A significant majority of the Dutch Lower House voted in favour of allowing Croatia to join the European Union on January 29. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a debt of honour needed to be repaid to this Balkan country by the old European Union, and that includes the Netherlands.

What is more, it is crucially important to Europe that stability returns to this area that was ravaged by war only 20 years ago. Membership of the European Union is one of the best ways of ensuring that this goal is achieved.

Procedure leaves bad taste

Nevertheless, this European Union accession procedure still leaves a rather bad taste in the mouth. One might expect the Union to have learned from the Romania and Bulgaria fiascos. In 2007, both countries were admitted to the EU, despite not being ready. Back then, political considerations took precedence over the clear European Union rules regarding the accession of new members.

The consequence is that, six years after being admitted, Romania and Bulgaria are still struggling to manage a poorly functioning constitutional state, blighted by widespread corruption.

Successive Dutch governments have rightly argued, at the European Union level, in favour of very strict compliance with what are known as the Copenhagen criteria, which state the conditions for allowing newcomers to the Union. As a consequence, the evaluation of Croatia was much more critical and was based on more stringent assessment procedures.

House still not in order

However, it should also be noted that Croatia still does not have its house in order, scarcely six months before the intended accession date of July 1. In October last year the European Commission published 10 points for improvement in its periodical report. The final verdict will be published in the Commission's next report, which is expected in March.

A large number of EU countries agreed to Croatia's accession even before the Netherlands. As is often the case in the EU, there is no going back and the accession train can no longer be stopped.

However, that train is, in fact, one of the most important reasons for the breach of trust between the European Union and citizens of the member states.