Croatia is a dynamic, growing country with a keen desire to participate economically, culturally and politically inEurope. As a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee of the European Parliament and the Croatian Sabor, I am delighted that MEPs have welcomed the end ofCroatia’s negotiations. In all of our meetings, I have been struck by the enthusiasm and the positive outlook of my Croatian colleagues. Whilst they have always recognised that there was much work to do, they have been determined to move their country forward and promote democratic, European values inCroatiaand the Balkan region.
However, there is still much work to do. The violence seen at the gay pride parade inSplit earlier this year – where 10,000 anti-gay protesters are reported to have physically attacked the participants, who had to be evacuated by police – shows that the country still needs to make considerable progress in the area of gay rights. MEPs have expressed deep concern over this, and have called onCroatia to draw up a national action plan to tackle the problem.
Corruption is another area that MEPs have highlighted. Tackling so-called ‘high-level’ corruption (in the courts, the police force and the civil service) is a high priority, and the European Parliament has called onCroatiato expand the capacity of its anti-corruption agencies to deal with this. Other priority areas for MEPs include the representation of women in influential positions; continuing to tackle human trafficking; and the need to expand Trade Union and workers’ rights and tp strengthen consultation of these in the policymaking process.
But lessons have clearly been learned on the enlargement process. Following earlier experience with Romanian and Bulgarian accession,Croatiahas been the first country to accede to the European Union under new procedures. An entirely new ‘chapter’ of negotiations has been added to address the area of judiciary and fundamental rights – which covers many of the issues I have mentioned. Because of this,Croatiahas made enormous progress during its accession negotiations and will continue to do so right up to the time of its accession in July 2013. Croatia is also the first country which will undergo continuing “monitoring,” even after the accession treaty has been signed, ensuring that any final problems are addressed before the date of accession.
I welcome the cross-party consensus that we have in the UK, not just on Croatia, but on EU enlargement more broadly. Both the previous Labour Government and the current Coalition agree that European enlargement brings enormous benefits, not just for the new Member States, but also for people in the UK. Jobs are created through closer economic cooperation with new EU members: the UK’s exports to Croatiaamount to some £283 million per year, and experience from previous enlargements has shown that this is likely to increase even further after the country joins theUnion.
But more than that, the EU is a powerful tool to create stability and security acrossEurope. We saw this not only after the Second World War when European integration was first established, but also after 1989, when EU enlargement promoted democracy and peace inEastern Europe. The effect of this on jobs, growth and quality of life should not be underestimated.
Croatia’s accession to the EU will help to bring prosperity to everyone in Europe, including people here in theEast Midlands. That is why I and my colleagues in the European Parliament support it wholeheartedly. Following the Parliament’s vote,Croatiais on track to join the EU on 1st July 2013 – and I urge allMemberStategovernments to lend their support too.