AP World - General News Croatia formally applies for EU membership 2 hours, 27 minutes ago
By MYRON VAROUHAKIS, Associated Press Writer
ATHENS, Greece - Croatia applied for European Union membership Friday saying it hoped to join in 2007, but EU officials warned its refusal to cooperate more fully with the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal could keep the country out in the cold.
Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan's application was received by Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, whose nation currently holds the EU presidency.
Croatia, a former Yugoslav republic, was torn by ethnic warfare following its 1991 declaration of independence and is now struggling to implement reforms — including human rights and legal procedures — to qualify for EU membership.
European Commission President Romano Prodi termed Croatia's application "a powerful signal of hope in future development, stability and growth and for peaceful coexistence throughout the region."
Croatia's application faces a first test in April when EU governments are to consider the membership request from Zagreb. Croatia wants to join in 2007, along with Romania and Bulgaria which are already negotiating entry terms.
The EU executive Commission in Brussels, Belgium, must review a country's candidacy but only if the 15 EU governments unanimously request such a review. That may be problematic because of criticism from within the EU of Croatia's failure to hand over suspects to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Croatia's pro-Western government's commitment to fully cooperate was put in doubt late last year, when it hesitated to extradite the former army chief, Gen. Janko Bobetko, to the tribunal in the Hague, fearing mass protests from nationalists.
The Hague doctors later ruled that Bobetko is too ill to travel.
Many also suspect that the government tacitly let another suspect, Gen. Ante Gotovina, to flee the arrest in 2001. New indictments are likely to come later this year, posing a new test of the government's readiness to comply.
Britain and the Netherlands have held up the full application of a 2001 association agreement that grants Croatia greater access to EU markets because of the countries lack of cooperation with the tribunal.