Fighting Corruption in Croatia with the Prospect of European Union Membership: On the Non-Sustainability of EU Conditionality in Policy Fields Governed by the Soft Acquis Communautaire and Lessons Learned from the Previous Enlargements to Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania

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"Greek tragedy is based on myth, and Croatian on corruption." (Ivica Djikic) (2)


Croatia could conclude accession talks in 2010. Such was the message that awaited Ivo Josipovic upon his arrival in Brussels for his first visit to the European Union (EU) headquarters as newly elected Croatian President (3). However the positive statement has been counterbalanced by Brussels' officials reminding that Croatia still needs to fulfil some conditions prior receiving the membership sesame. Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, namely declared that "negotiations for accession could be concluded [in 2010], provided that all conditions are met" and specified that "Croatia has to make some improvements in certain areas" (Balkan Insight 2010).

Conditioning EU membership on the fulfilment of specific criteria is characteristic of the method used by the EU to prepare its enlargements. The pre-accession conditionality method was inaugurated in 1993 with the adoption of the so-called Copenhagen Criteria as a response to the application for membership by the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs), which were facing great challenges to conform their societies to European standards. Part of the Copenhagen criteria is the political criteria (4). These require the Candidate country to have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. Though not explicitly mentioned, the fight against corruption comes under the scope of the political criteria since the level of corruption is a crucial determinant of the quality of governance (Vehovar and Jager 2003) which in turn influences the quality of institutions. According to the conditionality principles, a Candidate country shall be 'ready' to be invited to join the EU, in other words all criteria must be fulfilled including that the issues related to corruption should have been tackled by the time of accession. However, empirical evidences backed up by international organisations' reports (5) demonstrated that the fight against corruption has experienced some backsliding in newly integrated countries and notably in Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria. In the particular case of Romania and Bulgaria, the situation is even more striking since the EU imposed on both countries a post-accession monitoring mechanism--the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM)--to control the appropriate implementation of measures intended to curb corruption. Obviously the similar backsliding pattern and the apparent lack of willingness from the politician elites to seriously fight corruption--and especially high-level corruption--cast some doubt on EU conditionality and its post-accession sustainability once the membership lever is gone (Epstein and Sedelmeier 2008; Sedelmeier 2008). The concerns with the actual long-term sustainability of EU conditionality are of the greatest importance since the instrument is currently used in countries presenting serious corruption levels such as Croatia. Since the launch of the accession negotiations in 2005, the European Commission (EC) continuously denounced corruption as a serious area of concern in Croatia. Relying on the previous Slovene, Romanian and Bulgarian post-accession experiences, a backsliding scenario shall be considered.

The study will demonstrate that a distinction should be established between hard acquis and soft acquis, the combination of the two constituting the acquis communautaire. The hard acquis refers to the rules that Member States shall comply with at the risk of being prosecuted by the EC as offender to the EU law. Hence the hard acquis encompasses all kinds of legally binding acts, from the Treaties and the currently enacted legislation to the verdicts ruled by the European Court of Justice and the measures agreed under both Foreign and Security Policy and Justice and Home Affairs. Unlike the hard acquis, the soft acquis refers to the rules that are not legally binding but that provide the Member States with certain guidance and recommendations. …


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