Vice President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner spent last week in Dubrovnik at the European People’s Party conference. Reding talked about Croatia’s EU entry negotiations, in particular Chapter 23 on justice, speaking about where the Croatian judicial system stands at present and also what lies ahead for Croatia upon EU accession on the 1st of July this year.
First of all, I have enjoyed Dubrovnik because it is a really a magical place. The European People’s Party Conference alone was especially important because it is held outside Brussels and Strasbourg. We were in a completely different environment with friends from here. They saw us in a relaxed mood, conversations outside of the conference were especially important because we exchanged different views. We learned a lot from these conversations as we see each other in natural surroundings. I really believe in decentralised conferences, this one was very important as it was held just a few months prior to your complete membership of the European family.
How satisfied are you personally with judicial reforms in Croatia?
You know, judicial reform was the last chapter that remained open. In fact I was very concerned with its contents. At the beginning when I took on the role of EU Justice Commissioner I came to visit your government and told them that if you want to join the EU you have to invest a super human effort in order to build a judicial system for the citizens of Croatia as well as an economy.
In order for the economy to move forward there needs to be legal security for investors. I have to say that Jadranka Kosor, followed by the new government, made exceptional efforts. I can now say that everything is not perfect but what has been done is a good foundation for the nation. I must repeat that reforms must continue and they must not slow down. It’s very important to continue building on the base because it will serve your country and Europe.
Although your field is not economics, looking at financial regulation in Croatia, do you think that a similar situation to that in Greece could occur?
Not one country is the same as another. The problems of your country cannot be compared to the problems of any other. I don’t believe that this country will collapse. We have a lot of faith that your capabilities can lift you out of the crisis. Economic problems do exist, however talking with your politicians during the conference, you must be aware of the market you are entering. We are talking about 500 million consumers who can help your small to medium size businesses. From joining the EU they won’t only have the Croatian market but the whole continent of Europe. This is an enormous opportunity for all and I believe it to be a road out of the economic crisis.
Do you consider Croatian bureaucracy a barrier for foreign investors and thus the country’s economic growth?
Of course, some things aren’t great and a lot of reforms still need to be made, this is the case with many countries and not just Croatia and so I will explain what needs to be done now as I did in other countries. In order to attract investors you have to have clear and operable laws. You have to have legal security so that in this way the investors feel safe to invest. In this area reforms will be necessary. This is such a beautiful place and it has to be a place where investment will be made in the future.
Comparing Croatia with other new EU members such as Romania and Bulgaria, how do you rate Croatia’s standing?
I don’t like to compare one country with another in a beauty contest, but I can say that the problems we had with Romania and Bulgaria, for example those concerned with the judiciary, we have said that we will never allow those things to happen again. We have learned the lessons. Something which is not right from the start is very difficult to manage and repair later on.
It’s much better to make a solid foundation and then build on it. We learned our lesson with the aforementioned countries and you can see that we have dealt with Croatia differently.
Croatia will have 12 MEPs upon entry. Will our voice be heard on such a stage?
Look, I come from a small country, one of the smallest in the EU. Compared with Luxembourg, Croatia is for me, a big country. We have a very influential President of the Euro Group we have an influential first Vice President of the European Commission. This should all be a very good example for Croatia to understand how the EU works. The size of a country is not important but the quality of the politicians that you send to Europe. They will represent you there and fight from the inside for your country. So, watch what they do and watch the countries even smaller than Croatia and do the same!
Do you believe that former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader’s corruption trial demonstrate a shift in attitude in Croatian politics and the judicial system? How did ‘Europe’ view the trial and its verdict?
I always respect the independence of the judiciary and so have never intervened in the functioning of the judicial system… I got to know former Prime Minister Sanader well over the years. He was a person that always fought for the start of the process of your country being accepted in to the EU. I respected that, as well as Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor for starting the reforms and President Josipovic who together with the PM said that he would break down the blockade to the building of the justice system. We look at those positive elements and leave the independent judiciary to do its job. I can’t comment on anything else.
Which three laws do you consider need changing most urgently in Croatia?
That is difficult, you have such a lot of work ahead of you and all of that has to place in parallel because for the building of a nation you have to have a strong voice on the continent. In order to have a leading economy you have to work on different levels such as the economy, the field of education, transport, judiciary and better capacity for investors through clear and transparent laws. There is a lot of work ahead for you and all your politicians, at a national level and at European Parliament they have to be in a position to make all the efforts to complete it. I can only promise you that you won’t be alone, we will help them!