There have definitely been some benefits to Croatia through the process leading to E.U. membership (some of which I’ve seen firsthand), especially in terms of anti-corruption efforts and resolution to some lingering war crimes/human rights problems from the Balkan wars.
But there have also been some serious drawbacks, and the E.U. regulations and anti-tariff/subsidy rules are going to cripple a lot of smaller, locally-owned businesses and put a lot of workers in subsidized industries out of work. The latter has already begun due to forced-privatization as part of membership planning.
Generally, I’m supportive of increased international trade and decreased restrictions, but European Union governments over the past two decades have proved extremely bad at managing the resulting social/economic problems and helping the people hurt. This is only going to get worse with tightening budgetary restrictions from the eurozone crisis, as national governments are forced to cut deficits by cutting unemployment benefits, jobs programs, and social programs.
What’s more, the E.U. has — I now believe — been a fundamentally undemocratic, elite-level project from the start that has not brought the popular support I might once have expected because it has not helped average people.
Croatia, rather unusually, has taken the step of opening the membership decision to a popular referendum. However, this referendum is being held just 20 days after it was announced/scheduled, and the government is putting $800,00 USD in public money behind the pro-E.U. campaign, while the opposition coalition has just $5,000 in private funds to campaign against membership.
Even if one supports membership and the continued growth of “the European project” (despite the current crisis), this seems massively unfair and undemocratic and will continue the trend of the Union being a very undemocratic project executed in a deeply problematic manner.
A New York Times article yesterday provides a lot more specific examples of how the path to membership has both helped and hurt Croatia, and perhaps more importantly who’s going to benefit from membership and who’s not. Hint: A lot of big corporations from other E.U. countries are going to benefit from reduced trade restrictions and industry standardization. Local companies, not so much.