"Croatia will block Serbia at cost of self-isolation"

Croatia has suffered a defeat in the EP in its efforts to use amendments to a resolution on Serbia to impose conditions for the country's EU integration.

Source: Tanjug

However, this does not mean that Croatia will give up on its efforts to block Serbia, "despite the risk of diplomatic isolation," Brussels-based analysts have been quoted as saying.

The EP Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this week rejected attempts of Croatian MEPs to include a series of demands to a non-binding resolution on Serbia related to bilateral issues - primarily the threat to block Serbia's EU integration bid unless the country scrapped a law that gives it the right to put on trial Croats accused of war crimes committed in Croatia.

However, observers in Brussels warn that Croatia could vote against the opening of chapters with Serbia in the European Council. Senior analyst with the Brussels-based European Stability Initiative (ESI) Alexandra Stiglmayer believes that Croatia will take advantage of this possibility.

She noted that there is no outvoting in the European Council, "so each member has the right to veto." Stiglmayer also Tanjug and using bilateral issues to set conditions was "an enormous problem for the EU, and it does not have effective tools to prevent it."

She remarked that Croatia was blocked by Slovenia during the process of joining the organization, and that Slovenia eventually had to give in under pressure from other member-states.

"We'll see if in the case of Serbia Croatia will find itself under the same kind of pressure," Stiglmayer said.

A senior official of the European Commission, who wished to remain anonymous, told Tanjug on Tuesday that Croatia's permanent representative to the EU "until the last minute objected to the inclusion of a formulation of the possibility to open first chapters with Serbia this year." These conclusions were adopted in December by the EU Council.

"If they persist in their demands, they (Croatians) can make a lot of damage, not only to Serbia but also to themselves," the source said, noting that there was "a culture of seeking compromise in Brussels," and that those members that easily resort to vetos are not looked at favorably.

The official explained that no one can prevent Croatia from blocking Serbia in the Council - but that in that case, "the youngest member of the EU risks finding itself diplomatically isolated and subjected to pressure on other issues."

"It is not good for them to be presenting ultimatums as soon as they joined the EU," the news agency quoted the source as saying.

Tanjug further quoted Alexandra Stiglmayer as observing that the Croatian assembly's resolution passed last year pledging Zagreb will not to use bilateral issues to block any country in the region in their effort to join the EU "means almost nothing."

"In Croatia they argue this is not about bilateral, but about 'civilizational' issues, and the same is claimed by Greece about Macedonia, and by Cyprus about Turkey, which have been permanently blocked," the German analyst said.

According to her, it is essential that Serbia "diligently fulfills obligations under the Stabilization and Association Agreement which are really important for the EU, primarily to continue to progress in normalizing relations with Pristina."

"If Serbia makes progress, other members will find it easier to force Croatia to act in accordance with common principles," according to Stiglmayer, who added that "if Serbia falls behind, Germany and other member states will have more understanding for Croatia's demands."

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