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Serbs living in Croatia, Grecians in Albania, Albanians in Macedonia. Large ethnic minorities exist throughout the Balkan peninsula. The resulting inter-ethnic conflict is part of the reason why minority policies are now incorporated in EU accession procedures. Does more structure help in implementing these policies?
Door Simonida Kacarska
By the end of June 2011, Croatia had completed the longest accession negotiations in the EU history and is now to become the 28th member state of the EU in mid-2013. The last issue that was settled between the Croatian government and the eu was the newly established chapter 23, which deals with the judiciary and fundamental rights1. An important aspect within this chapter is its inclusion of minority rights, which are significant not only for Croatia, but also in the wider Balkan region. The position of the Serbs in Croatia inevitably affects the country’s relations with Serbia, just as the position of Albanians in Macedonia has implications for its cooperation with Kosovo and Albania. This is why in the Croatian case, the EU decided for the first time to include minority policies into the formal structure of the negotiations process by assigning tasks to the national government. Since Croatia was the first country to have such issues included in the negotiations it is interesting to see whether the grassroots stakeholders in this field see the inclusion of minority policies in formal EU accession negotiations as a beneficial development for the implementation of these policies.
What is Chapter 23 about?
Chapter 23 deals with some of the politically most contested topics in the previous enlargement such as the judiciary, the fight against corruption and fundamental rights. Anyone familiar with European affairs will be aware that there are no common rules on these policies in the EU. Hence, this new chapter is largely based on principles of good practice that are beneficial for the development of the rule of law. The topics dealt with under each of these headings are country-specific, but minority policies are bound to be prominent in all countries in the region. Hence, the formalisation of minority policies in the negotiations provided additional tools for the eu to influence the implementation of minority policies. In order to evaluate whether this formalisation works in practice, I spent the last year in Brussels and Zagreb discussing the usefulness of the new chapter 23 with people from the European commission, national governments and civil society organisations.
The European Commission is the natural starting point for obtaining insight into the conditions that the EU puts forward to candidate countries. Not surprisingly, most of the Commission officials who I interviewed agreed that formalising minority issues adds an element of structure to the accession process, thus making their work easier. At the same time, EC officials recognised that since the EU does not have a single policy on minorities, it is difficult to set a minimum of basic rules that would apply to all accession countries. In this context, national legislation can however provide a resource for recommendations, as was noted by several of my interlocutors.
A Commission official argued that the Commission basically supports the implementation of national legislation on the topic, which is already present and of rather good quality. National officials stand at the receiving end of the EU accession negotiations and are responsible for bringing the recommendations from the European Commission to life. Croatian national officials considered that the new chapter has helped them to realize reforms that they would otherwise not have been able to push forward. Also, the chapter has established some initial results, in relation to the Roma issue for example. The lack of common rules however has provided difficulties for these national officials as at times they almost had to ‘guess’ what it was that the Commission wanted. In general, grassroots stakeholders in Croatia argued that the negotiations have considerably helped to put issues on the agenda that has thus far been neglected. They also considered that the EU has been very successful in pushing the national authorities to deal with issues such as refugee return and war-related crimes. Not surprisingly, the civil society organisations concerned generally supported the EU’s involvement in these policies and saw streamlining of the minority policies in the negotiations as a positive development.
Notwithstanding the general support of the formalisation of minority policies however, all of the people that I talked to did express doubts about the sustainability of some reforms and their weak implementation record. A common example of a policy that only exists on paper is the representation of minorities in the public sector. Although guaranteed by law and included in the formal negotiations, progress on this field has been slow and problematic. For this reason, Croatian NGOs have even argued against the concluding of the negotiations, calling for a domestic mechanism to monitor the fulfilment of the remaining conditions.2 The negotiations have however been concluded and it remains to be seen whether the EU will be able to influence any further positive change prior to Croatia’s EU accession in 2013.
The introduction of the new chapter on the judiciary and fundamental rights in the accession negotiations with Croatia, chapter 23, was a most important new step in the formalised structure of accession negotiations. Minority rights are a crucial issue in this chapter, which was considered to be the most problematic part of the negotiations. This novel approach of dealing with minority issues in a formalized, structural framework has resulted in different experiences and lessons learnt which are significant to the other countries in the region. In general, the formalisation of minority policies is valued positively both at the European Commission and on national levels. Nevertheless, as was the case with the previous enlargement, there remains criticism of weak implementation records, as was exemplified by the limited representation of minorities in the public sector. The structural inclusion of minority policies in the EU accession process therefore is beneficial, but not a guarantee of success.
is a PhD candidate in the School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, United Kingdom and a Chairperson of the Assembly of the European Policy Institute in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia.
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Dit artikel verscheen in idee nr. 6 2011: The rule of law
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