Croatia completes EU talks

National anthem of Croatia

Croatia is expected to become the EU’s 28th member state on 1 July 2013.

Croatia has completed its membership talks with the European Union, with the closing today of negotiations in the last four policy areas. The country is now on track to join the Union as its 28th member in two years’ time, with a target date of 1 July 2013 now officially endorsed by the EU’s member states.
The completion of the talks came at the last-possible moment under Hungary‘s term in the rotating presidency of the EU’s Council of Ministers. Poland will take over the presidency tomorrow (1 July). Gordan Jandroković, Croatia’s foreign minister, was in Brussels for the closing stage of the negotiations, which began in October 2005. János Martonyi, Hungary’s foreign minister, represented the EU, along with Štefan Füle, the European commissioner for enlargement. The four ‘chapters’ closed today are on: competition policy; judiciary and fundamental rights; finance and budgetary provisions; and a chapter on all other issues. Both Jandroković and Martonyi described these as the trickiest issues addressed during nearly six years of talks. Jandroković hailed the completion of the talks as a “historic day” that would set in motion “irreversible” improvements in Croatia’s public life. That sentiment was echoed by Martonyi, who said that the conclusion of negotiations, made in the dying hours of Hungary’s presidency, was “a very, very personal pleasure”.
EU leaders at a summit in Brussels last week (23-24) had given the green light for the completion of Croatia’s membership talks. The country’s accession treaty is now being prepared and is expected to be signed by the end of the year, after which it requires ratification by all 27 member states. Croatia is set to hold a referendum on joining the EU within one month of the accession treaty being signed. Croatian voters are also due vote in parliamentary elections in November.
Štefan Füle, the European commissioner for enlargement, acknowledged that the “enlargement calendar” and Croatia’s “political calendar” are now “rather close”, but that “everything will be done to avoid any eventual clash of these calendars”. He dismissed as “absolute nonsense” the possibility of the EU “putting [its] nose into the political calendar of Croatia”. All three officials emphasised their hope that Croatia’s accession will encourage the country’s neighbours in the western Balkans in their bids for membership of the Union.
Füle described Croatia’s accession as evidence that “enlargement fatigue [within the EU] is indeed a myth”, adding that the 138 benchmarks that Croatia had had to satisfy had represented “138 possibilities for any member state to veto” Croatia’s bid. Croatia’s progress will be monitored throughout the pre-accession process, leaving open the possibility that member states could postpone Croatia’s scheduled accession date.
Füle said that in the first half of its membership, Croatia could expect to receive €700 million in funding from the EU. That figure “will increase significantly from 2014 with the phasing in of EU policy”. The European Commission yesterday (29 June) presented its proposals for the EU’s long-term budget. These will come into force on 1 January 2014, six months after Croatia enters the EU.
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