Capital Zagreb
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 385
Mobile Codes 91,92,95,98,99
ccTLD .hr
Currency Kuna (1EUR = 7.26HRK)
Land Area 56,594 sq km
Population 4.5 million
Language Croatian
Major Religion Roman Catholicism

Croatia on the Verge of EU Membership: Interview with Andrej Plenković

In this new interview for, Croatian correspondent Ante Raić gets the informed views of Andrej Plenković, state secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, on issues surrounding Croatia’s accession to the European Union. The interview touches one everything from currency questions, the country’s lengthy border and entrance into the Schengen Zone to the current and expected level of public support for joining the bloc, in anticipation of a popular referendum on the country’s EU membership.

Andrej Plenković has served as state secretary in the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration since April 2010. A graduate of the Faculty of Law in Zagreb, he also completed diplomatic school at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2002, he also received an MSc in international public and private law at the Faculty of Law.

Prior to his current position, Mr Plenković served as chief in the Sector for European Integration in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and later as Deputy Chief of Mission/Minister Consultant at Croatia’s Mission to the EU in Brussels. Most recently, Mr Plenković served as deputy ambassador in the Croatian Embassy in Paris.


Ante Raić: Croatia has finally ended negotiations with the EU. What does this mean for Croatia? In your opinion, what are the most positive things that becoming an EU member-state bring to Croatia?

Andrej Plenković: Croatia’s accession to the European Union is a historic process which will affect all segments of society, leading to a better standard of living, increased trust in the impartiality and efficiency of the judiciary, greater opportunities for employment, the establishment and freedom to provide services in all other EU member states, and increased mobility in the area of education.

The implementation of EU legislation will positively influence environmental standards, consumer protection and public health, and every citizen will enjoy the same benefits as do all other European citizens.

According to State Secretary Plenković, ‘strategic investments immediately following accession will be concentrated on areas important for the development of our economy and employment incentives.’

AR: Which chapters, or to be more precise, which benchmarks, were hardest for the country to complete?

AP: When compared to previous enlargement rounds, Croatia-EU membership negotiations have been the most complex so far, owing to 138 precisely-defined opening and closing benchmarks, in almost all chapters.

For us, the toughest to negotiate were certainly those chapters in which the financial and socio-economic implications of EU membership are the highest.

AR: Are there some specific examples, in this respect?

AP: Yes. In the complex chapter regarding the environment, transitional periods for the full implementation of the acquis have been agreed with the EU regarding outstanding alterations in certain financially challenging areas for Croatia, such as air quality and waste management, and adaptations with regard to reference periods for carbon gas emissions.

In the demanding chapter on agriculture and rural development, Croatia negotiated a number of transitional periods and exemptions. Some reference periods were adapted to enable a definition of the financial envelope for Croatia (e.g. milk and sugar quotas). A special EU financial package, the so co-called “mine envelope,” was established for mined arable land. Also continuation of state aid was agreed for a limited period in some sectors.

The chapter on the judiciary and fundamental rights is a sum of almost all the political criteria. The domain of assessment was a detailed review of Croatia’s legal framework, the efficiency of institutions, as well as the proper functioning of our system at all levels. Crucial issues included the reform of the judiciary and public administration, the fight against corruption, human rights and the protection of national minorities and continued full cooperation with the ICTY.

AR: Are you satisfied with using of pre-accession assistance funds? Which opportunities are opening in the accession funds?

AP: Yes. Croatia can be considered successful regarding its absorption capacity of EU pre-accession assistance. The rates of contracted funds for the so-called 1st generation of EU pre-accession assistance programs (CARDS, PHARE, ISPA and SAPARD) show that from 60% to over 90% of the allocations have been contracted so far (ISPA program contracting is to continue until the end of 2012).

We are currently benefiting from the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) program via mechanisms similar to those in use for EU Structural and Cohesion Funds.

It is crucial to highlight that in a relatively short period, considerable experience and knowledge in EU funds programming and implementation have been accumulated and are being used for programming documents and for the preparation of larger infrastructural projects in the post-accession period. These projects will give additional value to EU funds invested in our country.

AR: Are there any examples of such investments you would like to highlight?

AP: Good examples of investments currently co-financed by the EU pre-accession instruments in Croatia are several water and waste management projects, as well as investments in the railway infrastructure, designated by the EU as priority areas for the 2007-2013 period.

In line with EU policies, strategic investments immediately following accession will be concentrated on areas important for the development of our economy and employment incentives. They are to include areas such as transport, environment and energy; education, science and research; social inclusion; and support for the development of entrepreneurship.

AR: So, all that said, how much is being an EU member stat going to cost Croatia?

AP: Croatia will pay into the EU budget 267 million euros in the second half of 2013. At the same time, the total envelope for Croatia in 2013 is around 800 million euros for the same period.

AR:  The exchange rate of the Croatian kuna is strongly connected with the euro. When can we expect to see the euro become the means of payment in Croatia, and when could it be adopted as the official state currency?

AP: The introduction of the euro as a national currency does not automatically follow after a country joins the European Union, but is preceded by the fulfillment of a set of so-called convergence criteria. It is therefore not possible to predict precisely when Croatia will adopt the euro.

However, as far as meeting the criteria is concerned, Croatia is in a relatively good position — price stability and a stable exchange rate against the euro have already been achieved. Croatia also meets the legal requirements for the adoption of the euro — our legal framework guarantees the independence of the Croatian National Bank as the central bank, and allows for its integration into the European System of Central Banks.

In conclusion, more than 60% of our foreign trade is with EU countries. Croatia’s EU membership and, ultimately, the introduction of the euro will thus simplify the tasks for our businesses and contribute significantly to the overall macroeconomic stability of Croatia, encouraging more dynamic economic growth.

AR: Becoming a member state raises a question of national borders. Considering Croatia has a really long national border, especially with Bosnia and Herzegovina, how hard will it be to control the borders? When could Croatia become part of the Schengen zone?

AP: Upon accession, Croatia will have 1,377 km of external land border of the EU. Croatia will be ready to join the Schengen area 2 years after accession.

Over the past few years, Croatia has been systematically improving the infrastructure, technical equipment and required human resources at its border crossings, framing these activities within the government’s Integrated Border Management Action Plan.

Entry into the Schengen area depends on the political consensus of all member states in the Council, after determining that all necessary conditions for full implementation of the Schengen acquis have been met.

Croatia will apply a large part of the Schengen acquis from the moment of accession, and preparatory activities will be additionally supported from resources of the Schengen Facility Fund. These will amount to 120 million euros, i.e. 40 million euros in 2013 and 80 million euros in 2014, and are intended to finance activities related to the implementation of the Schengen acquis and external border control at the new external borders of the EU.

AR: Before becoming a member state, there’s a referendum to be held. According to the actual polls, entering the EU is not a sure thing. Which are the actions that Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integrations is planning to take to improve the knowledge of its citizens about membership in the EU and what it entails?

AP: The results of the opinion poll carried out in June 2011 show that of the respondents who would vote at the referendum, 57% would vote for the accession of Croatia to the EU, while 37% of the respondents declared themselves against. The expected turnout would be around 76%. The results of the opinion polls are positive and I am convinced that the outcome of the referendum will be a very clear yes vote.

To that effect, we are stepping up the information and communication activities such as a free info telephone line, free publications, round tables, Euro info points, lectures, seminars, public events and conferences concentrating on answering citizens’ questions, addressing their concerns, and presenting the results of the accession negotiations. TV and radio clips have also been launched on channels with national coverage and local media.

A series of 35 leaflets about accession negotiating chapters have been published in daily newspapers and are available on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration website. In addition, we have published the entire negotiating documentation of Croatia on the Government website to increase transparency.

AR: How do you comment on monitoring in certain chapters?

AP: During the pre-accession and ratification stages, Croatia will continue to work hard on fulfilling all its commitments. It is important to underline that it is exclusively pre-accession monitoring that will be conducted until Croatia’s entry into the EU, and that it will not continue after that date. We see the EU pre-accession monitoring mechanism as a way to provide Croatia with additional support in its continued reform efforts.

Special emphasis will be put on the chapters covering Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, Justice, Freedom and Security, and Competition Policy. Croatia has nothing to hide and is open and determent to be fully prepared for its EU membership.

AR: At the end of this interview, do you have any message for the euro-skeptics?

AP: The referendum on EU membership should be a festival of democracy in Croatia. All actors in our society should take part in the public debate and different opinions should be heard. My message is that a healthy and vibrant dialogue on Croatia in the European Union will help us to formulate policies and positions once we become a Member State.

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