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As Croatia Marches Towards the EU, Skepticism Meets Excitement in the Balkans

As Croatia prepares to enter the European Union officially on July 1 of this year, and Serbia awaits to finally receive a date to begin talks about EU entry, citizens of both countries express mixed feelings about European Union (EU) integration.

Some young Croatian citizens are looking forward to being able to seek employment in EU countries and to the economic benefits some say the EU promises to bring. Twitter user @Tash from Zagreb says [en]:

@EszterLzr haha i know, bad timing for EU and here ppl have mixed feeling ab it..and i just want to be able to go to work somewhere else

Others, like Aleksandar Holiga from Zagreb, look forward to traveling with more freedom to other EU countries [en]:

Flying to London tomorrow. For the last time ever required to fill that form and speak to immigration officer on the non-EU airport booth.

Pro-EU and anti-EU Croatian citizens are having spontaneous street debates in Zagreb on the eve of the 2012 European Union referendum. Photo by Marin Tomaš, copyright © Demotix (14/01/12).

Pro-EU and anti-EU Croatian citizens are having spontaneous street debates in Zagreb on the eve of the 2012 European Union referendum. Photo by Marin Tomaš, copyright © Demotix (14/01/12).

The majority, however, seems to be taking entry into the EU with a grain of salt. Goran Saravanja, a Croatian economist who blogs for Vecernji List daily, begins and ends his thoughts on the matter with simple, objective conclusions in a post titled “Facing Change: Croatia in EU” [hr]:

Prosječna osoba neće primijetiti veliku razliku u svom svakodnevnom okruženju na dan pristupanja Hrvatske EU. No, važne promjene nastupit će ubrzo. [...] Pristupanje EU samo po sebi neće automatski poboljšati kvalitetu domaćih institucija, kao ni razne politike niti njihovu provedbu. Ukoliko želimo da nam rast bude konstanta, nezaposlenost smanjena, a izvoz povećan, mi sami moramo provoditi reforme i (ne samo) ekonomsku politiku na kvalitetan način.

An average person won't notice a large difference in their everyday surroundings on the day of Croatia's entry into the EU. However, important changes will come quickly. [...] Entry into the EU in and of itself won't automatically improve the quality of domestic institutions, nor various political standpoints or their execution. If we want our growth to be constant, our unemployment lowered, and exports to grow, we must implement reforms ourselves and (not only) economic policy in a quality manner.

While Mr. Saravanja lists many of the benefits and opportunities that EU membership will bring Croatia, Zarko Plevnik in an editorial for Glas Slavonije [hr] (Slavonia is a Croatian region) questions how Croatian products will fare in the EU market because most are “unprotected”:

Gledajući i slušajući vijesti iz Hrvatske o tome kako svaki dan pronalazimo neki novi problem vezan uz naš ulazak u Europsku uniju, između ostalog, nameće se pitanje – što smo mi zaštitili od naših proizvoda prije ulaska u EU?

Watching and listening to the news from Croatia about how every day we encounter a new issue related to our entry into the European Union, among other things, the following question arises – what have we protected [trademarked] of our products prior to entry into the EU?

An article on the same site, titled “And This Is the European Union,” shows a picture of Greek farmers giving away fresh vegetables to their “class allies” [hr], or, rather, government employees.

Most social media users from Croatia seem to be skeptical about the benefits of EU membership.

Twitter user @ruzniuzorak says [hr]:

smorena sam ko europska unija

I'm bummed out like the European Union

User @nxyassa from Croatia comments [hr]:

Glupost nema granice evo naprimjer EUROPSKA UNIJA

Stupidity has no limits [borders] for example the EUROPEAN UNION

User @cromarko from Zagreb quotes an article and adds his own opinion [hr]:

“Najvece priznanje ulaska RH u EU je sastanak s kraljicom”. Priznanje hah, sve sto cu reci je Sjeverna Irska! #freeireland #oneireland

“The greatest acknowledgement of [Croatia's] accession in the EU is a meeting with the Queen.” Acknowledgement hah, all I will say is, Northern Ireland! #freeireland #oneireland

In Serbia, social media users, bloggers and many journalists are just as skeptical. Considering the recent history of Serbia and Croatia, one might wonder at the lack of perhaps expected envy that might come from Serbia towards Croatia, as Croatia enters the EU, while Serbia is still on hold and waiting for talks on membership. Serbs, however, seem to be much more concerned with their own fate.

Twitter user @na_preporciju from Serbia says [sr]:

Evropska unija nam se pokakila na demokratiju i slobodu,
a naši Slepci ne znaju da povuku vodu.

The European Union pooped on our democracy and freedom, while our Blind Men don't know how to flush.

User @m2aja echoes [sr] what many Serbs are saying:

Britanc žele da napuste Evropsku uniju, a Srbija bi da ide…

Britons want to leave the European Union, while Serbs want to enter…

Even users like @luminous_pg from Montenegro, which began EU accession negotiations a year ago, view EU-related matters [sr] sarcastically:

Muče vas bolovi u vratu? Imate problema sa zglobovima? Zaboravite na vaše neprilike, uskoro ulazimo u EVROPSKU UNIJU!

Neck pain bothering you? Have problems with your joints? Forget all your troubles, we're entering the EUROPEAN UNION soon!

User @na_preporciju also comments [sr]:

Kad uđe Hrvatska Evropska unija zaključava vrata – od robijašnice.

When Croatia enters, the European Union will close the door – of the work camp.

Some, like the Beograd Cafe blog, see positives economic opportunities for Serbia in Croatia's entry into the EU [sr], reporting from the recent “CEFTA After Croatia's Entry Into EU” trade conference, where all of the regional countries’ representatives met to discuss the Central European Free Trade Agreement:

Ulazak Hrvatske u EU doneće Srbiji niz prednosti, kao što su dominantan položaj u CEFTA regionu i povećanje suficita u razmeni sa okolnim zemljama, a očekuje se i više investicija…

The entry of Croatia into the EU will bring Serbia several advantages, such as a dominant position in the CEFTA region and a larger sufficit in trade with surrounding countries, while more investments are also expected. [...]

A blog from Bosnia and Herzegovina also writes about the subject [bs] in a post titled “Due to Exiting CEFTA, Croatian Companies to Move Production to Bosnia and Herzegovina?”.

In general, both in Croatia and Serbia, people seem to have an “it is what it is” attitude about the European Union in general. Perhaps the tweet of one user, @Darac42, sums it up best [hr]:

Da da, bit ce taj EU hard landing za hrvate.. niti ne zasluzujemo bolje..

Yes, yes, that EU will be a hard landing for Croats.. and we don't deserve better..

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