As we have technical problems, I just wanted to have my article published as it’s fresh news from yesterday night. Here it goes:
Only a few ministers were willing to tell the press something about the discussion which concluded without joint conclusions, as previously announced by the Hungarian EU presidency, Croatian agency HINA reported.
Asked if it was possible to complete the accession negotiations in June, by the end of Hungary’s EU presidency, Slovak Foreign Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, whose country strongly supports Croatia’s accession gave no clear answer.
He said he would personally “like that”, but that Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle had said that he had just received a lot of new information from Zagreb, which the Commission had been expected, and that his services need time to study it.
“I am quite satisfied, as the discussion was open and constructive. Everyone knows that meeting the criteria is crucial, and Commissioner Füle’s report was quite optimistic, so I am confident that Croatia will cross the last meters of this long race”, Dzurinda was quoted as saying.
Regarding a possible accession date, Dzurinda said this was not the most important issue at the moment. The most important is to cross the last meters, he added.
Monitoring mechanism could postpone accession
Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said his country advocated introducing “an additional mechanism” to monitor Croatia’s commitments.
“We are waiting for the Commission to release in the coming weeks a solid progress report. I think it would be good to introduce a monitoring mechanism in the period between the completion of the negotiations and accession”, Rosenthal was quoted as saying.
So far, Commissioner Füle has been opposed to introducing a monitoring mechanism to accompany Croatia’s accession, similar to the one put in place in 2007 on Romania and Bulgaria. This time, it looks however that the mechanism, reportedly advocated also by France and the UK, is designed to accompany the period between Croatia finalizing the accession talks and its accession. According to recent experience, a two year period takes place between such milestones.
According to unnamed sources quoted by HINA, France had suggested that monitoring be introduced even after Croatia’s accession to the EU, but its European affairs minister Laurent Wauquiez denied that.
Asked how the mechanism would work in practice, Wauquiez would not go into detail, saying it was a proposal that needed the consent of all member countries.
The objective is to define the points which require supervision, for example the training of judges or respect for competition policy rules, which is not limited to the “Judiciary and Fundamental Rights” negotiation chapter, he said.
If it is established that obligations are not being honoured, accession could obviously be postponed, he said.
Schengen with ‘new protection’?
Wauquiez also disclosed his country’s plans to reform the management of the Schengen border free area. Following pressure from France, Bulgaria and Romania have recently been denied Schengen accession, in spite of having reached the technical criateria.
“In the future, France wants that entry to the Schengen area, within which there are no border controls, does not depend only on technical criteria. France also wants the Schengen treaty to include a protection clause for better crisis management,” he was quoted as saying.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he personally saw no need for introducing the instrument of monitoring for Croatia and expressed hope that the country’s EU talks would end in the near future.
The most optimistic statement was made by Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who said Croatia was ready for the completion of the accession negotiations by the end of the Hungarian EU presidency. Frattini expressed confidence that a treaty of accession could be signed in early autumn.
The daily Croatian Times quoted EU diplomats saying that the Commission wanted Croatia should join the EU as its 28th member on 1 July 2013.
The European Commission should use that date in planning the Union’s budget, the newspaper added.
Croatia has been an EU candidate country since June 2004 and began accession negotiations in October 2005. Currently 30 of 35 negotiation chapters are closed. Chapter 23 on the ‘judiciary and fundamental rights’ is expected to be the most difficult.
The other open chapters are regional policy, fisheries, as well as two technical chapters (budget and ‘other issues’) which must be closed last.
On 16 February the European Parliament voted massively by 584 votes to 43 in favour of a resolution congratulating Croatia for “substantial progress,” stating that negotiations “can be completed in the first half of 2011 provided that the necessary reforms continue to be pursued resolutely”.
Simultaneously, a coalition of Croatian NGOs including Transparency International Croatia issued a joint statement on Chapter 23 warning that for “some crucial benchmarks” there was “a lack of evidence of sincere political will” on the part of the Croatian government.
The recent sentencing of war criminal Ante Gotovina by the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) marked an all-time low of the public support for EU accession in Croatia.Georgi Gotev