Croatia Made Good Progress Towards Accession but some Issues Remain

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Croatia, a candidate country for accession to the EU since October 2005, has made major progress in its preparations, according to MEPs.

However, the EP Foreign Affairs Committee believes it must make further efforts in areas such as cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), reform of the judiciary and the transition to a market economy.

In an own-initiative report by Hannes Swoboda (Austria), adopted near-unanimously on Tuesday (71 in favor with 4 abstentions), the Foreign Affairs Committee „congratulates the Croatian authorities for the rapid progress made so far in accession negotiations”.

MEPs stress that key pieces of legislation in crucial areas such as public administration, the administration of courts and anti-corruption policy have already been adopted. This central European country of less than 4.5 million inhabitants is thus on course to become a member of the European Union once the accession criteria are met and negotiations are completed, thus validating the argument that the future of the western Balkans lies within the EU.

Nevertheless, the Foreign Affairs Committee exhorts Croatia to make further efforts on several fronts. It must first strengthen its capacity to implement Community environmental legislation. The application of the Aarhus Convention on public access to environmental information and the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on the reduction of greenhouse gases are among the top priorities.

MEPs also point out that having „an open, competitive market economy is a fundamental requirement for EU membership”. Croatia must thus comply with the agreed targets for the sale of „minority and majority state-owned interests in companies” and for the reduction of state subsidies in the shipbuilding and steel industries in particular. The committee appeals to Croatia to authorize the acquisition of real estate by EU nationals, with the exception of the exempted areas.

In addition, the committee calls on Croatia to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Croatia’s institutions and political parties should counteract the public’s perception of the ICTY, say MEPs, who deplore the Government’s offer to support the defense costs of Croatian army generals. MEPs also attack the „persisting bias amongst some judicial staff against non-Croatian nationals” and the insufficient protection of witnesses against intimidation.

They point out that thorough reform of the judicial system and police are requirements for Croatia’s accession. The reform of procedures for appointing judicial staff is expected to provide „sufficient guarantees for a professional and independent judiciary”, while a recent amendment of the Courts Act introduces an obligation for judges to declare any interests and the possibility of transferring them to overburdened courts.

Among other points raised by MEPs are the integration of minorities into everyday life and the idea of including in pension calculations the years worked by people who lived in the Republika Srpska Krajina during the conflict. MEPs also urge that Croatia resolve the issue of its frontier with Slovenia in line with conclusions of the European Council of June 2004, which notes Croatia’s decision not to apply to the EU Member States any aspect of the Protected Ecological and Fisheries zone.

Lastly, the Foreign Affairs Committee voices concern at the flagging public support for EU accession in Croatia and welcomes the fact that the Government and the opposition are joining forces in explaining to the public the economic, political, social and cultural benefits resulting from the accession process.

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