The European Commission has recommended that Croatia complete its entry talks with the EU, clearing the way for the country’s accession in 2013.
“The European Commission has just proposed to the EU Council of Ministers to close the last four chapters in the accession negotiations with Croatia. This paves the way for Croatia to join the EU as the 28th Member State as of 1 July 2013,” Commission President José Manuel Barroso said in a statement on Friday, adding that the date must be agreed by the Council.
Croatia, which became a candidate country in 2004, started accession negotiations in 2005 and the government has pushed hard for the talks to be wrapped up by the end of June this year and its accession treaty to be signed by December.
Zagreb must lobby the EU member states to convince them to ratify the treaty for their accession, which must be signed by all 27 countries.
The Hungarian presidency of the EU has said that now that it has received the go-ahead from the Commission, it will work hard to close the remaining negotiating chapters by the end of June, when its chairmanship of the bloc ends.
European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said in a statement on Friday that the Commission has completed its negotiations with Zagreb, explaining that it is now up to member states to make their final evaluation and decide whether the talks can be concluded and the accession treaty signed.
The remaining negotiating areas include issues of justice and fundamental rights and competition policy, considered to be among the most difficult chapters.
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, called the negotiation chapter on justice and fundamental rights the “last stumbling block” for Croatia’s accession.
“I didn’t believe last year that Croatians could do it, but in one year time, they completely reformed their judiciary and made it irreversible,” she said in a statement before Friday’s meeting of EU ministers in Luxemburg.
Commissioner Fuele praised Zagreb for the reforms made as part of the negotiations, saying that the years of talks and action had “transformed the country into a mature democracy based on the rule of law and into a functioning market economy”.
“Preparation for membership is certainly a tough exercise,” he said, adding: “Putting the house in order is always painful, but also worthy. Croatia can soon reap the fruits of this work.”