Croatia awaits EU green light on accession talks
(ZAGREB) - Croatia hopes for an EU green light to close lengthy accession talks next month amid fears that a postponement could damage Zagreb economically and politically ahead of polls later this year.
Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor has repeatedly said the talks should be concluded in June, a date symbolically coinciding with the country's 20th anniversary of independence from the former Yugoslavia.
Kosor said recently, after sending to Brussels the key report on progress achieved in reforming the country's judiciary, the end of June was "realistic" for the conclusion of EU talks which started in October 2005.
Croatia has already closed 30 of the 35 so-called policy chapters that every nation must negotiate with the EU before becoming a member.
Reform of the judiciary, including the fight against corruption and processing of war crimes from the 1990s conflict that broke up the former Yugoslavia, as well as restructuring of the country's ailing state-run shipyards are crucial for the conclusion of Croatia's EU talks.
Zagreb stepped up the fight against corruption, especially at top levels, from mid-2009 when Kosor took over as prime minister from Ivo Sanader. The latter is currently detained under suspicion of graft.
A wide political consensus has emerged in Croatia on the need to join the EU soon. Officials say that concluding the talks by the end of June would offer the country the possibility of drawing some 3.5 billion euros of EU structural funds and enable it to actively participate in the adoption of the bloc's 2014-2020 financial framework.
"June is absolutely crucial for Croatia," the head of the national committee for monitoring EU talks, Vesna Pusic, of the opposition HNS party, told AFP.
She said that a delay would damage Croatia both "economically and politically."
Kosor has announced that general elections will take place by the end of the year and if EU talks are not concluded before then the whole election process could further delay the process, according to experts.
There are also some fears that more delays could further fan the flames of growing euroscepticism in Croatia.
The latest opinion poll showed recently that support for the country's EU membership dropped to a five-year low of 44.6 percent while 41.8 percent were against it.
Such a drastic decrease in support has been explained here notably by a UN war crimes court's harsh verdicts against two former Croatian generals in April.
Croatia's state secretary for European integration, Andrej Plenkovic, remains convinced, however, that Zagreb's goal of EU membership was "realistic."
He said Croatia would hope to sign the accession treaty in November, which has be ratified by member states parliaments, a process expected to last up to year and a half. Zagreb hopes to eventually become a full-fledged EU member in January 2013.
According to diplomatic sources here, there are plans to introduce some kind of a monitoring mechanism, once the talks are concluded until it becomes a full-fledged member, to ensure the country continues to meet the Brussels-sought criteria.
Such a mechanism would reassure those EU members still reluctant to support Croatia's accession.
Of the six republics that formed the communist Yugoslav federation until its bloody break up in the 1990s only Slovenia is an EU member.
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