An Interview an the Airport Schiphol

On Wednesday night, the neighbouring country officially celebrated the second anniversary of full membership in the European Union. As customary in such occasions, a few reminders and a few messages on the importance and consequences of that decision were written. Also, the individuals and their roles in long negotiations lasting eight years were not specifically mentioned. If they had been mentioned, they would have had to mention at least two and their unusual phone call at the very beginning.

Accession negotiations that were to start in mid-March 2005 were delayed due to the negative report presented by the then Chief Prosecutor of The Hague International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Carla del Ponte, just ahead of the negotiations.

On first days of October of the same year, her report was quite different. The change was due to the aforementioned telephone conversation. In the waiting room of a large airport Schiphol, she answered the call of Dr. Ivo Sanader, the former president of the Croatian government. I have good news, he said to her. It was only three days before her re-reporting to the working group of the European Union on cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. Sanader convinced her. Croatia began accession negotiations on October 4, 2005.

I met former Croatian Prime Minister, Dr. Ivo Sanader, in person only one time. And even that meeting was more or less accidental. On the way to Dubrovnik, to one of the shows of once famous summer games, I stopped near the town Trilj to observe the work on the archaeological project in the hamlet Gardun. It was an exploration of a large Roman military camp, Tilurium, which was led by the wife of the former prime minister, a prominent professor, Dr. Mirjana Sanader. I had lunch in Trilj, in the only city hotel “Sv. Mihovil”. The reason for such choice was simple. In the not-so-cosy dining room, as well as in the neighbouring restaurant named “Dva blizanca”, they offer you crayfish, frogs and eels. At the next table, a Croatian Prime Minister joined a relatively exquisite, as far as I recall a rather small company. He was at the peak of his political power. Hanging out with him was a sign of not only local prestige, reputation and power.

Then the lawsuits, accusations and oblivion came. He was arrested on the basis of final judgment. They took all the awarded state decorations from him because of his acts committed against public policy and moral values (such was the official explanation). After that, we were able to see him only in photographs from various court hearings and it seemed to remain that way.

This is why it was even more surprising a recent, and it was at the end of May of current year, news published in probably the most circulated German newspaper, that the decision of the Croatian Constitutional Court on Sanader’s request to check the legality of the judgment pronounced against him by the Supreme Court, was to be a sign if the neighbouring country respected the rule of law. The news itself would not be so understandable if it had not referred to some kind of European Commission reports which allegedly assessed the key tasks of Croatian government for reducing the budget deficit and creation of a reliable legal environment, and that at least five out of eight key tasks were not achieved. However, it was not the most interesting thing. Such news, not necessarily faithful to the principle of truth, usually occurs for a reason. We could read it later in the quoted statement of the long-time member of the German parliament and minister, Peter Ramsauer, that the evaluation of the following of the rule of law and an appropriate environment for foreign investments could be estimated precisely in relation to the expected decision of the constitutional judges in the Sanader case. That it would be a test for the Croatian state.

Ramsauer knows Croatia well. In mid-July 2006, he led big German parliamentary delegation to visit to Zagreb. He was met by all the then key politicians of the neighbouring country. He said then, in his closing speech, after a visit to the President of the Parliament, Vladimir Šeks, that he expected Croatia to become a full member of the European Union in 2009.

A father of such estimation was a German European Parliament member Elmar Brok. In August 2006, he was met by Ivo Sanader as a German member of the European Parliament and chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Right after that friendly visit, Brok organized thesis that Croatia is part of the ongoing process of enlargement of the European Community, therefore, not part of some type of future decisions about enlargement, but the last part of the ongoing process, according to the formula 10 and 2 and 1. Sanader added, in good mood, that it was the ten countries who became full members in 2004, as well as Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia. Brok also mentioned the year 2009.

In that year, on the first of July, Sanader unexpectedly resigned, as a prime minister and as a president of the ruling party. No one really knew why and why so suddenly. Only with a simple thank you for your cooperation and good-bye. One of the first who responded was Ramsauer. The resignation was a complete surprise, he said, because the two of us, I say, talked about many things during my friendly visit a few weeks ago, and nothing indicated such decision.

I refer to this to show that neither Brok nor Ramsauer are the newcomers in terms of familiarity with the situation in Croatia. On the contrary, they are connoisseurs who have access to the necessary public and less public information. Thus, their appeal to the Croatian constitutional court to carefully consider the decision on the Sanader’s appeal cannot be random. The question is whether it can be only a consequence of political friendship with an incarcerated former prime minister. Maybe, although it is also possible to connect non-random connection and answer in yet another unexpected response. Only a few days after the respectable German representatives, we could notice similar statement from Hungarian Minister János Lázár, on possible constitutional invalidity of finality of Sanader’s accusation. Of course, he meant the sale of Croatian oil concern “Ina” to the Hungarian oil company “MOL” and the active role of former prime minister in that decision. Croatia and Hungary have two arbitration proceedings exactly because of these transactions. The first in the USA’s capital where Hungarians are suing neighbours for breach of the purchase contract, and the other in Paris, where Croatia proves that the job is practically null due to corruption. The argument of such claim was the final judgment of Croatian courts in the “Ina-Mol” case. At the same time, at least occasionally it seems that both sides, far from the courts and the public, are simultaneously negotiating a possible way of termination of the contract. Most likely, both are waiting for the decision of judges of the constitutional court and negotiating advantages for that decision.

Regardless of what will be the decision of Croatian Constitutional Court, it will certainly have consequences in both arbitration disputes.