BH & EU, INTERVIEWS

Accession of BIH to the EU is in Croatian Interest

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We strive to have our neighbours welcome Croatia’s accession to the EU, without being disconcerted over the closing of borders. Croats in BiH are the bridge towards Croatia and towards the EU.

By: Nevena Šarenac

In an interview to ‘Sarajevo Times’ Ambassador of Croatia in BiH Tonči Staničić noted that the accession of Croatia to the EU is a very positive thing for BiH, because the preparations for accepting the European norms and standards, in other words, the integration to the EU will be accelerated. He points out that after 1 July, BiH citizens who have Croatian citizenship will be considered the citizens of the EU and will have the same rights as the citizens of the Republic of Croatia. In his talk to ‘Sarajevo Times’, ambassador Staničić noted the importance of economic cooperation between BiH and Croatia, especially in the field of tourism adding that his country advocates the use of ID cards for BiH citizens when crossing the border of Croatia, but it is up to all the states of the EU to decide whether that will happen or not. Ambassador Staničić, among other things, said that Croatia is interested in finalizing the inter-state agreement concerning the issue of state property and assets with BiH which would be a framework for regulation of state property, as well as the property of legal persons from BiH in Croatia and vice versa.

The accession of Croatia to the EU will mean the longest border of the EU with non-EU member. What are the positive aspects that BIH citizens can expect after the 1. July, since after that date, our country will border the EU with almost 1 000 kilometres? In which ways does you country can serve as a ‘good teacher’ to BiH and can BiH expect Croatia to lobby for BiH in Brussels?

– With our accession to the EU, the border of Croatia and BiH will become the outer border of the EU, which is a great responsibility for Croatia, but it does not minimize our responsibility towards our neighbours. That’s why we are trying to make our accession a positive thing for our neighbours, without any fear of closing the borders. Croatian accession to the EU does not mean that we are leaving or distancing ourselves from the region and our neighbours. The EU will become the first neighbour of BIH, which is a very positive thing for BiH because the preparation for accepting the European norms and standards, in other words, the integration to the EU will be accelerated. Improved border security, possibility of increased demand for workforce from BIH, possibility of communicating with the EU institutions in the language of one of BiH constituent peoples are some positive influences that we can single out.With the accession of Croatia to the EU, new funds for cross-border projects are going to be opened which is in the interest of both countries. In view of the fact that the trade regime of BIH and Croatia will change, we can expect that certain Croatian companies will open their production sections in BiH which can lead to creating new jobs for BiH citizens. Croatia will also be a strong advocate for BiH because it is in Croatian interest that BiH becomes a part of the EU as soon as possible. Croatia will continue to actively support BiH on its path to the EU and NATO and it will advocate the fulfilment of conditions, which will enable BiH to become a member state of the EU, as soon as possible.In that manner we will continue to provide technical support and to convey our own experiences of negotiating process. The experience of Croatia in harmonizing the domestic legal system with the legal system of the EU will continue to be conveyed through seminars which we organise in cooperation with the Directorate for European Integration. So far, we’ve organised seminars on conveying the negotiation experiences concerning the chapter 8- Competition Policy; chapter 12- Food Safety, chapter 23- Judiciary & Fundamental Rights, chapter 24 – Justice, Freedom & Security and translating the EU acquis.

Croats are one of constituent nations of BiH. With Croatian accession to the EU, Croatian language, one of three official languages of BiH will become an official language of the EU. Will the citizens of BIH who have Croatian citizenship as well, will they have the same rights in the EU as the citizens of Croatia? How will BiH Croats contribute to better image of BiH in the EU?

– After the accession of Croatia to the EU, BiH citizens who also have Croatian citizenship will be considered citizens of the EU and will have the same rights as Croatian citizens from the Republic of Croatia, including the rights concerning employment  and the freedom of movement without border controls once we enter  the Schengen area. Concerning the Croats in BiH, we consider them as a bridge towards Croatia, and the EU. BiH Croats can make an additional contribution to BiH in transferring Croatian experiences and in accelerating the euroatlantic integration of BiH. The fact that Croats in BiH can have a very positive role in this country makes us even more interested in their status, their remaining in BiH and their equality with the other two constituent peoples.

BiH and Croatian officials consider the possibility that the existing agreement that allows BiH citizens to pass the border with Croatia with only ID card continues even after the 1 July, when Croatia will join the European family. However, if the agreement is cancelled, is Croatia ready to make things easier for BiH citizens that live in border regions and cross the border every day?

– Croatia advocates that BiH citizens use their ID cards to enter Croatia. However, the decision on such crossing of borders would be an exception to the rule and Croatia cannot make that decision on its own, but it must be made unanimously by all EU member states. Croatia has already sent a proposal to the Irish Presidency of the EU and has encouraged sending the proposal to other member states so that they could decide, because it is a project that will bring positive elements to both BIH and Croatia. Regardless of the outcome of this initiative, the new Agreement on Local Border Traffic, on which both BiH and Croatia are working intensely, will enable residents of border regions who need to cross the border in order to get to school, job or because of farming on land that is located in the other country, to cross the border without passport. They will be able to cross the border with only border pass and not just at border crossings for international traffic but also at border crossings for local border traffic and border places which are going to be entered in their border pass. The Republic of Croatia will issue border passes to residents of BiH who live in border regions. The border passes will have a high degree of protection, in accordance with the EU acquis.

It is a fact that BiH and Croatia are to each other among largest trading partner. With the accession to the EU, Croatia will leave CEFTA and will lose a part of the market. In that case, will BiH be able to tax certain Croatian products?

– For Croatia, BiH is the fourth most important business partner. It is the second export market and eight import market and significant investor in Croatia. That is why Croatia will do its best to develop even more successful economic cooperation and to strengthen economic relations with BiH, after becoming a member of the EU. As a member of the EU, Croatia will completely adopt the EU trade policy, which will bring about new conditions of doing business, on both the European market and the markets of the so-called third countries with which the EU has trade relations. In relation to CEFTA countries, Croatian businessmen will apply the contractual obligations under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, which the EU has concluded with certain countries of CEFTA. In 2012, the Council of the EU gave the European Commission the mandate for negotiations to adapt those international agreements which were signed between the EU and the member states, because of Croatian accession to the EU, including the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with BiH, in other words, the Interim Agreement on Trade and Trade-Related Matters which is being implemented until the SAA enters into force. In its review of the existing trade agreements, the European Commission takes into account the existing trade, as well as the existing trade concessions between third countries and Croatia, in order to maintain, at least, the current level of traditional trade. With the accession of Croatia to the EU, the customs regime for industrial products between Croatia and BiH will not change, because on 1 January this year, tariffs between BiH and EU for those products were abolished. BiH will be able to impose import duties on products from Croatia, such as milk and dairy products, confectionery and meat and tobacco products. However, the introduction of tariffs and some protectionist measures, which is being considered in BiH, will not strengthen and fully protect BiH economy. Given the fact that BiH is also preparing to become a member of the EU, it should take measures which would enable its companies to do business in the single European market.

Many Croatian companies have expressed the interest to move part of their production from Croatia to BiH, in order to successfully remain at CEFTA markets. In that case, what will be the specific benefit for BiH citizens? Can we expect new jobs?

– As Croatia becomes a part of the EU market, it ceases to be a part of CEFTA market, and some companies from Croatia, in order to be more competitive on markets of South-Eastern Europe, may transfer part of their production to BiH. That will depend on the judgement of particular companies, and if the Croatian companies choose to open their production sections in BiH it would also mean the creation of new jobs.

In the public, we hear the opinion that BiH and Croatia lead the so-called ‘milk-war’ related to the import of milk where dangerous aflatoxin is being found. The stronger border controls continue. In your opinion, what is the real risk from drinking the milk which suspected to have a higher level of aflatoxin, and how much is the entire situation concerning the ‘milk case’ is politicized?

– It was shown that the increased level of aflatoxin is a regional problem no country of the region was spared of, and that it goes even beyond our immediate neighbourhood. Ministers of agriculture and food safety from the region reached the same conclusion at the meeting in Belgrade which was held recently. In this case, the solution is not accusing each other, but strengthening cooperation between the competent services. We can see that the increased level of mycotoxins in milk, has led to increased monitoring of animal feed and milk, increased level of hygiene in public and other warehouses, improved communication between technical and inspection services in the region and all these are positive developments for consumers. In Belgrade, ministers have agreed about the need to exchange information and they expressed their intention to meet regularly in order to resolve these issues as soon as possible. That is a positive matter and it removes the doubt of politicking.

Apart from economic and political cooperation, BiH and Croatia are also linked through tourism, because a large number of BiH citizens chose the Adriatic coast as their holiday destination. According to data of the Croatian Tourist Association, 500 000 BiH citizens spend their summer vacation in Croatia.  The Ministry of Tourism of Croatia emphasize that it is in the best interest of Croatian tourism not to change the possibility of crossing the border between BiH and Croatia with only ID card. What is the extent of economic influence of BiH tourists on Croatia? Will the tourists from BiH spend their vacation in Croatia at different conditions after the 1. July?

– Tourism is an important branch of Croatian economy making up almost 19% of GDP. For us, every tourist is important, and every year, we try to improve our tourist offer and service so that the tourists would feel good in Croatia and that they are satisfied with our tourist services. Tourists from BiH are traditional and welcomed guests at the Adriatic coast. According to data of Croatian State Statistics Institute, in 2012, more than 220 000 tourists from BiH visited Croatia and had around 1 066 000 over-night stays. We hope that BiH tourists will come to Croatia in the years to come in even greater number. Besides the fact that they will be on holiday in the EU and if the EU adopts the initiative for crossing the border with only ID card, there should not be any larger changes for BiH tourists. If the EU disapproves the initiative for crossing the border with only ID card, tourists from BiH will need a passport and Croatian border police will carry out regular control by putting a stamp on each entrance or exit.

It is known fact that as a part of the pre-accession agreement of Slovenia to the EU was the initiative to allow Croatian citizens to enter Slovenia with only ID card. Why didn’t Croatia act on the same model towards the BiH citizens?

 

– We’ve already stated that Croatia strongly stands for the continuation of the equal regime of border crossing for BiH citizens, and that means with ID cards. We’ve said that we’ve sent a letter to Irish presidency, the first vice-president of the Government and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs PhD Vesna Pusić did that. However, one should know the following. Croatian pre-accession negotiations were different from negotiations that countries who’ve became a part of the EU in 2004 and 2007 led; Croatian negotiations were much more demanding and harder, with benchmarks for opening and closing each chapter of negotiations. They also contained lessons that the EU learned from previous enlargements, and one of the most important lessons was that it is not enough to transfer the European legislation to the national level, but the country needs to prove that those laws are efficiently implemented so that the state could be completely ready for membership. As I already mentioned, the decision on border crossing of BiH citizens to Croatia with only ID card is an exception to the rule, and since Croatia is in the process of becoming a part of the Schengen area, it will have to implement the Schengen rules from 1 July, or the day of accession to the EU, although it will not become a part of Schengen area.We hope that the joint initiative of BiH and Croatia for the continuation of crossing the border with only ID will be successful and that the EU countries will make a positive decision in relation to that matter.

According to the Agreement on Succession of former Yugoslavia, which was ratified by Zagreb in 2004, it was concluded that the assets of former Socialist Republic of BiH in Croatia would become assets of present day BiH. BiH authorities accuse Croatia for violating the agreement that last for years, and that Croatia does not give the valuable assets to BIH. It is only known that those assets consist of various resorts, business spaces, and spas. After Croatia becomes the EU member, the already complicated procedure will become even more complicated. What will happen with BiH assets, which are seized by new owners?

– We are interested in solving the succession issue, including the issue of property and acquired rights which are regulated by Annex G of Former Yugoslavia Succession Agreement. Having in mind that implementation of the Annex G is not efficient enough, Croatia proposes to the governments of countries interested in succession to conclude bilateral agreements on property relations. Croatia signed such agreements with Slovenia and Macedonia, and according to them the assets were recovered.Croatia is interested in finalizing the bilateral agreement on the settlement of property relations with BiH as soon as possible, which would provide the framework for regulation of state property as well as the  assets of legal persons from BiH in Croatia and vice versa. As far as I know, BiH Ministry of Justice prepared a new draft agreement in 2010, but there is no consensus concerning the agreement in BiH, among other things, because the draft agreement does not envisage the registration of the property which is in Croatia, and which is in the ownership of companies with headquarters in entities, on the name of entities. So, we are still waiting that BiH side reaches an agreement concerning this issue so that we could start solving it.

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