Report from European Parliament

by Brussels Gonzo (originally published on A Fistful of Euros

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.)


Another terrific post, Mr. Gonzo. It is persistently astonishing to me — as an American — how easily Balkan leaders can waltz into DC and glower, pout, bluff and lie to reporters, Congressmen and think tankers. Most of the members of the audience for the exhibitions just don’t do the simplest homework to prepare. It is more surprising to find — via your comments — that the EP has some similar characters. Thanks for your candor and wit in tackling it. Our papers don’t cover these issues in nearly the depth that they deserve.

Posted by: Richard at March 16, 2005 07:54 PM

Thank you for this full, and -I hope- honest report. Talking to the Croat TV HRT Mr Sanader continued with the same story; i.e. only two-three EU members were against, etc. etc. But in the evening news HRT showed how the very Mr. Sanader 4 years ago firmly declared Gotovina should never go to Hague.
As long as Croat politicians continue with their support to Gotovina (open or conceled) EU ministers decision was the only possible one.
Mr Haradinaj was Prime Minister of Kosovo and went to Hague, two Bosniak generals are in Hague, why should Gotovina be spared?
Let him prove that no crime was comitted during Oluja. But let him prove that in Hague!

Posted by: Seesaw at March 16, 2005 09:32 PM

Another excellent and informative post. Thank you.

I will note that “included in our government” can be stretched a bit. The former Romanian PSD government had an intermittent minority partner, PUR, which was “included” or not depending on whether you considered certain minor posts — head of the Agency for Small and Medium Enterprises, say, or Secretary of State for Tourism — as being part of the government. So if Sanader has a Serb or two tucked away, he might be off the hook on that one.

But yeah, politicians from the former YU are weirdly willing (and able) to lie in front of large audiences with a straight face. Djindjic, rest his soul, was very good at it. Slobo, of course, was the master. And still is; he lies his ass off, vigorously, loudly, and with great indignation, pretty much every day in the Hague.

So, by regional standards Sanader’s being positively straightforward.

Anyhow. Big picture: what happens next? Assume no Gotovina. Will Croatia not join in 1/1/07? What are the next steps?


Doug M.

Posted by: Doug Muir at March 16, 2005 10:24 PM

I don’t doubt that Sanader has charm and ability to lie with straight face. He spent part of 1990s as Split theatre manager.

At this stage, the best chance for Sanader – apart from Gotovina miraculously appearing – is in far right and Eurosceptic loons making a killing on the upcoming local and regional elections in Croatia. Sanader might use their success as an argument for quick admission – only that can prevent the palpable rise of Euroscepticism and anti-European feelings in general (see my blog for the results of latest opinion polls).

Posted by: Dragan Antulov at March 16, 2005 11:50 PM

Politicians always bend the truth, so holding Croatian PM responsible for spinning is a ridiculous argument to make.

There is nothing to argue about Gotovina and Croatian politicians’ idiotic desire to wink to the extreme right wing (which might be loud but certainly is not as big of a factor as is in, e.g., Austria or France).

However, I am puzzled by the logic of European politicians in this case. By speeding up the process of Croatia joining EU, they would easily defeat those Croatian forces which are not at the level of modern European standards. Instead, by playing Gotovina card, they actually fuel support for those extreme right wing forces. This might be the actual intent of EU since maybe there is no real interest for further EU expansion at this point. The miscalculation here is that this course of action is likely to create more problems in the region in the long run, leaving Croatia and others out of the EU, as well as creating a long term potential for serious instabilities that will happen a bit too close to EU to be ignored.

One would think that at least some of those working in Brussels have some brains. Apparently not.

Posted by: inferior european at March 17, 2005 05:15 AM

By speeding up the process of Croatia joining EU, they would easily defeat those Croatian forces which are not at the level of modern European standards. Instead, by playing Gotovina card, they actually fuel support for those extreme right wing forces.

Speaking as someone who may be totally misinformed, expecting the Croatian government’s actions to be marked by the rule of law as a prerequisite for membership doesn’t seem unfair. And, since neither Austria nor France has waged a nationalist war of independence ending in the wholesale expulsion of minorities of late, your comparison doesn’t quite work.

Posted by: Randy McDonald at March 19, 2005 01:47 AM

Algeria, Suez, Kenya, Western Sahara
The western european slate is not quite empty.
But in last consequence this is a political question. Europe allows its members to not prosecute ordinary criminals.

Posted by: Oliver at March 20, 2005 02:06 AM

One thought on “Report from European Parliament

  1. There’s another book on the Smith sisters – “The ladies of Castlebrae” by A. Whigham Price. Foreword by Eric Newby. (London: Headline, 1987). My dad taught with “Whig” at Hild and Bede in Durham, and later did some photography for his autobiography, including photographing former master of Clare Mansfield Forbes. He mentioned the Clare connection, and “Whig” sent a signed copy for my birthday in 1990. Sadly, I’ve not read it yet, but you’ve reminded me to add it to the “to read” pile!

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