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25th May 2019

Croatia defies Barroso on new EU treaty

Croatia has said that only small institutional arrangements in the EU would be enough for the country to enter the bloc, challenging European Commission president Barroso's stance that a completely new treaty is necessary before accession.

Croatian foreign minister Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic told members of the European parliament on Thursday (05 October) that Zagreb is ready to help out with suggestions in the ongoing EU debate on institutional reforms.

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  • Zagreb: Croat officials disagree with the European Commission's assessment of the problem (Photo: wikipedia)

"We are ready to contribute to the [EU] debate for some institutional arrangements to be found in order for Croatia to become the 28th member of the EU," she said.

Expanding on the minister's remarks, Croatian government officials said that if the EU is not be able to reach a deal on the bloc's shelved constitution by 2009, a special arrangement could be found in order to allow the most developed Western Balkans candidate to become the 28th member of the bloc.

The head of the Croatian negotiating team, Vladimir Drobnjak, told EUobserver that there are legal ways to simply adjust the EU's current Nice Treaty, which is designed for the functioning of the EU institutions only for 27 members.

"The current framework could be expanded in order to accommodate Croatia as the 28th member. Legally speaking this special institutional arrangement could be adopted by including it in the Croatian EU accession treaty," Mr Drobnjak said.

"Considering that a political decision on Croatia's accession negotiations has been taken, that negotiations are proceeding well and that Croatia enjoys broad support among the member states for entry into the EU, once the negotiations are successfully concluded and all necessary conditions met. This is primarily a technical issue and much less a political one," he added.

Zagreb's stance comes as a direct challenge to the position of the European Commission, with Mr Barroso earlier this month saying that Croatia can only enter the EU when the union reaches agreement on a full new treaty.

Mr Barroso made clear on 25 September that small treaty changes would not be enough, explaining that "that is the time to take a decision on the constitutional treaty."

The EU's current Nice Treaty obliges member states to change the composition of the commission after the bloc has let in its 27th member - sparking the need for reform in any case before Croatia can join.

Asked about Croatia's different view on the issue, Mr Barroso's spokesman declined to comment directly but said that "all possible efforts should be made to achieve the constitutional arrangements in 2008," adding that "we are not yet there."

Seat around the drafting table

The Croatian chief negotiator also suggested his country should have an observer seat at the expected new round of talks between EU capitals and institutions on the fate of the EU constitution, expected to start in some form next year.

"When EU member states launch the debate in 2007 during the German EU presidency on the constitutional issue - which could include the arrangements for accepting new members - we would like to be an observer to these discussions and have Croatia included in the new document that will come out as a result of these discussions and could be completed by the end of 2008," he said.

Zagreb launched EU membership talks with the EU in October last year, at the same time as Turkey, and is strongly lobbying for accession process to be separated from Ankara.

The Croatian government believes it will be able to end negotiations by 2008 and eventually join the EU in June 2009 - the date scheduled for the next European Parliament elections.

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