The Republic of Croatia has been an EU Member State since July 1, 2013. Croatia’ s EU accession was the only one completed that year, the last since Romania and Bulgaria acceded in 2007, and would remain the last EU accession for more than five years to follow.
The accession was the result of a long period of negotiations and harmonization of domestic legislation with the acquis– the common law of the EU, accumulated for decades. The process, especially in its latter years, was a hectic one, with numerous legal adaptations being adopted in a very short time-frame in order to achieve compliance with EU law – according to GONG’s record of parliamentary activity in mid-2013, 145 laws were enacted in a total of 266 hours of parliamentary sessions, each discussion was given only 80 minutes, and as many as 81 laws out of 145 proposed were passed unanimously.
You can say that the EU accession was a policy priority, yes. But that was the case if you were to ask the political elites of the day.
However, public opinion on the matter was not as informed as you might expect. It is safe to say that very little effort was put in on part of politicians to inform citizens about what accession to the EU would mean for their everyday lives, how it would reflect on their standard of living, business opportunities, the quality of life in their communities, or any of another number of aspects of rights and responsibilities that come with EU membership.
One should also take into account the prolonged effects of the economic recession on Croatia. An Eurobarometer survey conducted in May of 2013 – immediately pre-accession – gauged negative economic outlooks in as many as 97% of those surveyed in Croatia. In addition, the EU conjured a “neutral” image in the minds of 36% of those surveyed at the time – hardly an enthusiastically optimistic public attitude towards imminent accession, quite likely also to do with the situation at home. Simply, not much information was provided by the authorities about what EU membership would entail and how Croatia might benefit from it.
With a low level of public awareness about what the EU and EU policies entail, we could hope that educators have a much clearer picture and that future generations would be better informed by virtue of schooling. However, education about the EU – and more importantly, education for teaching about the EU – has never been a matter of priority in the Croatian education or teacher training system. GONG’s own experience with conducting training activities for teachers still often pictures the EU as a political entity which exists as a sort of extraneous fact to Croatia, somehow at the same time distant and overbearing, with over-regulation and bureaucratic bloat as its main reflections on Croatian citizens’ everyday lives, apart from the ability to travel and work abroad which has surged in recent years.
GONG has attempted to play a role in contributing to teachers’ EU education through their own programmes of non-formal education, one of which bears the name EU Literacy. This education module consists of a training conducted by GONG staff along with experts from the academic community, and has been implemented for several years now. Some teaching materials are available in Croatian, as is an online quiz, to begin with. We feel that these might be good starting points to start informed discussions about the EU, providing a number of things worth knowing without being too similar to school lectures. We like to leave that to the teachers.