EU finalises Croatia membership treaty
Member states on Wednesday (14 September) finalised the text of the EU accession treaty with Croatia, set to become the bloc's 28th member in 2013. There are no safeguard clauses attached to the treaty as was the case with the last new members, but the European Commission will "monitor" Zagreb, pending ratification of the agreement in the 27 national parliaments.
Eight years after Croatia's initial bid to join the European Union, member states have agreed on the wording of the 350-page treaty spelling out the legal obligations and rights stemming from membership.
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According to the text, which is still to be made public after being translated into all 23 EU languages and Croatian, the Balkan country will become EU's 28 member on 1 July 2013, provided ratification is completed in all member states by then.
The Polish EU presidency meanwhile is pressing to have the signing ceremony in Warsaw instead of Brussels, so as to mark the tradition of eastward expansion of the bloc. But a final decision in this regard has not been taken yet.
Unlike Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the bloc in 2007 but were kept under a 'safeguard clause' which could have delayed membership by one year, EU states "have full confidence in the Croatian authorities" to tackle corruption, organised crime and to uphold human rights, a Polish EU presidency source said.
However, EU membership does not mean that Croatia will automatically become part of the border-free Schengen area comprising 25 countries, including non-EU members Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. "The Schengen [laws] are different and it will also change meanwhile, so Croatia's membership in that area will be discussed at a later stage," the official said, under request of anonymity.
The EU commission will continue to "monitor closely" reforms in Zagreb next year, as national parliaments in the 27 member states will have to ratify the treaty and may have extra questions before giving their green light, the source added.
But another EU official dealing with enlargement sees this "rush" to finalise Croatia's membership dossier as running counter to everything the bloc had been preaching so far in terms of clean government and rule of law, especially since it created an unprecedented monitoring system for Romania and Bulgaria after they joined.
With general elections scheduled for 4 December, just days before the official signing of the accession treaty, Croatian politics is already heating up, with Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor on Tuesday in face-saving mode after her party's accountant was arrested for corruption.
"This [the arrest] is an orchestrated campaign to minimise the [ruling party] HDZ's chances in the upcoming election," she said in a press conference. "They want to create the impression that we're all the same, that we're all dirty, that there are factions fighting amongst themselves in the HDZ".
It is precisely political corruption and 'going after the big fish' that the EU had requested from Zagreb before closing the negotiations.
Kosor took over the government from Ivo Sanader in 2009, after he abruptly resigned. He was later arrested in Austria and extradited to Croatia to face charges of embezzlement of millions of euros through state-run companies.
The crookedness of state-owned companies was also highlighted in one of the US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.
According to Zagreb airport director Tonci Peovic, who spoke to US diplomats in February 2010, state-run Croatia Airlines "is in major need of restructuring, but the minister of transport is in a politically weak position. The case illustrates the dysfunctional role of the state in key economic sectors".
US diplomats noted that the weakness of the ministry is also due to "numerous scandals and mismanagement allegations, including allegations of corruption in roads contracting and several rail accidents".