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(E) EU sets stricter criteria for Croatia joining
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  10/7/2004 | Politics | Unrated
(E) EU sets stricter criteria for Croatia joining


EU sets stricter criteria for Croatia joining

ISN SECURITY WATCH (07/10/04) - The EU is changing its language and setting stricter membership criteria for newcomers from Southeastern Europe. European Commission reports released on Wednesday give green lights to Bulgaria and Romania for EU entry in 2007, but under a proposed “safeguard clause”, warning that the two countries’ membership could be delayed by a year if they faltered in their reform efforts. But in the case of Croatia, which was promised membership talks beginning early next year, the EC report’s wording was surprisingly strict. According to the new tone adopted by the EU executive body, candidate countries will be driven by real reforms on the ground, rather than simply on paper, which may take much longer to prove. The report said that the EU reserved the right to suspend negotiations in case of what the EC called “a serious and persistent breach of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law”. Croatia, which became an official EU candidate in June, was hoping to join the EU in 2007, together with Bulgaria and Romania, but EC officials are now skeptical of that date. EC officials told ISN Security Watch that Croatia’s membership could be put off until 2009. Zagreb's hopes were dealt another blow on Wednesday, when the EC report stopped short of recommending a start date for membership talks. Instead, Zagreb was advised to continue to improve its democratic and human rights standards if it wanted to move towards membership talks. Brussels has already made it clear that full cooperation with the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is a key condition for Croatia’s EU membership. In particular, Brussels is concerned about the authorities’ failure to turn over fugitive Croatian General Ante Gotovina, a former French Legionnaire indicted by the tribunal for crimes against Serb civilians during the 1992-1995 war in the Krajina region. Other requirements include advancing the refugee returns process and judicial reform. Despite the setback, Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader on Wednesday welcomed the EC's recommendation that the EU should start membership negotiations with his country in early 2005, without offering an exact date. “I would like to welcome the decision by the European Commission, which is another important step in the process of Croatia approaching the European Union," Sanader told journalists. It will be up to EU country leaders to decide at during a December summit whether to accept the commission’s recommendations. In other news, support for EU membership has fallen dramatically in Croatia, just a few months since gaining candidate-member status. According to a poll by the Institutit Puls agency conducted in September, just under half (49 per cent) of those surveyed backed accession, while 41 per cent were opposed to joining the EU, compared to January when more than 70 per cent of Croatian voters supported joining the European bloc. (By Ekrem Krasniqi in Brussels) v


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