Tuesday

4th Oct 2022

EU constitution problem will not hinder accession, Croatia told

Croatia has been told by EU officials that it is possible to enter the European Union even if the bloc has not sorted out its institutional problems.

"We have been reassured by a number of people from the commission and from the EU member countries that should there be no constitutional arrangement that there are other means (...) that would provide for Croatia to join as the 28th member," Croatia's foreign minister Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic told EUobserver in an interview.

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Explaining that the current Nice Treaty "provides for 27 member states" the minister noted that institutional issues - such as the number of MEPs the country has, as well as its voting weight in the law-making council - "need to be defined."

She suggested there are two ways it could be done if the EU fails to agree a new treaty by 2009 - both the EU's own institutional reform target date as well as the year that Zagreb would like to join the bloc.

One possibility would be either to amend the Nice Treaty itself or to add details to Croatia's own accession treaty - a document laying out the terms of Zagreb's EU membership.

Croatia prefers to tack on institutional changes to its accession treaty, which would go through national parliaments for approval rather than the more perilous route of possible referendums if the Nice Treaty is altered.

"It's a decision for the EU, [but] perhaps it would be simpler, where Croatia is concerned, to look at our accession treaty," said Ms Grabar-Kitarovic.

The minister also went on to say that the EU should look at Croatia in terms of its merits and not through the prism of whether its institutions are in order, with the European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso among those suggesting that the EU needs a new treaty in order to further enlarge the union.

"We hope that the EU will continue to base enlargement on an individual approach of every country to follow the pace of reforms and its readiness and its determination to continue with reforms," said the minister.

"Judge us on how we are doing and let's find a solution to set the institutional framework so Croatia can join as the 28th member."

On Croatia's progress towards the EU – it started accession negotiations in October 2005, and has since fully closed two of the 33 negotiation 'chapters' on science and research and education and culture – and has several others open, the minister expressed confidence.

She admitted that there are problems in the country particularly concerning corruption – a point raised by EU member states at a regular meeting with Zagreb yesterday (6 March) – but noted the government is working to change the situation putting anti-corruption measures in place and "solving concrete cases of corruption."

Ms Grabar-Kitarovic also expressed a wish that negotiations would go faster.

"We hope that the EU will also keep, and even speed up the momentum of negotiations at this point (…) so that we don't lose any time."

But she also indicated that the EU does not hold all the bargaining chips.

While EU membership is a "great motivator" for reform in Zagreb, Croatia is also important for "peace and security in south eastern Europe" and for showing to others in the region what this reform can bring.

"Croatia has obviously taken a leading role and it has become a model for the countries in the region that the efforts that you invest in reforms at home will be rewarded by appropriate steps on the way to EU and NATO membership."

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