The European Commission today adopted its Opinion on Croatia's Application for EU Membership, recommending that the Council open membership negotiations with Croatia. On the basis of the Commission's analysis, the European Council will have to decide whether and when to open negotiations. The Commission also approved the proposal for a decision of the Council on the European Partnership with Croatia, which is inspired by the Accession Partnerships that have helped prepare countries for eventual EU membership in the past. The Partnership is based on the analysis in the Opinion.
President Prodi said: "Over the past few years, Croatia has made major efforts to advance along the road to EU membership, and the Commission's Opinion acknowledges this progress. Therefore the Commission can now recommend to the Council the launch of accession negotiations with Croatia. Croatia's performance shows that the EU strategy for the Western Balkans (1)provides a good framework for economic and political progress and will hopefully encourage the other countries of the region to redouble their efforts to make progress towards European integration. I hope that the new European Partnership will help the Croatian Government target its reform efforts more efficiently. The European Commission will offer all the support it can, but how far and how fast Croatia will advance towards EU membership will remain in its own hands".
Croatia presented its application for membership of the European Union on 21 February 2003 and the Council of Ministers asked the Commission in April 2003 to present its Opinion.
In its Opinion, the Commission analyses the Croatian application on the basis of Croatia's capacity to meet the criteria set by the Copenhagen European Council of 1993 and the conditions set for the Stabilisation and Association process, notably the conditions defined by the Council in its Conclusions of 29 April 1997 which included co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and regional co-operation.
In line with the above criteria the Opinion on Croatia has three main conclusions:
On the political criteria, the Opinion concludes that Croatia is a functioning democracy, with stable institutions guaranteeing the rule of law. There are no major problems regarding the respect of fundamental rights.
In April 2004, the ICTY Chief Prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte stated that Croatia is now cooperating fully with the ICTY. Croatia needs to maintain full cooperation and take all necessary steps to ensure that the remaining indictee is located and transferred to the ICTY. Croatia needs additional efforts in the field of minority rights, refugee returns, judiciary reform, regional co-operation and the fight against corruption.
The Commission confirms that Croatia meets the political criteria set by the Copenhagen European Council in 1993 as well as the conditionalities of the Stabilisation and Association Process established by the Council in 1997.
On the economic criteria, the Opinion concludes that Croatia can be regarded as a functioning market economy. It should be able to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union in the medium term, provided that it continues implementing its reform programme to remove remaining weaknesses.
On Croatia's ability to assume the obligations of membership, the Opinion carries out a detailed analysis based on the 29 Chapters of the acquis that formed the basis of the accession negotiations with the countries that will join the Union on 1 May. Overall, it concludes that Croatia will be in a position to take on the other obligations of membership in the medium term, provided that considerable efforts are made to align its legislation with the acquis and ensure its implementation and enforcement. However, full compliance with the acquis in the field of environment could be achieved only in the long term and would necessitate increased levels of investment.
Modelled on the Accession Partnerships developed to prepare past aspirants for EU membership, the European Partnership represents an important step forward in the relations between the EU and Croatia. It is tailored to the country's specific needs, setting out priorities for the short term (12-24 months) and the medium term (3-4 years). The Partnership will help the Croatian Government concentrate reform efforts and available resources where they are most needed. The competent authorities will be expected to respond with a detailed plan for the implementation of the European Partnership priorities, setting out the concrete measures to be taken, a timetable, and demonstrating what human and financial resources will be devoted to the tasks involved. The priorities identified in the European Partnerships will also influence the allocation of future financial assistance from the EU.
The Opinion on Croatia can be found at:
For further information:
The EU's relations with South Eastern Europe (Western Balkans) Overview :
(1) The Western Balkans include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, including Kosovo (as defined by the un Security Council Resolution 1244)