008, 7.30 a.m.

[3] The lecture was given on the occasion of the promotion of the book Višnja Samardžija/Alan Dukes (eds.): “Communicating Integration Impact in Croatia and Ireland”, Zagreb 2008. The book resulted from the EC PHARE project “EU IMPACT – Academic Network for Communicating Integration Impacts in Croatia” and was promoted by Vincent Degert, Head of the Delegation of the European Commission in Croatia. See: http://www.imo.hr/europa/publics/books/integration/promotion.html (last access: 28 July 2008).

[4] “Croatia should not be worried by the Irish ‘No’”. Jutarnji list, 15 June 2008, pp. 2-3. The first statements were given on the occasion of the seminar on the EU accession held in Opatija.

[5] “France gives importance to negotiations with Croatia”. Jutarnji list, 17 June 2008, pp. 37-39.

[6] “Merkel and Sarkozy: Without Lisbon Treaty Croatia can not enter the EU”. Novi list, 21 June, p. 7.

[7] “No to Croatia. Sarkozy and Merkel: We are against the new EU widening”. Jutarnji list, 21 and 22 June 2008, p. 8.
[8] “Sanader: A solution will be found for Croatia”. Večernji list, 21 June 2008, p. 16.

[9] “Merkel and Sarkozy: Without the Lisbon Treaty Croatia can not enter the EU”. Novi list, 21 June 2008, p. 7.

[10] “Croatia dependant on the EU political will”. Novi list, 24 June 2008, p. 4. The article gives also a comment of the European Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberg that no explicit legal obstacle for further enlargement exists in the Nice Treaty, it is the matter of EU member states to decide if the Union could continue with enlargement.