During the last week of June we have been warming up for welcoming Croatia in the European Union: the European institutions have focused big part of their communication in introducing the new member to the rest of the club through figures, infographics and cool videos highlighting the assets of Croatia or sharing the impressions of some relevant European politicians (part 1 and Part 2), or promoting the whole idea of enlargement itself.
Moreover. the European Commission held a Youth conference in Zagreb last week, where 80 AEGEE members, and dozens of young Europeans from other NGOs, could meet representatives of the European Commission, the European Youth Forum, and other stakeholders from the European and national (Croatian) level. Topics as entrepreneurship and unemployment, the challenges for the Croatian youth in the new reality, or the advantages and disadvantages of a Croatia inside the EU28 were some of the raised topics. There was also time for a creativity workshop where European youth had to prepare videos with positive messages about enlargement. The results were impressive and gave bright ideas which maybe we will see implemented in future EU campaigns.
Today, Croatia closes a chapter in its history and opens a new one, one where Croatians will be part again of something bigger. For some people, the shadow of the Yugoslavian past is still felt. There are those who fear a dilution of national identity. But the EU is different to Yugoslavia, in the EU28 diversity is an added value, art and culture will be celebrated, and the language will be preserved.
Croatia comes however with a list of challenges that cannot be ignored. Youth unemployment over 50% makes it third of the EU28 list, after Spain and Greece. while 5 years of recession have weakened the economy. The enthusiasm for the EU has decreased lately and in the first elections for the EP representatives from today until the next EP elections, only 20% of Croatians went to vote. Finally, there is a risk that a EU who is fighting back the current crisis situation cannot deliver for the high expectations that some Croatians have raised on the accession. On its benefit, the small size of the country should ease the whole process of assimilation of the new country.
There are also reasons to believe that the accession of Croatia is good news. Looking back just 20 years ago, Croatia was being devastated by a war. The EU was created to restore trust among nations and to provide a durable peace, and the accession of Croatia is an encouraging message to other ex-Yugoslavian republics to speed up the process and make themselves ready for the EU. The real end of the Yugoslav wars will be when they all belong to the EU and they will solve their differences through negotiations and diplomacy. Do not take me for a fool; I know it will not be an easy process and neither a fast one.
Some people are wondering what can be the benefit of the accession for the rest of the EU. We have had Croatians inside AEGEE for more than 20 years and we have seen how big contribution they can make to building Europe from a youth perspective. Now it will be the EU28 who will have the opportunity to bring out the great potential of the Croatian citizens in benefit of all the European Union.