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22nd Feb 2020

Croatia gets EU green light, despite lack of reforms

  • Zagreb (Photo: Valentina pop)

The European Commission has given the go-ahead for Croatia to become the 28th member of the European Union, a landmark decision that critics say has more to do with politics than real reforms inside the Balkan state.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Friday (10 June) that the moment was right to close the four outstanding 'chapters' in Croatia's EU accession negotiations. The decision paves the way for Croatian accession on 1 July 2013.

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"I would like to applaud the Croatian authorities, in particular the current government, for their hard work over the last years," said Barroso.

The commission chief said his institution had "negotiated hard but fair" over the past six years of talks, "applying strict conditionality and making sure that all EU criteria and benchmarks are fulfilled".

EU member states still need to make their final evaluation before negotiations can be officially concluded, a move expected to be made on 21 June. But this is now considered to be a formality.

Croatia is then expected to sign an EU accession treaty this autumn, before the question of EU membership is put to Croatian citizens in a referendum a few weeks later. All 27 current member states will also have to ratify the treaty.

EU enlargement commission Stefan Fuele said Croatia had changed "tremendously" during the six years of EU accession negotiations, morphing into a "mature democracy based on the rule of law and into a functioning market economy."

But critics say Zagreb's reform efforts have been far from sufficient, warning that it is too early for the former Yugoslav country of 4.5 million citizens to join EU.

Author of a recent report on the subject for the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Dusan Reljic said the commission's decision on Friday merely represented strong pressure from member states such as Hungary, Germany, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic to allow Croatia to join.

"The commission is just responding to this mood which exists among the current member states," Reljic told this website.

"If you look at the commission's last fact-finding report on Croatia in February, you see it is full of criticisms. I don't have the feeling that all of this has been remedied in the short period of time since then."

The EU plans to monitor Zagreb closely between now and 2013 to make sure government reforms don't grind to a halt, but Reljic said this was likely to be purely "formal" in nature, with very little chance that "someone will blow the whistle and say 'hey, they're not fulfilling'."

"The whole thing sends a very bad message to the other western Balkan states. The message is that it doesn't really matter how well prepared you are if you have good friends. States such as Serbia and Macedonia without such friends are likely to be scrutinised far more."

Civil society groups inside Croatia also feel that the country's accession is being expedited without the proper reforms being carried out first.

Writing in a blog for EUobserver in March, Natasha Srdoc and Joel Anand Samy, co-founders of Adriatic Institute for Public Policy, said improvements in justice and fundamental rights - also known as 'Chapter 23' - were abysmal.

"Rather than implementing vital reforms, Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor's efforts against corruption reveal a deceitful cherry-picking scheme with the objective of completing EU negotiations by June, in the hopes of winning parliamentary elections scheduled for this year," they said.

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