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Croatia’s Policy Niche


by Dr. Andrew Konitzer, Acting Director

The Center for Russian & Eastern European Studies

When accession to the European Union was completed on July 1, 2013, Croatia’s elites had fulfilled the country’s long-standing dream of leaving the Balkans and joining “Europe,” but they also placed the small state within a fundamentally new foreign policy milieu.  Having recently fought fiercely for their country’s independence from Yugoslavia, political actors needed a means to prevent the country of 4.3 million inhabitants from virtually disappearing into a larger 503 million citizen European Union.  Croatia’s elites faced the classic dilemma: whether to remain a small state dutifully following the decisions of larger actors, or to devise a means to fill the role of “small power,” shaping the policies of the Union to a degree disproportionate to the country’s diminutive size.  They opted for the latter, determined to find a policy niche that would allow the state to leave its mark on broader Union foreign policy.  Croatia decided to act as champion of further enlargement (or as it was carefully rephrased, “consolidation”) into the Western Balkans.  I’m thankful for the EUCE/ESC for awarding me a research grant that helped pay for travel to Croatia to conduct interviews to explore this foreign policy strategy.

            The choice of this particular policy niche, while perhaps strategically sound within the context of the broader EU political space, begs the question: How can a country that so recently celebrated an exit from the Balkans and whose recent history has left a complicated legacy of bilateral issues with neighboring aspiring EU members now use its “Balkan-ness” as the justification for taking on the role of Western Balkan enlargement champion?

            In supporting further enlargement, Croatia’s elite directly address the pessimism of various observers who expected that the state would fall into the same trap as other states in the region who wielded their EU membership as a tool to impose bilateral diktati on their neighbors.  However, the solution sits uncomfortably with the elite’s meta-narrative of what was actually achieved on July 1, 2013 and potentially underestimates the longer term domestic political stakes of some very real bilateral disagreements.  Croatia’s past leadership strove for and ultimately achieved the much desired “exit from the Balkans.”  However, the justification for Croatia’s role as champion of enlargement is based largely on its past as a Balkan/former-Yugoslav state and thus demands that it thrust itself once again into the Balkan space.  Furthermore, the difficulties with neighboring states are real and carry implications for domestic political debates and indeed the discursive struggle for the identity of the nation itself.  At a time when the Croatian economy continues to stagger along, the expected benefits of EU membership are difficult to discern, and developments in neighboring states are inconveniently thrusting identity and memory issues back onto the domestic political discussion.  Plus, the temptation for elites to use their newly received EU membership as a tool to force settlements and settle scores with neighboring states threatens to be stronger than any resolution or series of public statements.  Ironically, while Croatia’s political elite recently took on the title of enlargement champion, this same elite could present one of the major threats to that same process. 


From there to here…and back again?

            Croatia’s transformation into an enlargement champion is evident in numerous public documents, pronouncements, fora and other events designed to promote the membership of neighboring states.  Before leaving office, the previous center-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ)-controlled parliament passed a “Declaration promoting European values in South-East Europe,” which supported continued enlargement and rejected the use of bilateral issues to block future members.  The current government’s political program explicitly details Croatia’s interest in promoting the EU membership of its neighbors as a source of political and economic stability arguing that, “The advantages of our membership in the European Union will not be fully realized while the other states in the region are not members of the Union.”  Croatia’s government and executive branch have also hosted a number of major international events focused on bringing regional leaders together to discuss issues of regional cooperation, and frequently, enlargement.  The Croatia Forum, now in its ninth year, invites regional leaders to discuss issues of regional importance, and the 2014 forum was dedicated exclusively to the issue of enlargement.  The so-called Brdo-Brijune process was established in July of 2013, and held its third major meeting in Dubrovnik in July 2014.  The July 2014 meeting was especially notable for the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who went on to host Balkan leaders at the Western Balkan Conference in Berlin, in late August. 

            Interviews with elites across the political spectrum during the summer of 2014 painted a broad picture of universal support for enlargement.  However, when elites were pressed on the issue, certain important nuances emerged.  While the foreign minister and her associates stridently supported enlargement, opposed the use of membership to settle bilateral issues and even went so far as to propose a “new approach” for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), other members of the executive branch and ruling government took a more reserved “status quo” approach, which insisted that neighboring states would need to go through the same process of Croatia – regardless of specific difficulties.  More unsettling nuances emerged in the statements of representatives of the center-right HDZ, who seemed to focus on securing the rights and equality of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina and spoke firmly of Serbia’s membership process as a process more akin to redemption than rational, condition-driven reform.  Bilateral issues also figured more strongly in these latter conversations, but with the qualification that these issues would be settled through the negotiation process, not through bilateral vetoing on Croatia’s part.  What that qualification could actually mean in practice was never fully specified. 

            Certain events starting in the fall of 2014 had ambivalent effects on enlargement supporters and elicited more radicalized responses from the center-right.  In November, the pro-enlargement group centered around the foreign ministry received a boost when the Ministry’s “new approach” to BiH was suddenly espoused by Germany and Britain.  While the larger states hardly publicized this as a Croatian idea, the “German and British” initiative nonetheless gave some credence to the approach of the ministry and broader government. Unfortunately, larger, more public events overshadowed this success.  With a presidential election looming in December, 2015, the urge – particularly for the center-right – to mobilize more nationally-oriented supporters around the issue of protecting the rights of Croats in BiH and ensuring the resolution of bilateral issues with Serbia resulted in a spate of more aggressive statements by center-right political elites and eventually the HDZ supported candidate (Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović) herself.  The conditions for such rhetoric were only ripened by the return of indicted Serbian war criminal Vojislav Šešelj to Serbia, a seemingly quid pro quo release of Croatian war crimes suspect Branimir Glavaš, the ICJ’s simultaneous rejection of the Serbian and Croatian genocide cases and a more recent dispute over Serbian laws allowing the government to arrest and detain Croatian soldier and war crimes suspect, Veljko Marić.  While the shift towards more contentious rhetoric was observable mostly in the statements of center-right political actors, a recent statement by the pro-enlargement, center-left prime minister suggested that the law permitting Marić’s detainment could be the subject of bilateral vetoing.  This raises concerns that the tone of the debate has shifted so decisively towards a harder stance towards Croatia’s neighbors that even the country’s center-left is resorting to the threat of bilateral vetoing in order to save what little popular support they have left.

            Thus, there is ample cause for concern that the realities of Croatia’s domestic political scene will make it unlikely that future governments will maintain commitments to refrain from bilateral vetoing and “unconditional” support for its neighbors’ accession efforts. Obviously, such a development would further complicate the already challenging issue of continued enlargement into the region if the potential ‘local’ champion of expansion becomes yet another barrier to membership for BiH and Serbia.  Moreover, Croatia’s raising of bilateral issues as a barrier to its neighbors’ membership would only reinforce Union-wide stereotypes about the “troublesome Balkans,” thus sapping what little will remains for the enlargement process.  Developments in Croatia following the state’s coming parliamentary elections may have critical consequences for the region and the Union as a whole.


In Review

Conversations on Europe

On Feb. 17, the EUCE/ESC continued its monthly virtual roundtable series, Conversations on Europe, with a videoconference devoted to, “Whose Pivot Now?  Implications of Growing EU-China Ties.”  Moderated by EUCE/ESC Director Ron Linden (above right), panelists included Gemma Marolda (above far right), an EUCE Affiliated Professor in the Department of Political Science at Pitt; Isabel Hilton, Editor at, an independent, non-profit organization based in London and Beijing; David Scott, a consultant and retired Brunel University professor; and Jing Men, InBev-Baillet Latour Chair of European Union-China Relations at the College of Europe.

Women Leaders Globally 

On Feb. 27, Federiga Bindi, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and a Jean Monnet Chair at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, gave a presentation titled, “Women Leaders in International Relations.”  Dr. Bindi’s lecture included insights on the challenges women in leadership roles face.  Dr. Bindi, as advisor to Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, has also served in or advised governmental institutions in Italy, Portugal, Norway, and the EU.

EU-ETS Lecture

On March 3, Wil Burns, Co-Director of the Forum for Climate Geoengineering Assessment and Scholar in Residence at the School of International Service-American University, presented a lecture titled, “The European Union’s Emissions Trading System[EU-ETS]: Global Model or Regional Muddle?”  Professor Burns outlined the genesis and evolution of the EU-ETS, which accounts for more than 80% of the global market value of emissions trading, as well as the major problems that currently afflict it and their implications for long-term climate policymaking in the European Union.


A Visit from Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister

On March 18, the EUCE/ESC welcomed Joan Burton, Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister-Minister for Social Protection and Leader of the Labour Party.  The Deputy Prime Minister had the opportunity to meet with Pitt Chancellor Patrick D. Gallagher and learn about the Center’s programming related to Ireland.

Prior to her speech, Deputy Prime Minister Burton met with Pitt faculty and staff for a roundtable discussion about Pitt’s courses in history, culture, and Irish Gaelic.  Pictured left: Dr. Tony Novosel, Senior Lecturer in the History Department, presents the Deputy Prime Minister with a copy of his book, Northern Ireland’s Lost Opportunity: The Frustrated Promise of Political Loyalism, while E. Maxine Bruhns, Director of the Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs, looks on.



Coming Up

Simulation Workshop: “Acid Rain

in the European Environment”

The EUCE/ESC is looking for high school science and social studies teachers, curriculum coordinators, and administrators, along with Pitt’s School of Education faculty, to participate in a simulation and to provide feedback that will be used in adapting the game for high school curricula.  The Acid Rain Workshop will be held from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on May 9 in 4130 Posvar Hall. During the Workshop, you’ll participate in a hands-on simulation created by Reacting to the Past contributors Dr. David E. Henderson and Dr. Susan K. Henderson; then, you will share your expertise on how this game can be adapted for a high school audience.  Two weeks prior to the workshop, all participants will receive the simulation materials for review.  Participants will also receive a $50 honorarium for taking part in the simulation. Lunch and refreshments will be provided.  For more information on registration contact our Outreach Coordinator, Kathy Ayers at


EUCE/ESC Spotlight:

Harry Clapsis

This month, EUCE/ESC Newsletter Editor Gavin Jenkins interviewed alumnus Harry Clapsis, a Trainee at the European Parliament Liaison Office (EPLO) with the U.S. Congress.  As a member of Pitt’s 2014 class, Clapsis majored in Economics, minored in Political Science, and earned a European Union certificate.  A Massachusetts native, Clapsis was a member of the Resident Student Association and Orthodox Christian Fellowship, and also worked as a Senior Computer Lab Consultant.  Throughout his academic career, he gained experience through internships: with the office of Representative Jerry McNerney (D-CA), the office of Representative Ron Kind (D-WI), and the office of Senator Robert Casey (D-PA), as well as with the Department of State in Cyprus and Greece.


Q: What is it like being an EPLO with the US Congress?  What are your responsibilities?

A: Serving as an EPLO has been a great experience. This office is so unique; it is the only office outside of the European Union that is the manifestation of two legislative bodies liaising with each other. What makes this office even more interesting is that it is filled with staff from a variety of member states. As a result, I am able to see how people from such different backgrounds work together to further a common goal. This position has taught me so much more about how the European Parliament works following the adoption of the Lisbon treaty. The European Parliament has gained significantly more power, which means that the Parliament has gained an increased say in many issues of global importance. In the office, I’m the trainee that follows Congressional developments in the area of trade, with a particular focus on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). I assist with routine reporting back to Brussels, reporting that is augmented from meetings with governmental and nongovernmental officials. Finally, I provide support for visits of Members of the European Parliament.

Q: As a student, what inspired you to apply to so many internships, and how has this helped you? 

A: Even back in high school I knew that internships were the best way for me to learn. While classroom learning is very important, learning through doing was something that stuck with me a lot more. My first internship was in the US House of Representatives during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. With that internship, I gained my first real understanding of how Capitol Hill worked and how policy is advanced in Washington. I drafted constituent correspondence and attended a variety of briefings that were important to the work of the staff in the office. My next internship was in a US Senate office in Pittsburgh during the spring semester of my first year at Pitt. With this internship, I saw how members of Congress can have an impact in the day-to-day life of their constituents through their advocacy when constituents have issues with federal agencies.

            Immediately following this internship, I spent my summer back on Capitol Hill where I interned with another member of the House. With this internship, I did much of the same work as my first internship. However, my coursework at Pitt afforded me the opportunity to see how the work I was doing in the office contributed to the broader duties of a member of Congress. Having gotten my fair share of experience on Capitol Hill, I decided to look internationally. Naturally, I applied for an internship with the State Department, specifically with our embassies in Cyprus and Greece. The summer between my second and third year, I interned in the political section of our embassy in Cyprus. The following summer, I interned in the political section of our embassy in Greece. These are opportunities I wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of if it wasn’t for the generous support of the EUCE/ESC. With these internships, I met with a wide variety of interlocutors and drafted regular reporting back to Washington based on these meetings. Both internships gave me a first-hand view of developments in two fascinating countries. In Cyprus, I was in the middle of a conflict that has divided a country for forty years. In Greece, I was in a country that is seeing one of the worst financial crises that the world has ever seen. In both countries, I gained a great understanding of how the United States advances its foreign policy agenda through its use of embassies abroad.

Q: While at Pitt, you attended a lot of EUCE/ESC events.  Which ones were most helpful to you? 

A: While I loved most of the EUCE/ESC events I attended, I grew particularly attached to the Conversations on Europe. Being able to videoconference with top experts around the world is incredible. In Pittsburgh, we get to listen to the local experts on issues in Europe. With the Conversations, we got to hear from the experts that are actually working in Europe and have a first-hand account of many of the issues we were talking about. There is great benefit to hearing from people that are living, and not just studying.

Q: What would be your advice to undergraduates?

A: My advice to undergraduates looking to enter into government work is that internships are absolutely vital. In this increasingly competitive job market, internships are what truly set you apart. When you get a job at the entry level, employers want you to have a working understanding of what you will be working on. The best opportunity to gain that greater understanding is through internships. Going along with that, it’s important to build relationships with your colleagues at your internship. You are working with great staff that can teach you a lot about the field that you want to go in. Building relationships with staff will give you an even more in-depth understanding of their work.


With support from the EUCE/ESC, Dr. Diego Holstein (left) has been supervising sophomore Sam Blair (right) in a research project involving globalization.


EUCE/ESC Supports Undergraduate Research


by Gavin Jenkins

EUCE/ESC Newsletter Editor

This year, the EUCE/ESC, has again supported undergraduate research supervised by faculty.  This gives undergraduates a chance to participate directly in research projects and investigations undertaken by faculty.

            Sophomore Sam Blair has benefited from this funding opportunity.  Blair, who majors in Economics and Political Science, has been working with Dr. Diego Holstein, an Associate Professor in the Department of History and the Associate Director of the World History Center.

            Under the guidance of Dr. Holstein, Blair has been collecting scholarly books and articles relating to the history of globalization.  He does this using academic resources such as PittCat, Google Scholar, and the Historical Abstract Database.

            “At first, here was a slight learning curve to get used to the academic resource center, the library and using the tools to filter for a specific title or date,” said Blair, who also is the Director of External Affairs for the Model United Nations.  “I definitely have a better understanding of the process in general, which I’m very happy about.”

            Blair is planning on getting a European Union certificate, as well, and learning how to research a scholarly project will likely help him in the future, since he is interested in graduate school.  Dr. Holstein is the perfect faculty member to facilitate this type of experience.  He is in his fourth year at Pitt after having spent twenty years at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  His new book, Thinking History Globally, presents strategies in which to look at history in a way that transcends national and regional boundaries.  The working title of the project that Blair is helping him research is Globalization Blacklash.

            “The idea here is that in the 19th century we experienced a wave of globalization in which the world economy was fully integrated,” Dr. Holstein said.  “And then this integration was backlashed as a result of decolonization, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Depression, and the Second World War.  Then, after the Cold War, we all of a sudden became surprised that we entered a new phase of history named globalization.  So from a historical perspective we can see that the 20th century was a kind of parenthesis or valley between these two major peaks of economic integration. 

            “[This] is where Sam’s work comes in because he’s helping me now to revise the literature of the history of globalization in these two waves.  So his work is basically a thorough search of publications, both books and articles, and then starting to scrutinize these publications and in the next stage he will be classifying the different approaches and kinds of arguments for this overall period.”

            Blair, a Dayton, Ohio, native receives two credits for being Dr. Holstein’s Undergraduate Research Assistant. 

            “It’s very fulfilling,” Blair said, “because I possess a natural interest in history and political theory, which, the research seems to be a hybrid between the two, and I’m lucky to be part of it.” 

            Dr. Holstein said that he hopes to present his findings at a conference, and if he does, he would most likely ask Blair to accompany him.

            “The Center is very generous in providing this funding,” he said.  “I’m sharing a part of my work and in this sense, he is doing what I’m doing when I research.”