22nd Oct 2020

MEPs wrestle over report on Croatia's EU progress

  • Croatia would like to join the EU as early as 2009 (Photo: CE)

Members of the European Parliament are wrestling over a tough report on Croatia's path to the EU, with Zagreb lobbying deputies to get them to tone down the document.

The six-page draft report, prepared by Austrian socialist Hannes Swoboda, is particularly critical of Croatia's treatment of suspected war criminals as well as judicial and administrative reform.

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The report says that the "effective prosecution of war crimes is still being undermined by hostility at local level against initiatives questioning Croatia's role in the conflict."

It urges Zagreb "actively to encourage and support the prosecution of war crimes."

It also "deplores" the government's offer to help pay the defence costs of General Ante Gotovina and its offer to act as amicus curiae (a legal term meaning a third party offering assistance to a court) for this and other cases appearing before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

Gotovina – a hero to some parts of the Croatian population - was arrested in late 2005 on war crimes charges after years on the run.

But his capture came only after months of pressure from the EU which delayed by seven months opening membership talks because it felt Zagreb was not cooperating enough with the UN tribunal in trying to locate and arrest the fugitive general.

The draft also "regrets" that reforms introducing transparency will not enter into force until after the next elections and asks Zagreb's minister of justice to "submit promptly" plans to reduce the number of courts in the country "in order to make them more professional and efficient."

It calls on Croatia to implement "more seriously" reforms essential to a competitive market economy as well as saying it should "find an amicable agreement" over a borders dispute with EU member Slovenia.

Croatia lobbying

For its part, Croatia has circulated a paper refuting or explaining some of the points to MEPs involved in drawing up the report.

Its defence, almost as long as the report itself, noted that the government decided "to partially finance the expenses of the defence for General Gotovina - as it was the case for all Croatian generals accused in front of the ICTY, due to the lower level of their incomes."

It adds that it was for this reason that the "Council of the amicus curiae" was established, pointing out that its bid was rejected by the Tribunal in December.

Referring to the report's expressed concern about "flagging public support for EU accession" it notes that recent polls indicate that support is rising and is currently "about 53%."

On the border issue with Slovenia - which has interfered with its EU membership talks as all member states need to give the go ahead for negotiations to progress - it says the issue "of demarcation on the sea between Croatia and some neighbouring states still remains to be solved (especially with Slovenia)."

The lobbying on the report is a reminder both of the increasing role of the parliament and the effect its opinion has in these areas and of the fact that Croatia has slipped under the news radar in recent months.

Having been given the green light for EU talks at the same time as Turkey (October 2005), it has benefited from the fact that most of the attention has been turned towards Ankara's high profile clashes with Brussels, which resulted in a suspension of parts of its talks at the end of last year.

However, Croatia still has some powerful friends particularly within the European People's Party - of which prime minister Ivo Sanader's centre-party is a member - and among some conservative MEPs.

"I am satisfied with Croatia's progress. At the moment I do not see any problems on the Croatian side for EU entry before the European elections in 2009 if prime minister Sanader pushes on with his successful policies," said centre-right German MEP Elmar Brok.

MEPs had until Wednesday (1 March) to submit amendments to the report which will be voted on in the foreign affairs committee later this month, and goes before plenary in April.

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