RAD Talks with Sandra Perkovic Jakovina, Member of the European Parliament and RAD 2013 alumni

What is your strongest impression at the beginning of work in the European Parliament?

There is a slogan of the EU I'm particularly fond of that I believe many have heard: “United in Diversity”. This is precisely what I believed when I started my term as a representative in the European Parliament; and I can say that is what I have experienced so far.

Above all, the MEPs in Parliament, regardless of their nationality, religion, gender or color of their skin, are all fighting for the equality of every citizen of the European Union. These citizens have their rights but also their responsibilities. It is very important for me to bring the European Parliament and the EU in general closer to citizens of the Republic of Croatia. I think many Croatian citizens are not aware of the possibilities they have as citizens of the EU, so with my actions within the borders of Croatia I am trying to show the segments that have become a real and usable, and I believe that everyone (employers, workers, students, innovators and even unemployed, exporters, etc.) could find for themselves at least one of them. Everyone is talking about the EU – especially when it comes to withdrawing money from the funds, but that is not all what the EU offers. The market has expanded to various fields: for the economy, the placement of products and services has become possible in the whole territory of the EU, arrival of tourists is easier today, the unemployed have freedom of movement for the purpose of seeking jobs, which all means greater opportunities for employment; open doors of European universities for Croatian students and more possibilities to exchange professional experiences.

What are the key differences in relation to the representation of different interests in the national parliament? 

Firstly, on the national level, the power of the Executive emerges from the Parliament or the ruling political party and the government is dependent on the representatives of the majority in the national parliament. On the other hand, representatives of the EP are directly elected in elections all in order to represent the interests of the citizens at the level of representation in the EU and they are grouped according to their beliefs in the political clubs. At European level, the EP is one of the three interdependent bodies and it is specific being the only directly elected and therefore democratically legitimate body at EU level.

Secondly, the European Parliament adopts the laws in its jurisdictions at the EU level, while the national parliament retains its scope of work. According to the perception of citizens, national parliament is still closer to them and, more importantly, since the EP is “far away” in Brussels, citizens do not consider EP close and they think that it is an institution they cannot influence.

The paradox is that the EP has a major influence on the lives of citizens! As Croatian MEPs, we tried through EP’s work to emphasize the importance of our decisions and to bring the EP closer to citizens. But we're not the only member state that is facing this challenge. While this is a problem across the EU, I believe the “gap” can be minimized by the efforts of local media and MEPs. 

How are you satisfied with cooperation with MEPs from other countries?

In the European Parliament, as in any other "work" that we want to succeed, we must be united, we must work together, we need to find compromises and agree on them. Members of European Parliament act within political groups and parliamentary committees, and there is a large number of politicians involved, great people, top intellectuals who were not only voting machinery that votes as somebody says; they are working for the benefit of the community within the framework of European legislation.

So, based on my own experience I can conclude that cooperation with other members of the European Parliament, regardless of interest or political group they belong to, is very good and we all work for the same goal: transparency and democracy.

How hard is it to fight for the interests (voice) of a small country? 

The first thing is to accept that the European Union is based on the principle of mutual interest with majority with consistent implementation of the acquis communautaire.

As a representative of my political option in the Parliament I must have a defined position, but also as a representative of all Croatian citizens I must still take into account the national interests. So I repeatedly warned at the sessions and in my questions to the European Commission about unfair restriction of movement for citizens of Croatian that are looking for employment in the countries of the EU, and with my voice and joint efforts of MEPs we contributed to the plenary session of the Committee which has not adopted a proposal for fisheries of the Republic of Croatia that puts into question the survival of aquaculture and puts fish farmers at a disadvantage with the rest of the European Union. Also, that was a major blow to Croatian export. Series of consultations with relevant ministries, government institutions as well as some representatives of the Member States, which would, like the Republic of Croatia, found them selves in trouble accepting the controversial amendments, proceeded. So, it's not easy, not fast, but we have shown that with the joint efforts we can change things!

Is it possible to rank the top three issues on which the EP led fiercest discussions since your arrival?

First of all, I would like to mention here that all the debate and discussion in Parliament are fair and civilized (with some exceptions) in which each participant arguments represents a viewpoint with which we sometimes agree, and sometimes we have completely contradictory opinions. 

Great debates were about sexual and reproductive health and rights, where it was emphasized that it was important that the European Parliament stood in the protection of sexual and reproductive rights, while extremely conservative groups opposed.Unfortunately conservatives won. After that, I would single out the Directive on Tobacco or on the coordination of laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products that introduced a whole series of prohibitions, and obligations of the tobacco industry with the aim of awareness of young people and reduce the number of smokers because in this health-threatening habit still enjoys every fourth European. And as the last, but not least, I will point out the problem of migration and the issue of solidarity with Member States which are exposed to it, as well as solving problems in the countries from which migrants come. It creates, among other things, space for human trafficking, which we definitely need to put an end to. This problem has recently culminated in a referendum in Switzerland in which the majority of voters opted for the introduction of the annual quota for workers from EU countries.

Last but not the least, where are the Western Balkan countries (or better: their accession to the EU) on the agenda?

I believe that the Croatian accession to the EU supports the economy and reinforces peace and stability in the region, such as the promotion of stability, security and prosperity in the Western Balkans should be the top priority of the EU enlargement.

The European perspective of the region will gradually strengthen the resolution of various issues such as the status of Kosovo, the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also the question of Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro, where the European Union has encouraged economic and political reforms, promote stability, security and prosperity. All Western Balkan countries must establish a fully functioning judiciary, effective border control and achieve success in the fight against serious crime and corruption. They enjoy the full support of Croatia as an EU member. 

By including the Western Balkans on the agenda of the plenary sessions in January and February this year, the European Parliament showed that this issue is still high on the agenda of the EU, although many are continually trying to impose that the EU is tired of enlargement.