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5th Feb 2023

EU says Croatia set to close membership talks in 2009

  • Fishing in Croatian waters by EU countries will not be limited (Photo: EUobserver)

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso on Thursday signalled that Croatia should be able to conclude EU membership talks next year in a move seen as rewarding the country for its suspension of a protected ecological and fisheries zone.

"I have every confidence that Croatia will be able to meet the conditions...It should be possible to conclude the technical negotiations next year, preferably by the end of the mandate of the Commission (in November 2009)," said Mr Barroso after a meeting in Brussels with Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanadar.

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Brussels' endorsement came after Croatia's parliament early on Thursday morning voted in favour of giving EU members the right to fish in a sensitive zone in the Adriatic Sea in a bid to speed up the country's EU integration.

Reacting, Mr Sanadar said: "I am very confident that Croatia will be the 28th member of the European Union."

"We are ready to do this work, to master the job in 2008, in order to be able to conclude the negotiation process by autumn next year."

Previously, Croatia had proclaimed the area a protected fishing and ecological zone – a so-called ZERP – covering an area of about 30,000 square kilometres in the Adriatic Sea, saying it aimed to limit fishing there in order to protect marine life.

It was also to apply to EU members, angering in particular neighbours Slovenia and Italy, who strongly opposed the move. Meanwhile, the EU had indicated that implementing the zone would be "a major obstacle to Croatia's accession to the EU".

Consequently, Croatian lawmakers on Thursday (13 March) decided to approve a proposal of Mr Sanader, who earlier this week suggested the zone be scrapped, saying that priority should be given to the completion of EU accession talks by mid-2009.

The decision was passed by a small majority however, as 77 of the parliamentarians voted in favour of the move, with nine against, while the rest of the lawmakers in the 151-seat body preferred to abstain.

The deputies had debated the issue for some nine hours before a vote at one o'clock in the morning, the Associated Press reports.

"Both issues are important for Croatia; they both are of national interest," Mr Sanader told parliamentarians. But EU accession is an "absolute national interest", he said.

Croatia opened accession talks in 2005 and is hoping to become full EU member by 2011.

It has so far opened 16 out of its 35-chapter EU negotiations package, while two have been provisionally closed.

In January, Austrian Socialist MEP Hannes Swoboda, who is in charge of the Croatian dossier in the European Parliament, had called on the country to speed up its reforms in order to complete negotiations by 2009 or face delay in EU membership.

He had also warned that if the ZERP issue was not solved, Slovenia, which currently holds the EU presidency, would not open the fisheries chapter of Croatia's negotiations package.

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