During Europe’s ongoing crisis, two countries have taken giant steps to come closer to the rest of Europe. For this Croatia and Latvia are Top Europeans!
Croatia and Latvia – Keeping the faith
Times have been tough for Europe. In perpetual political and economic crisis, it is almost astonishing that states would consider joining the political and monetary union. But, at a time when major states are discussing exit or fundamental reform, Croatia must be credited for signing up to and sticking with the EU accession process and Latvia must be credited for signalling that it will continue down the path to Euro adoption. In this age of doubt, both acts are a healthy reminder of the value of the EU – for this, they are this issue’s Top Europeans!
As late as 2005 there were books being written about ‘The European dream’. The promise was that a European confederation would soon eclipse the American dream as the peak of western civilisation, economic thinking and global governance. With strong optimism that a strengthened EU could act as a guarantor of peace and prosperity for its members in a newly globalised world, countries flocked to join and were welcomed with open arms.
Sadly, that dream has faded into crisis and the allure of membership has somewhat dissipated. The last substantial enlargement came in 2004 when the eight post-communist states joined up to the EU. A lot can change in nine years, and now Member States are more likely to be considering an exit or fundamental reform of the existing structures than allowing enlargement.
It is on the backdrop of this chaos that Croatia and Latvia have tied their fate to the European flag. That alone requires a Top European award! But even though there is little idealism left for Europe, these decisions remind the other Member States of a more substantial truth – for all its flaws, there are long term benefits to joining the EU and for those countries who are not already a member, that step may still be worthwhile.
It is on the backdrop of chaos that Croatia and Latvia have tied their fate to the European flag.
66% of Croatia voters agreed to Croatia’s accession to the EU in a referendum last year. Croatia’s access to the single market will boost its economy, encourage competition and (according to the European Parliament) give Croatia’s citizens access to the cheaper air fares and mobile roaming tariffs that the EU have written policy on. In the long term, one can expect that Croatia will become a full member of the Schengen Zone and after seven years of transitionary restrictions, enjoy full free worker movement. Bringing a spotlight onto these changes, Croatia has demonstrated why, for the last ten years, it has been working towards membership of, what some have called, the ‘evil empire’.
Lativa’s decision to move ahead with adoption of the Euro, having received the nod from EU officials, is even more remarkable given the current state of the Euro. But Latvia has a relatively strong banking sector and should not be another Greece or Italy. It is true that Latvia will have to battle against quickening inflation and concerns about large (Russian) foreign deposits that remain in its banks but in return, Latvia can (in theory) expect a tough but positive path to economic conversion with the stronger euro states. This step has not been well received within Latvia, but has refocused the continent’s attention beyond the stagnated crisis and onto the potential for a stronger monetary union.
Furthermore, joining the Euro always was, and remains, a political decision for Latvia. The country likes to view itself as a bridge between Eastern and Western Europe. Pushing ahead with financial ties ensures that Latvia remains anchored to the EU, despite its strong transport, language and economic links to the former Soviet countries. Edgars Rinkevics, Latvia’s foreign minister said it best when he noted “My main message is that Latvia is joining the euro as a geopolitical choice.” There are few geopolitical alternatives for many Member States and Latvia’s prioritisation of the EU over strong relations with Russia will remind many that there are few alternative political arrangements as secure as the the EU.
It is easy to forget that these processes of accession do not simply occur after a vote or referendum has taken place. Croatia has got to this point as through a culmination of many years of hard reforms, tough political debates and a few leaps of faith on behalf of the electorate. For Croatia and Latvia, their decisions create a welcome moment of self-reflection on both the benefits and challenges that EU/Euro membership bring. The above video demonstrates the welcome that they will receive (at least publicly) as part of the broader family of European Union states.
Will Croatia’s EU membership and Latvia’s shift to the Euro be a success for their citizens? Only time will tell. EU membership is not the end of the reform road, and Croatia will enter as one of the poorest Member States, but for the moment it is a welcome reminder to the other 27 states that the aims of the EU are still relevant almost 50 years after their initial founding. At this moment of great uncertainty that holds immense value. So for reminding Europe how the EU and Eurozone should be operating, we name Croatia and Latvia both this issue’s Top European!
Cover illustration: Laura Hempel