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25th Aug 2019

Time running out for Croatia's EU reforms

The structural reforms Croatia still needs to carry out are more likely to hold up its EU membership bid than the current border dispute with Slovenia, a senior EU official has warned.

"I would be more concerned about structural reforms [in Croatia]" than about the border dispute, Vincent Degert, head of the European Commission's delegation in Croatia told a group of journalists in Zagreb on Monday (20 April).

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  • Croatia wants to enter the EU by 2011, but reforms - in the agriculture sector, among others - could cause problems (Photo: Wikipedia.org)

Mr Degert spoke about justice reform, as well as the need to restructure Croatia's shipyards and the agriculture sector, as some of the key areas where progress is still needed.

"These are the hardcore reforms," he said, with Croatia hoping to finish membership negotiations within the next eight months and enter the EU by 2011.

Croatia's "capacity to deal with its past" is also a very important element, both concerning its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and "the capacity of the judicial system and the authorities in general to deal with the domestically prosecuted war crimes," Mr Degert pointed out.

There are around 30 cases a year in front of the Croatian courts on crimes committed during the 1991 – 1995 war in Croatia.

But the prosecutor has a database of some 730 crimes that have still not been investigated, while some old cases also need to be reviewed in order to check whether the verdicts pronounced in abstentia in 1995 are sustainable, the commission official explained.

Additionally, ICTY prosecutor Serge Brammertz at the end of last year signalled that potentially incriminating documents for the case of Croat General Ante Gotovina – who is accused of driving out ethnic Serbs at the end of the war in Croatia – were missing and called on Zagreb to deliver them.

Croatian reassurance

Several EU states have also expressed concerns about Croatia's cooperation with the UN tribunal.

"We are in a very thorough investigation," Croatia's justice minister Ivan Simonovic said, responding to the concerns.

He said that the chain of possession of the documents in question would be restructured by the end of next week and those found to have been having the documents last "might be prosecuted."

Defending the justice reform in his country, Mr Simonovic referred to the current reform of the penal code, which contains a provision that makes it possible to confiscate all property of people found guilty of organised crime activities and of their relatives, if it has not been obtained legally.

"It is a very sharp measure, but we believe it will be very efficient," Mr Simonovic said.

New meeting on the border stalemate

Meanwhile, the 18-year-old dispute on the delimitation of the sea border between Slovenia and Croatia has been escalating in the last months, after Ljubljana blocked Zagreb's EU accession talks in December.

The blockage is now threatening to delay the EU entry timetable targeted by Croatia.

An intergovernmental EU-Croatia conference planned for the end of March was postponed and is now scheduled to take place on Friday.

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn is to meet both countries' foreign ministers later on Wednesday (22 April) in Brussels in order to discuss his latest mediation proposal aimed at solving the dispute.

No major breakthrough is expected, however. Slovenia favours the commission's idea, while Croatia insists the row should be solved via the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Croatia accepts EU mediation in border dispute with Slovenia

Croatia on Monday accepted an EU proposal to set up an expert group that would help solve its border dispute with Slovenia and unblock its EU talks, but stressed that such a group should lead to the issue eventually being brought before the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

EU concerned over Croatia war crimes co-operation

While all eyes have recently been focused on Croatia's dispute with Slovenia over their common border and the blockage this has caused to Croatia's EU accession talks, a number of EU states are now also concerned about Zagreb's co-operation with the UN war crime tribunal in the Hague.

EU split on Western Balkans accession

Europe's credibility is at risk in the Western Balkans, half its member states have warned - but EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Albania and North Macedonia unlikely to start accession talks soon.

Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal

Serbia will never recognise Kosovo, Serbia's foreign minister has said, as the Western Balkans heads into a new period of turbulence.

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