By Natasa Radic
Just over two decades ago, Croatia declared independence from the former Yugoslavia. This year, the June 25th anniversary came with another reason for celebration: the country has closed the final chapters in its EU negotiations process.
Six and a half years after beginning the talks, Croatia is now set to be the 28th member of the EU. That will happen officially on July 1st, 2013.
In remarks commemorating independence day, Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor described accession as “an historic national project that makes the people of Croatia deeply proud”.
“A European and democratic Croatia has been a national goal since our independence,” Kosor said at a reception for members of the diplomatic corps. “Now Croatia is recognised as the country with a strong democracy that respects the law and common EU values,” she added.
The good news from Brussels came as the EU Council wrapped up its summit on June 24th. While confirming the go-ahead, the Council also urged Zagreb to press ahead with needed changes.
“Croatia should continue its reform efforts with the same vigour, especially regarding the judiciary and fundamental rights, and be able fully to assume membership obligations from the date of accession,” the final statement from the summit read. “Monitoring reform efforts up to accession will give the necessary assurance to Croatia and current member states.”
Although Croatia’s political leaders are united in support of accession, public opinion is less so. Polls show the number of EU supporters is again on the rise, but still no higher than 60%.
Ivan Grdesic, a prominent opinion maker and academic, told SETimes that with the hard work of completing the accession chapters now over, Croatia’s political leaders will be competing to claim the credit — and reap dividends at the ballot box.
“We will witness the attempt to prove who did the job best — who was working ‘night and day’ to achieve the EU goal, and who should, therefore, be awarded in the upcoming parliamentary elections,” Grdesic told SETimes. “This is the problem for all political sides involved. EU membership is not perceived as a national, strategic and generational goal, but rather as an instrument of political and party struggles.”