Croatia Joins EU, Amid Strains

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from The Wall Street Journal,

raditional folk music and dancing along with a light show captured this city’s main square, which was ringed with blue-and-gold European Union flags and Croatia’s national standard, as the small Balkan country made its official, though bittersweet, midnight entry into Europe’s club of democracies.

It was a big step for Croatia, which emerged as an independent state from the bloody conflict that engulfed the Balkans in the 1990s as the former Yugoslavia disintegrated. The country worked for more than a decade to satisfy EU membership requirements.

“You have returned Croatia to its rightful place in the heart of Europe,” said José Manuel Barroso, president of the EU’s executive arm—the European Commission—in a speech at the official ceremony in Zagreb, the capital. “Croatia is well-prepared to join our union. Croatia has changed enormously.”

Still, the public mood here is far from celebratory. The country of 4.4 million is in the throes of a painful recession. Unemployment is more than 20%. And EU membership, once seen as a glittering prize, is now viewed with mounting skepticism. “We don’t know what to expect from joining,” said Dragutin Bobic, a 54-year-old farmer. “We’d be better off on our own.”

Croatia becomes the 28th member at a time when the EU is struggling to revive its overall economy and deal with a crippling debt crisis that has seriously strained political ties among its member states, amid a north-south divide of rich and poorer nations.

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