Dušan Gamser, CEAS Adviser and Irina Rizmal, CEAS Researcher, attended a public debate held as part of Mr. Vladimir Drobnjak, Croatian Chief Negotiator with the EU and Head of the Croatian Mission to the EU, visit, held at the Small hall of the National Assembly on Monday, February 25, 2013, and organized by the Office for European Integration.
Drobnjak began his opening statement with the paraphrase „all successful enlargements are the same, all difficult enlargements are difficult in their own way“. Expressing his view of the Croatian success formula he pointed out to the existence of the same negotiating team since the very beginning, a strong political will and a National Committee led by the opposition, consisting of all political parties, representatives of the expert and academic community, etc. Drobnjak highlighted that negotiations are negotiations of the society as a whole, that they are ongoing 24 hours and that they do not leave any aspect of social life untouched.
He then pointed out to some novelties introduced in the period since Croatia began its EU accession process up until today. Among the first is the notion of ’benchmarks’, that is, the idea that it is necessary to fulfill all the conditions in order to make it possible to open the next phase in the EU accession process. Benchmarks are factors that individualize the accession process and determine its duration. Fulfilled benchmarks are the basic evidence of candidate state credibility, and everything begins with a screening based on which the European Commission and Member States decide whether a specific Chapter can be opened or whether certain measures should be implemented first, such as plans, strategies, etc.
As the greatest and most significant benchmark he cited the annual Progress Report of the European Commission.
A second novelty can be found in Chapter 23 which, according to him, represents a summary of the comprehensive political importance of the negotiation and accession process. Based on four pillars: judiciary reform, fight against corruption, protection of minority rights and facing the problems of the 90s wars, the Chapter represents the Copenhagen plus criteria. The problem is that the issues from this Chapter are regulated through wider legislation in general, in EU Members States, whilst specific issues are regulated through an individual framework, so there is no single rule or single formula to follow.
Drobnjak especially emphasized that negotiations are not actually negotiations as such, but are more polishing the legal and political framework of the candidate state in accordance with the legal and political framework of the EU. Hence, not a single chapter is closed permanently as long as the state is not an officially an EU member, but are only temporarily closed and can be re-opened at any moment, as long as the negotiation process is open. Negotiations are, therefore, a symbiosis of politics, law, technique and logistics.
Pointing out to the didactical value of the process, he emphasized the need for the negotiating teams to include not only experts, but also individuals who should gain the needed knowledge of the EU through the process.
Those present were then addressed by Vincent Deger, Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, confirming Drobnjak’s statement that nothing is actually negotiated during negotiations, but that the candidate state can ask for more time to implement certain measures. He also warned that one should not delude himself that negotiations have anything to do with lobbying, but that they represent hard work and implementation. Giving specific recommendations Deger said that measures should be implemented as soon as possible, that nothing should not be postponed; that it is necessary to include all the relevant actors from the very beginning of the process, including the civil society; and that bilateral relations should not be allowed to influence the process and outcome of negotiations, but should be solved separately.
A debate was then opened. During the debate, Vladimir Drobnjak described some new mechanisms of the EU, such as a ’fiscal semester’ (adjusting budgetary practices of the candidate state with the budgetary rules of the EU), and talked about various aspects of the fight against corruption in the EU and Croatia.
The main conclusion of the debate is that the accession strategy should be realistic, even if it sounds weak, and not too ambitious as then it cannot be fulfilled, which will have a mark on the EU negotiation and accession process itself.