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21st Feb 2024

Croatia could conclude EU accession talks in 2009

Croatia could conclude accession negotiations with the EU by the end of next year, if it fulfills the remaining conditions, while Serbia could become an official EU candidate, according to a draft report on the western Balkan countries' progress towards the EU that the European Commission will present next week.

"Croatia has made good overall progress three years after the opening of negotiations ... Provided Croatia fulfills all the necessary conditions, the commission considers it possible to reach the final stage of the accession negotiations by the end of 2009," reads the draft document seen by EUobserver.

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  • Zagreb - Croatia aims to join the EU by 2011 at the latest. (Photo: European Commission)

Besides welcoming progress achieved by Zagreb in some areas, however, Brussels will also stress that Croatia needs to push reforms further in others.

"In addition to making progress in the individual negotiating chapters, the country needs to pursue efforts, in particular on judiciary and public administration reform, the fight against corruption, minority rights, including refugee return [and] war crimes trials," reads the document.

Nevertheless, the commission is to propose "an indicative road-map for concluding the technical negotiations with Croatia by the end of 2009."

Croatia has held EU candidate status since 2004 and opened EU accession talks in 2005. It aims to become a full EU member by 2010 or 2011 at the latest.

However, it is not clear at this stage whether the current wording of the report will be kept in the final version, as certain member states – notably France, Germany and the Netherlands – are opposed to committing to a specific date until the EU's Lisbon treaty has been ratified, and are pushing the commission to make changes on this point, an EU source indicated.

Both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have previously stated that further enlargement of the bloc could not take place within the framework of the current EU treaties.

Serbia EU candidate next year?

Separately, the commission will also praise Serbia for its progress in a number of areas and highlight gaps in others, with an overall assessment that Belgrade could become an official EU candidate next year, if it meets the required conditions.

"The commission considers that it should be possible to grant candidate status to Serbia in 2009 if [all the necessary] conditions are met," reads the report.

It welcomes the fact that "stability in government and greater consensus on European integration" have been increasing in Serbia since the parliamentary and presidential elections there earlier this year.

"The new government, formed in July 2008, has begun to address key political priorities and to accelerate the reform process," according to Brussels.

It also hails the arrest of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic earlier this year as a "major step forward" in Serbia's co-operation with the UN war crimes tribunal – a necessary condition for Belgrade to be allowed closer to the EU.

On the other hand, it calls on Serbia to do more efforts in the fight against corruption and to ensure "the independence, accountability and efficiency of the judicial system."

The commission will present the final version of its report on 5 November.

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