Croatia’s EU membership negotiations could be completed in the first half of 2011 provided Zagreb pushes ahead with reform, according to a resolution adopted by Parliament on Wednesday. Yet the biggest challenge may be “selling” the benefits of EU membership to a sceptical Croatian population.
The fight against corruption, support for returning refugees and the restructuring of shipyards are among the remaining challenges facing the country. However, MEPs acknowledge that major efforts have been made to change the constitution, reform the judiciary and co-operate more closely with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
EU front runner
In a resolution adopted by 548 votes to 43 with 52 abstentions, MEPs congratulate Croatia on its “substantial progress” in introducing the reforms needed to join the EU. “Negotiations with Croatia can be completed in the first half of 2011 provided that the necessary reforms continue to be pursued resolutely”, says Parliament. The resolution notes the considerable improvements to the constitution and to the judiciary, as well as Croatia’s closer co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). It stresses, however, that the tribunal’s request for important military documents remains unanswered. Regarding the ongoing judiciary reforms, the resolution underlines the need “to proceed quickly with the prosecution of war crimes” and to improve witness protection.
Whilst acknowledging the government’s efforts to fight corruption and prosecute two former ministers and a former prime minister, MEPs judge that corruption “remains a serious problem”. Few corruption cases have come to court and most remain at the investigation stage. . Parliament asks OLAF (the EU’s anti-fraud body) to cooperate closely with the Croatian authorities to shed light on the potential secondary corruption which may be generated within the EU Institutions.
Overall, progress has been made in the field of refugee returns and public hostility towards returning Serbs has diminished. However, say MEPs, more effort is needed to help returnees to acquire permanent resident status, improve house reconstruction and launch social integration projects for refugees, thousands of whom have not yet returned and remain in Serbia.
Privatisation of shipyards
The Croatian government should accelerate the process of restructuring and privatising shipyards, failing which it will not be possible to close the “competition” chapter of the EU accession negotiations on time.
The biggest challenge starts at home
MEPs are very concerned that the majority of Croatian citizens think Croatia’s EU membership would not benefit the country, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey. They urge the Croatian authorities and civil society to mobilise and make citizens “feel the European project is theirs as well”. Croatia will need to put EU membership proposals to a referendum. In addition, parliamentary elections will take place in November 2011.