Thursday

20th Feb 2020

Croatia: new EU member on the horizon

  • Zagreb: Croatia holds its referendum on Sunday (Photo: Sobrecroacia.com)

After six years of negotiations and amid an ongoing territorial dispute with Slovenia, Croatia will hold a referendum on Sunday (22 January) to decide whether to become the 28th EU member state.

The voting starts on Sunday morning, with results expected at around 10pm local time in the evening.

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Pending the results of the referendum and ratification of the accession treaty by existing EU countries, Croatia is to join the Union in July next year.

It is to have seven votes in the EU Council and 12 members in the European Parliament.

The move is also to create new EU borders with Bosnia and with Montenegro.

Croatia's recently elected centre-left government, led by Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, launched a pro-EU campaign earlier this month, saying the country belongs to Europe "geographically, historically and culturally." The government was sworn in shortly after it signed the accession treaty in Brussels.

"The only party opposing [EU] accession lost its parliamentary status," Croatia's foreign minister, Vesna Pusic told EUobserver in December.

Despite the acute economic and social problems of the current euro crisis, most Croats are keen to go ahead.

Berislav Zivkovic, a government spokesperson, told this website that 56 percent of Croatians want to join the EU according to a poll conducted jointly by the Croatian foreign ministry and the Ipsos Puls agency.

"We are convinced that on the occasion of the imminent referendum a majority of Croatian citizens would vote in favour of Croatia accessing the European Union," he said.

Rallies have been held against EU membership, culminating in a protest last Saturday when around 1,000 people reportedly gathered in Zagreb's central square.

Some concerns centre around trade. Dairy products, eggs and meat entering into Croatia from neighbouring countries will in future have to meet strict EU food safety standards.

An outstanding territorial dispute with Slovenia over a small bay in the Adriatic has also clouded the accession process - Slovenia at one stage threatened to veto Croatia's accession talks back in 2009. But an arbitration process was finally launched earlier this week.

"This common agreement is a very welcome signal for the positive development of the good neighbourly relations between the two countries," said EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule.

The commission gave the country a positive assessment late last year following an extensive evaluation.

Croatia is to undergo two more commission reports before it enters the Union, but in the last one the executive noted improvements in the area of fundamental rights, competition, justice, freedom and security.

It noted that work remains to reduce public deficit, debt, to open up its market and to lower unemployment, particularly among its youth - around 32 percent of under 25s were without jobs in 2010 according to Eurostat.

It added that the country still needs investment to get closer to EU living standards. Croatia has so far received around €150 million in pre-accession assistance every year since 2007. It stands to receive another €150 million for 2012 and a final €95 million package in 2013.

For its part, Transparency International Croatia told EUobserver in an email the country is making concerted efforts to stamp out corruption and has strengthened its legislative framework on regulating financing of political parties.

"The reform of judiciary has been carried out with special courts dealing with organised crime and corruption being introduced, and the efficacy of the judiciary has been improved which led to the backlog of court cases being reduced," the Brussels-based NGO said.

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