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23rd Feb 2019

Croatia hopes to join Turkey for EU entry talks

Croatia is hoping to receive a more positive signal from EU foreign ministers this week, after moving to step up its co-operation with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

"It is up to the member states to decide when to open the negotiations, but we hope it will be as soon as possible", Croatian foreign minister Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic told MEPs in the foreign affairs committee on Tuesday (30 August).

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She said her country is basically prepared to start the EU process right away, and would like to join the bloc within three years.

Set to open talks in March, Croatia was rebuffed by the EU after member states agreed that Zagreb had not been co-operating enough with the UN tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia (ICTY) which is looking for the war crimes suspect, general Ante Gotovina.

However, Croatia is hoping for a major breakthrough by October, when the EU plans to open negotiations with Turkey.

It points to a series of internal changes in the government and the stepped-up cooperation with foreign security services in the search for Gotovina.

But in the meanwhile, support among Croatians for EU membership has dropped sharply over the past months, Mrs Grabar-Kitarovic admitted, adding that the country's leaders hope it will move up again once the current stalemate is over.

Case of Gotovina

Referring to the search for Gotovina, the foreign minister said "believe me, there is absolutely no hidden agenda behind this issue".

She denied allegations that the government has been in touch and negotiating with the general.

She said the current government had taken a series of steps that should convince the EU.

The Hague: Progress made, but insufficient

According to a UK presidency spokesman, the EU's special taskforce on Croatia received an encouraging letter from The Hague in July, concerning the moves and commitments by the centre-right government of Ivo Sanader.

Reporting on her observations to the UN Security Council, the chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte said "Until Gotovina is in The Hague, or until Croatia is providing the precise whereabouts of this fugitive, it is impossible to say, however, that Croatia is fully co-operating with the ICTY".

This also remains the current official position of the EU.

"Croatia has still not proved its full cooperation with the Hague, required as a condition for it to open the negotiations", a UK's presidency spokesman told the EUobserver, adding that this would be the starting point for the debate of foreign ministers this Thursday (1 September) in Britain.

Austria, strongly in favour of Croatia's EU membership, wants to push for a move on Zagreb at the meeting, but has not acquired more evidence since the last meeting of a special taskforce on the issue, according to Austrian officials.

While ministers are not expected to take any major decisions, officials expect they may at least agree on the next session of the EU taskforce on Croatia.

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