4th Dec 2020

Croatia gets green light for EU talks

The EU on Monday (3 October) agreed to open talks with Croatia just hours after the UN chief prosecutor announced that Zagreb is fully co-operating with the Hague tribunal.

"We have made a historic decision on behalf of Croatia and have begun the accession negotiations," UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said late on Monday after long negotiations, which saw the bloc also agree to open talks with Turkey.

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  • "We will continue to work until Gotovina is in the Hague" says Mr Sanader (l) (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

The EU’s move was facilitated by statements by Carla del Ponte, prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

"I can say that, for a few weeks now, Croatia has been cooperating fully with us and is doing everything it can to locate and arrest Ante Gotovina", said Ms del Ponte in a statement.

"Documents, even when they are of a sensitive nature, are delivered within the deadlines and no particular conditions are attached", continues the statement.

Seven months late

The talks started seven months after originally planned.

Zagreb was supposed to start talks in March but EU member states – largely based on evidence from Ms del Ponte - concluded that it was not co-operating fully enough in trying to locate the fugitive war crimes suspect general Gotovina.

Croatia welcomed the move. "This is a great day for Croatia", said prime minister Ivo Sanader.

"We will continue to work until Gotovina is in the Hague" he said, adding "This remains our obligation, not only internationally but also domestically. This is about the rule of law".

This was also a requirement spelt out by EU foreign ministers on Monday. In a statement, they said that "sustaining full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia would remain a requirement (on Croatia) for progress throughout the accession process".

They also noted that talks could be slowed or stopped if Zagreb was seen to be backsliding.

Croatia and Austria

Ms del Ponte's report to EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg came after she travelled to Croatia last week.

However, on Friday (30 September), following meetings with the country's president Stjepan Mesic and Mr Sanader, she offered a much bleaker assessment of Zagreb's co-operation.

"You cannot imagine how disappointed I am," she said on Friday.

"[The] prime minister has promised me full cooperation but we still have the same problem. Gotovina is still at large".

However, the issue was largely seen as being entangled with Turkey's membership bid as Austria, which has been blocking the opening of talks on Monday with Ankara until the 11th hour, made a public link between the two issues explicit last week.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel said "If we trust Turkey to make further progress, we should trust Croatia too ... it is in Europe's best interest to start negotiations with Croatia immediately".

Some commentators suggest that the breakthrough on Croatia allowed Austria to retreat from its very hard demands on Turkey's EU negotiation mandate.

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