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News 07 Sep 17

Angry Neighbours to Bar Croatia, Romania, From OECD

Hungary and Slovenia plan to stop Romania and Croatia from joining the world’s largest economic organization, citing disputes over minority rights and border demarcation.

Sven Milekic, Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Zagreb, Bucharest
Hungary and Slovenia announced they will veto Romania, respectively Croatia OECD membership over bilateral friction. Photo: OECD/Flikr

Romania and Croatia face a veto from their neighbours, Hungary and Slovenia, on Friday in Paris, when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, discusses their applications for membership.

Hungary on Wednesday said it would block Romania’s membership application over the closure of a Hungarian-language Catholic school in Transylvania.

Slovenia, meanwhile, said it would do the same for Croatia, which is accused of failing to respect an arbitration verdict on the disputed maritime border in the Piran Gulf.

Croatia's Foreign Ministry told N1 media on Wednesday that it was “surprised” that Slovenia did not plan to support Croatia’s entry into the OECD.

However, Slovenian Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec confirmed on Wednesday that Slovenia planned to withdraw its support for Croatia’s candidacy, accusing Croatia of disrespect for international law.

This referred to Croatia's decision to ignore the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration regarding the maritime border in the Piran Gulf.

He said he had “talked to the Secretary General of the OECD", Jose Angel Gurria, at an intergovernmental forum held in Bled, Slovenia, last week

"I clearly told him [Gurria] that we can’t agree for a state that does not respect international law being a member of the club of the most developed countries in the world,” he said.

Erjavec also said Hungary is also thinking allong the same lines because of alleged problems with implementing an arbitration decision over the future of the Croatian energy company INA, in a case which Hungary's MOL won against Croatia.

However, it is Romania that will most definitely face a veto from Hungary.

Budapest on Wednesday said that it would oppose Romania joining not only the OECD, but other international organizations as well.

The two states have long argued over the rights of Romania’s large Hungarian minority located mainly in Transylvania.

Scores of parents and students in the town of Targu Mures have protested over the closure of the Hungarian-medium Catholic secondary school in the town, after Romania’s anti-graft watchdog, the National Anticorruption Directorate, prosecuted two local officials for setting up the institution using forged permits.

In June, a local court ordered the school to close and barred it from starting courses in a news school year. The students were offered a chance to finish their education in different institutions, but they refused because two of the three schools on offer do not teach in Hungarian.

“Hungary sees Romania’s decision as an attack on the Catholic Church, on the Hungarian minority, on the affected children and families. It’s a very unfriendly and very serious step from Romania,” Magyar Levente, from the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, told Hungarian state agency MTI on Wednesday.

Romania’s Foreign Ministry said it regretted the dispute. “The Romanian authorities regret that this topic, which does not affect the right to education of the Hungarian minority in Romania, has been turned into an electoral campaign topic in Hungary,” it said. 

Hungary will hold parliamentary elections next spring, and Hungary has awarded citizenship to a large number of Hungarians living beyond its present borders, mainly in lands that formed part of the old Kingdom of Hungary before World War I.

By 2015, Hungary said 700,000 Hungarians living in Transylvania, Romania, in the northern Serbia province of Vojvodina and in western Ukraine had been granted citizenship and are therefore able to vote in elections.

Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose said on Wednesday that he also believed Hungary's ruling Fidezs party was making an appeal to voters in Romania.

“I don’t think this is the right direction. We will try to explain what is happening exactly, it’s a justice matter, and a wrong approach in communication. We’ve always had problems before elections in the neighbouring country. The biggest mistake is to make them bigger than they really are,” he said.

Founded in 1961, OECD was initially created as an organisation gathering states from the non-Soviet block. It turned into a worldwide intergovernmental economic organisation gathering 35 most developed states in the world.

Croatiasent a letter of intent about joining the OECD in January. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said that OECD membership would represent Croatia’s “final legitimacy regarding the state of the economy, fiscal responsibility and functioning of the rule of law”. Plenkovic said membership would be an important asset in attracting foreign investors.

Romania applied for OECD membership in 2012. 

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