21st Feb 2019

Croatia leaps forward in EU membership talks

  • Significant progress is expected during Friday's accession conference (Photo: EUobserver)

Croatia's hopes to be the European Union's next country to join the bloc were given a boost on Friday(2 October) as the Balkan nation resumed membership negotiations.

The talks are being restarted now that a border dispute between the former Yugoslav nation and its neighbour and EU member state Slovenia is to be put to arbitration overseen by Brussels.

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The 27-country bloc and Croatia opened six new chapters and closed a further five of the 35 policy areas that are up for negotiation at an intergovernmental conference (IGC) in the European capital.

"I would say that this is not only a win-win situation for Slovenia and Croatia, it's a win-win-win, because it is also a victory for the European Union if we can unblock the negotiations with Croatia and see that the border dispute is settled," enlargement comissioner Olli Rehn told reporters.

Zagreb has now opened 28 chapters and closed 12. Croatian europe minister crowed that the leap forward had been "the biggest of any IGC so far."

On Friday, the two sides opened chapters on free movement of capital; agriculture and rural development; justice, freedom and security; food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy; taxation; and regional policy and coordination of structural instruments.

The chapters on freedom of worker movement, company law, Customs Union, Statistics and European networks were closed.

Mr Rehn said that Zagreb still has some "homework" left to do in the realms of judiciary reform, the fight against corruption and the return of refugees.

"Full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is a necessary condition ahead of accession to the EU," he said.

"Very substantial progress has been made," said Carl Bildt, the foreign minister of Sweden, which is currently chairing the EU's six-month rotating presidency. "It's a critical day."

"It's a signal for the entire (Balkans) region and a signal of the process of European integration continuing to move forward," he added.

The border row, which centred on Zagreb and Ljubljana's inability to to agree on their common land and sea border, had held up progress in Croatian membership talks since last year, although the dispute dates back a further 18 years to the start of the break-up of the Yugoslav federation in 1991.

Last December, Slovenia blocked Croatia's accession negotiations over the issue.

Rights to a patch of the Adriatic Sea close to the Slovenian city of Piran that Slovenia argues would secure its ships direct access to international waters has proved especially controversial.

In September, EU enlargement commissioner Ollie Rehn had said he thought Croatia could complete its membership talks by mid-2010.

Now that the border dispute has been removed from the enlargement discussion, some of the thorniest issues are now likely to include the fight against corruption and crime.

Sweden, which currently holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency, is planning at least two more intergovernmental conferences in November and December.


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