On 1st July 2013, the European Union will gain a twenty-eighth member: Croatia. This broadly banana-shaped republic with one of the most stunning coastlines anywhere in the continent will become only the second constituent member of the former Yugoslavia to sign up to what is still in nominal terms the most affluent economic bloc in the world.
However, Croatia – a nation of just 4.28 million people – will be acceding to the EU under very different circumstances to those countries which rode the credit bubble wave of the 2000s and enjoyed massive but ultimately fatal injections of credit into their economies. With the European Union struggling to expand its institutional balance sheet fast enough to prop up the collapsing eurozone periphery, Croatia is unlikely to enjoy any obvious short- or even medium-term financial benefits of membership.
This matters because Croatia is currently undergoing a severe economic crisis despite not being part of the EU or eurozone: an estimated 30% of Croatians now live in poverty, with the Akcija Čista hrana or Clean Food Movement operating as an alternative food bank: specially-labelled grocery bags of food are left adjacent to municipal bins for usage by the country’s poorer citizens. Things are so bad that Croatia has spawned a not insignificant Occupy movement of the kind more usually associated with large cities in the neoliberal United States or United Kingdom.
Given that many of Croatia’s strategic assets are likely to be acquired by its European partners following accession, we at Mediolana are left wondering: has the country really embarked on the right course? Could Croatia have charted a different path by following the old Yugoslav model of being close to several power blocs whilst retaining that vital element of political (and ultimately, economic) independence? Would partnership agreements with the EU, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina is an observer member), ASEAN and Mercosur have constituted a new, more viable future?