The European Union has seen numerous crises come and go and some staying stubbornly put – e.g. last year’s rejection by many member states to take in EU-stipulated quotas of refugees/migrants, but the 23 June 2016 Brexit vote in the United Kingdom has perhaps forced upon the EU the biggest crisis yet – bigger than was possible to imagine, perhaps? Brexit vote had within days of its results count heralded far-reaching consequences not only for the UK and the EU, but also for the countries seeking EU membership from the Balkans, Turkey etc.
Never before have citizens of an EU member state voted against remaining part of the Union and after more than four decades of its existence the problems of untangling many matters and connections within the EU network of member states are emerging as almost impossible to solve without causing serious damage to one or the other side and to individual people from both sides. By June 2016 UK had grown into and fused with EU flesh and the future of separating that EU flesh appears to entail serious repercussions for all involved.
Prior to Brexit vote the EU has been THE club to join particularly because of UK being its member. UK had been a draw-card for many from Eastern and Southeast Europe to vote “Yes” to EU membership at their own referendums. Arguably, many people from all countries of Eastern Europe and Southeast, such as Croatia in 2013, had held EU membership as an ideal club to aspire to precisely because UK was there, waiting in its desired modernity to embrace them as its own and lobbying for EU expansion. Now that Brexit vote assures UK’s departure from the EU these multitudes of people in these countries are bound to be asking themselves if it was worthwhile for their country to join the EU after all. The repercussions of Brexit vote will remain unclear for many weeks and months to come, as the implications are far reaching. Much will depend on decisions taken by British and EU leaders on a number of issues that will extend beyond the Brexit itself.
The EU, without the UK, is likely to see strengthened campaigns for it to become a union of sovereign states, rather than a federation of nation states that Brussels wants at this stage. Following Eastern European countries’ (e.g. Hungary, Slovakia, Poland…) stance in rejecting the housing of refugees and illegal migrants and in protecting their borders and the ever increasing height of the “national interests” (which by the way was at its highest in Wales and England, in particular, at the time of Brexit vote) suggest that the push for union of sovereign states is about to get heartier in EU.
A quarter century after Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia, British voters have decided, albeit by a narrow margin, to leave the European Union. Throughout various media outlets in Croatia, Croats are currently pulling out of drawers president Franjo Tudjman’s words, even as far back as 1968 when as scientist and historian he wrote that “the European community in the shape of a union between European states could represent the most advantageous framework for a true revitalisation of the idea of co-existence in today’s world”.
“European politics can only be purposeful if it brings about the creation of such a European community which will have the capacity of free itself from intolerable tutelage under both super powers (USA and USSR) and become an independent actor within the international life. Such a community in Europe can only be achieved as a union of states of independent European nations who would retain their own national quintessence, the right independent socio-political development within their own borders and to sovereignty in international life. The fundamental European politics that aim towards European community joining its European people’s material and intellectual powers into the idea of active co-existence and unity of diversity are the only politics that have real prospects of success,” wrote Franjo Tudjman way back in 1969 and retained these opinions as to the dynamics and make up of the European community/union well into the 1990’s when he championed Croatia’s independence from communist Yugoslavia.
The largest political party, Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ, is currently preparing for its own leadership elections since Tomislav Karamarko resigned as leader last month; and, in the aftermath of the recent fall of government, snap general elections are due mid-September. Croatian political analysts and journalists are already asking the question: which leader of which party is likely to support an EU Federation of Nation States centrally governed from Brussels and which leader is likely to support an EU as Union of Sovereign States.
European Union is currently shaking from the rubbing of two tectonic plates against each other: the Euro-federalist one and the Euro-sovereignty one. Germany’s Angela Merkel and Brussels’ corridors of power are championing the former while the latter is strongly the agenda of Eastern Europe’s countries particularly the Visegrad Group (Czech, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) to which Croatia has been aspiring for a while, at least since Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s presidency took power in January 2015. Traces of leanings to a union of sovereign states in EU, or leaving the EU if membership means stripping of national sovereignty of state, can also be seen in Austria’s and Greece’s recent speculations as to a possible exit from the EU; Italy’s, Netherland’s and France’s conservatives increasing anti-EU sentiments and so forth…
The likely candidate for Croatia’s HDZ leadership elections in July, EUP Andrej Plenkovic, appears to support the EU Federation option and hence, the Visegrad Group lobby for a union of sovereign states would pose a problem for Croatia and lingering divisions and dissent. One cannot sit on both stools at the same time, as it were. It’s hard to imagine that majority Croats would want the European super state of federation where government is centralised in Brussels and sovereignty of each state erased as seems to be what Plenkovic as HDZ leader might support. It’s been said that such may be the case because EU protects its smaller member states but not all agree with such a view. While attaching oneself to a bigger and wealthier body might provide certain securities it certainly risks losing ones identity or much of it.
The remaining EU 27 members have been seeking a quick resolution, asking the UK to trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty that would manage the process of leaving the EU. However, the British government has been reluctant to trigger this ‘clean’ way out. Indeed with Prime Minister David Cameron resigning, with leaders of the Brexit campaign – Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage – leaving the Brexit train, not only does there seem to be no exit plan but also Brexit supporters are left holding the baby, looking down a “what now” abyss.
This puts the union in a state of uncertainty and Germany seemingly stepping up into the lobby for enlargement role UK played before – as exemplified by Angela Merkel’s swift statement on 4 July 2016 that Serbia may open its EU membership negotiation on Chapters 23 and 24 and that Croatia had agreed to this. Croatia had been stalling Serbia’s progress in opening Chapter 23 for EU membership negotiations with view to several important legal and judicial issues and missing persons matters outstanding from the 1990’s war against Croatia. The fact that these were issues to clear before Serbia is given a green light for Chapter 23 negotiations, and that green light to Serbia has now been given without adequate explanations in public as to what happened with Croatia’s issues, leaves one asking many distressing questions, particularly regarding justice for victims of Serb crimes in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. A logical and obvious explanation here is that the EU is working very hard to show the world that Brexit will not stop EU enlargement! However, the cost of such moves as opposed to the cost of nurturing the existing EU member states and leaving enlargement for a later time, could well prove to be too high for EU’s ambitions for the creation of a superstate of itself; member states may retaliate against such centralist decision-making as are those demonstrated this week regarding Serbia’s negotiations for EU membership. I mean, every “Tom, Dick and Harry” stood in Croatia’s way to negotiate its membership over many years and now, only three years after it achieved membership, the EU seems to have parked its criteria at an open town-market where EU membership desirous states can barter their way into membership whichever way and with whatever they want. So much for reasonable and needed criteria that guarantees at least some grassroots homogeneity in EU!
Whether Croats will fall into a position from which they’ll be happy to blindly and mutely listen to everything that comes out Brussels is the most burning question now. This week’s events that gave Serbia green light to open negotiations in Chapters 23 and 24 for EU membership have completely omitted to explain to the Croatian public why that is so and what happened with the issues of protests or requirements Croatia had put before the EU in this regard. I do not believe the Croatian public will wear this lightly and will want explanations. The wounds of the 1990’s War of Independence are still very raw, sacrifices made for freedom and sovereignty and self-determination – still felt heavily and deeply. No politician in Croatia is likely to survive for very long if he/she forgets this fact. EU or no EU. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)