Brussels Connections: Post-EU Accession Strategy: Who Do You Call in Brussels?

Henry Kissinger once said: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” The same question can be posed to Croatian business interests in Brussels. It is still unclear who represents Croatian agricultural, food processing, oil and gas, defence or energy interests in the European Parliament (EP), European Commission (EC) or any other European “regulator”. The word on the street is the only groups visiting Brussels are still either politicians, diplomats or NGO representatives. Croatia is 8 months away from full EU membership and EU Ambassador Paul Vandoren confirmed this week in Zagreb and Dubrovnik that Croatia will become the 28th Member States on 1 July 2013.

Fully Towards EU
State-owned monopolies, such as Croatian Electra (HEP) or Croatian Post (HP), have already felt pressure arising from alignment with EU regulations and directives. HP has lost over 30% of the Croatian market share and HEP has yet to show how well they will face market liberalisation. This week milk producers have protested, asking for higher purchase prices; they also want their voice to be heard not only in Zagreb but also at the Directorate General for Agriculture in Brussels. Agriculture Minister Jakovina (SDP) will have to negotiate with Brussels and within his own government, in order to resolve this policy issue. When a business group needs a voice in Brussels, they go to their representatives in charge of European affairs. Croatian businesses will have adjust and start finding those representatives to be their “eyes and ears” within European institutions. Recently, the City of Zagreb has recently opened its office in Brussels to monitor issues related to EU funding and infrastructure development.

Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs
Like it or not, the EU will have a huge impact on Croatian internal processes and decision-making routine. Croatia will be “Europeanised”, meaning Brussels will play its role and policies will be closely monitored by EC experts and bureaucrats. This is a positive for Croatia, since government institutions have not made the necessary improvements in the last twenty years towards public consultations and lawmaking openness. New procedures will be introduced and supervised by the EC and OLAF (EU’s Anti-Fraud Office). On the other hand, with more consultations there will be more time for intervention and advocacy. The business sector will be under pressure to follow EU regulations due to its impact on day-to-day business operations. Companies will face the complex field of government affairs in Brussels. For example, online gambling issues/regulations or trade quota for sugar will be negotiated within the EC corridors of power. A range of issues will have to be addressed on a weekly basis. More research, dialogue and training are what are required, in order to be equipped and fully ready for the regulatory battles in the EU arena.

Partnerships and Allies
Working together with various partners and allies will also become crucial in ensuring the EC’s understanding and support…

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