Croatia's accession and the rule of law

  
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Many observers, including the European Commission, have argued that Croatia needs to do more to show its commitment to judicial independence and the rule of law, writes Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier.

Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier is a research fellow at the Thomas More Institute in Montréal and author of From Enlargement to the Rule of Law: towards a Pan-European Commonwealth'.

"On 1 July, Croatia became the 28th member of the EU yet doubts about the suitability of its membership persist. Many observers, including the European Commission, have argued that Croatia needs to do more to show its commitment to judicial independence and the rule of law.

Supporters of enlargement say that there are reasons to be optimistic. Croatia has been making concentrated efforts to successfully meet the criteria for entry – between 2008 and 2010 the country passed an average of three laws a day in its rush to comply.

Equally, Croatia has received plaudits for its efforts to combat corruption. Supporters point out that the former Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, was imprisoned for 10 years in November 2012 on bribery charges.

Similarly, the high-profile arrests of senior executives from a local pharmaceutical company, Farmal, and the Croatian unit of Slovenian bank NKBM on corruption charges have been cited as evidence of a new ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to graft.

Many would like to believe that these actions represent an inflection point. They must indicate that Croatia has clearly understood that a precondition of membership to the European Union should be an unswerving commitment to preserving and defending the rule of law.

However, the truth is not so simple. For instance, the conviction of Sanader in relation to Hungarian energy group MOL’s purchase of a stake in Croatian national oil company INA is a case in point.

Serious reservations have been expressed about the political motivations behind the prosecution, as well as arbitrary dismissals of defence evidence and other procedural violations.

While many will feel this is not a time to contribute to the growing cynicism and scepticism that surrounds the European project, it is legitimate to question whether any tolerance of failure to respect the rule of law can ever be consistent with the values upon which the EU was founded.

If the ultimate goal of a European Union is to develop a pan-European Commonwealth based on a common idea of law and justice, will we be taking a step forwards, or backwards, with Croatia's accession to the EU?"

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