The joke currently doing the rounds in Zagreb today, as the Croats go to the polls and decide on whether or not to join the EU is as follows:
"Joining the EU now is like showing up at a party at 2am where half the guests are drunk and the other half has already gone home".
Straying from the point for a moment it seems whether or not they say yes today they will ultimately have their arms twisted as the Croatian prime minister has stated that should there be a No today they will ask again in a years’ time. Sounds familiar? Denmark? Ireland?
So back to the referendum and it seems that there is widespread support for the EU project in Croatia, especially amongst the young, under 35's. After the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) western business leaders see low hanging fruit in terms of export and expansion to the Central European states and Balkans: Poland, Turkey, Croatia and more. The next billion TVs, mobile phones and PCs probably won't be sold in Western Europe or North America but in some of the countries mentioned above. These markets are growing, have a potential and a bright future ahead so why do they need the EU?
I asked this question to a successful restaurateur I got deep into conversation with recently in Istanbul. Having spent 3 months living in Istanbul almost 20 years ago on both of the occasions times I have returned to the city since then I have been met with a pace of progress and development in terms of infrastructure and development that really made me wonder this last time, as to whether or not Turkey or in fact many of the CEE states need the EU. Despite the abject squalor and poverty that prevails in Turkey and throughout the region, Turkey and is a nation of people with amazing talents within manufacturing, architecture and a refined and underrated cuisine to name but a few. The answer that our Turkish friend and indeed many other that we spoke to is they need the EU to ensure democracy, human rights and protection of minorities; as a kind of watchdog over their own leaders. It appears that they have little if any trust in their own political systems and leaders.
This leaves me sitting on a political and ideological fence form which I find it hard to climb down. On the one side I deeply respect and value the opinions offered up by the Turks I have met, especially when I consider that speaking freely about politics and society isn't always easy. On the other side is the attitude of the young Turks and Croatians a result of western ideology that has so pervaded their thinking that they trust EU politicians and bureaucrats rather than their own? Imperialism in a multilingual format wrapped in a blue flag with yellow stars? In Lagos Nigeria the state Governor Babetunde Fashola has done the nigh impossible and persuaded large numbers of the population to start paying taxes and with the proceeds introduced free health. Convincing a population where people have a deep seated aversion to paying into the common kitty for fear of corruption an misappropriation, is a pretty mean feat, and something that both Greece and Italy and potentially other EU members should take note of. Fasholas success, this proves that it is in fact possible to instigate change in Africa as an African born, raised and educated politician. So why not in Turkey or Croatia?