Croatia has moved a big step closer to becoming the 28th member state of the European Union, after the European Commission on Friday recommended that EU bloc nations complete accession talks.
EU Commission President Jose Barroso said the recommendation for talks was an “important step forward” for Croatia, amid suggestions that the EU was trying to "raise the standards" for accession.
"The commission has negotiated hard but fair over the last years, applying strict conditionality and making sure that all EU criteria and benchmarks are fulfilled," he said, Bloomberg reports. "This firm commitment has paid off: Croatia is now ready to move ahead."
Croatia — struggling to emerge from recession — needs to accept cuts in government spending and overcome skepticism among EU citizens that it is stemming crime and corruption, Bloomberg writes, adding that the 2007 accession of Bulgaria and Romania raised concerns they weren’t ready to join.
"There’s a widespread feeling that the accession of Romania and Bulgaria took place too quickly," said Rosa Balfour, an analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre. “Anything related to judiciary, corruption and organized crime is going to be monitored quite closely."
According to Bloomberg:
Unlike Bulgaria and Romania, Croatia also had to overcome the effects of the Balkan wars during the breakup of Yugoslavia that devastated the region’s economy and led to the creation of the United Nations war crimes Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
Risking backlash from its constituents, the government extradited to the court three generals that most Croats regard as heroes. Two of them, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, have been convicted of war crimes against Serbs. The third, Ivan Cermak, was acquitted.
Croatian authorities investigated hundreds of corruption cases, targeting government officials and ruling-party members, including former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, who is awaiting extradition from Austria on suspicion of abuse of power and corruption.
Croatia has been in talks for almost six years to join the world’s largest trading bloc, longer than for all eight former communist central European countries that joined en masse in 2004.
Croatia would be only the second former Yugoslav republic to join the EU after Slovenia in 2004.
If Croatia signs its entry treaty by December, the Balkan country would accede in July 2013 and "pave the way for the rest of the former Yugoslavia to join the EU less than two decades after the wars of the 1990s," writes the Guardian.
Serbia also inched closer to its dreams of EU membership by arresting fugitive war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic last month.