I promised to report back here on the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee meeting today on Croatia. It took place immediately after the EU Foreign Ministers had announced that because of Croatia’s failure to deliver fugitive general Ante Gotovina to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague, negotiations on Croatia’s EU membership will not begin tomorrow.
To my surprise, the main speaker from the Croatian side was not their Chief Negotiator, Vladimir Drobnjak, but the Prime Minister himself, Ivo Sanader. He made an extremely good impression on MEPs. I personally was much less impressed; he told three blatant untruths in his opening remarks, which disinclines me to take particularly seriously any of his statements about how hard his government is really looking for the fugitive general.
Harsh language, I hear you say; A Fistful of Euros does not normally accuse heads of government of telling fibs. Well, I’ll be quite specific. He said that only “a small minority” of member states supported the tough line on Gotovina. The reverse is the case; only the ex-Hapsburg countries supported Croatia’s demand to begin negotiations immediately. He said that his government coalition includes members of the Serb minority. This is not true. Serb MPs support his government, but are not part of it. And he said that the European Parliament’s Croatia delegation unanimously supported his government’s position that the negotiations should begin anyway. In fact at least one MEP (Gary Titley) on the delegation did not. There is no question of translation errors here – Sanader made his presentation in fluent English.
I’m sorry to say that Sanader almost completely charmed the European Parliament, starting with the Croatia delegation and the entire European People’s Party, but (it seemed) a majority of the rest of the groups as well. Part of this, of course, is the Parliament’s continued resentment that it is not involved by the European Council in important decisions on foreign policy. (If it had something worthwhile to contribute on foreign policy debates, I would be more sympathetic than I am). Part of it is also that like most MEPs, Sanader is middle-aged, male and overweight.
The MEPs got distracted, as so often happens, by a suggestion that the EU should set up a committee to monitor Croatia’s compliance with the Hague, at the same time as allowing negotiations to proceed on schedule – a silly proposal, which reached a nadir when the ridiculous Bavarian Bernd Posselt suggested that evidence from Western intelligence agencies should be shared with the European Parliament, and that the EU should not listen to the war crimes tribunal’s chief prosecutor because she is not an EU citizen!
The only sane notes were sounded by Dutch Socialist Jan Marinus Wiersma and Dutch Green Jan Joost Lagendijk, who both pointed out that perhaps the war crime tribunal itself is better placed than any outsiders to judge whether or not Croatia was cooperating adequately (though I did notice one Liberal MEP fuming in the aisles because she had not been called to make a similar point). I had some sympathy also with former Estonian foreign minister, now a Socialist MEP, Toomas Ilves who complained that the process is not very transparent; we all knew where we were, for instance, when Slovakia was being held back under Meciar.
EU member states probably do have sensitive intelligence information suggesting that Croatia doesn’t know where Gotovina is because they haven’t looked very hard. The European Parliament is understandably irritated that this information has not been shared with them, so naturally they tend to support the underdog, especially in the context of their perpetual struggle with the Council. But if I were in possession of such information, on the basis of today’s performance, MEPs are very low down the list of people I would share it with.
(Roll of shame of MEPs who supported the Croatian government: Elmar Brok; Hannes Swoboda; José Ignacio Salafranca; Erik Meijer; Lydie Polfer; Bernd Posselt; Doris Pack, of course; Milan Horácek; Vittorio Prodi. Two others, Anders Samuelsen and Justas Paleckis, made comments that were somewhat beside the point.)