At midnight on Sunday Croatia became the 28th
country to join the European Union.
In the historic city of Zagreb, the
flags and partying in
Square carried on into the early hours as Croatians celebrated their
entry into the powerhouse that is the EU, swelling its 504 million to
508 million people.
It’s an exciting time for Croatians. With a
population just a little smaller than Scotland’s at 4.4 million, this is
a country that endured horrific violence and persecution in 1995. Young
people, just in their twenties now, recall fear and enforced relocation,
the sounds of bombs and gunfire and the planting of landmines that still
make many rural areas unsafe.
Ivana Milan is a post-graduate student at the Law
Faculty of Zagreb University. Her story reflects the personal tragedies
of so many people in the civil war: “My parents had just finished
building their house in a small village close to Sibenik when the war
began. My father had been in the army and was then farming. I was about
seven and the whole family had to leave the new house and move into a
hostel in Split for the next five years.
“When we went back to the house, it had just
completely gone. There was nothing there any more. The Serbian rebels
had moved in and then destroyed it. We had to start again, with the help
of government funds, to rebuild that house. It took my father years to
Ivana’s home is still surrounded by landmines in the
surrounding hills that are part of the family land. She is hoping that
membership of the EU may help her country to finally clear that
Ivana Milan near Arthur’s Seat on a visit to
Edinburgh last year.
Croatia’s challenges are a world away from
Scotland’s. Unemployment is high but much lower than in Spain and
opportunities for access to competitive markets are limited at the
moment. Membership of the EU can change that. The acquisition of new
European funds will help to build new businesses, employment and
regeneration. The EU budget, already at €94.2 million for 2012-13, will
benefit from an extra €60 million in EU Structural Funds during the six
months from entry until December.
But perhaps more important are the range of
opportunities that the EU will bring to Croatia, as well as the
advantages that having a new member country will bring to the rest of us
At a time when the EU’s own economy isn’t in the best
condition, when scepticism about it is high and both Westminster parties
are set on a withdrawal referendum, why does Croatia want to join
anyway? Why is there a stream of other countries that see joining as an
ambition and why does Scotland want to stay within the family?
For me the answers are obvious to Croatians: No
customs controls at internal EU borders so no more lengthy waiting to
get into Slovenia or Hungary or further on into the EU. Less hassle for
the movement of both goods and people.
Easy people movement, access to more products of
better quality and at a lower cost will bring consumer advantages. For
instance, since 1992 the price of airline tickets has fallen by 40 per
cent in the EU and roaming charges for mobile phone calls will soon
Families wanting to buy a house or a new car will get
loans at a lower rate and there will be new opportunities for
partnership and networking with similar industries within an enlarged
The fundamental right of every EU citizen to work
freely in any country within the EU is one of the many freedoms
enshrined in the EU Treaty. That free movement will bring new skills
into Croatia and allow Croatians in turn to bring their own skills into
other EU countries. That helps match available skills with labour market
Croatians are not going to race in their thousands to
live and work in other EU member countries, but the in and outflows of
labour will spread skills and opportunities right across the Union. That
is good for everyone.
Avis Benes, who is in charge of the EU Information
Centre in Zagreb, says: “As Croatians, we are so pleased to be a full
member of the European family. I know that our future economic
prosperity and our entire infrastructure is now on the road to a great
Change always brings anxiety. There will be many in
Croatia who feel insecure about their future, but when they see what
Europe brings, that will alter.
It’s a little like voting for Independence here in
Scotland. Change is both exciting and it can be unnerving if you aren’t
too sure of the facts. The current situation of being controlled by
Westminster in so many ways just isn’t working for Scotland.
We must grasp our own future in our own hands and
move forwards to a prosperous, fairer, democratic Scotland.
First Minister Alex Salmond and 69 SNP MSPs came into Government in
2011, he said: “This party, the Scottish party, the national party,
carries your hope and we shall carry it carefully.”
was an interesting article about her in the Daily Record this week which
you can read at