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In the Shadow of Bulgaria and Romania, Croatia Is Walking Steadily toward EU

Published on , , Zagreb

Croatia remains to fulfil ten tasks before its EU accession on July 1st, 2013, if, of course, the process of ratification of the country's accession treaty goes as planned. For now, there is a risk only Slovenia to delay the ratification process but it is still too early to forecast. The European Commission has presented on October 10 a special report on Croatia's progress toward implementing the remaining commitments from the signature of the accession treaty until now. The bad experience with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania unprepared, however, hangs like a sword of Damocles over the government in Zagreb. The two countries are the youngest EU members. They were accepted in the EU in 2007, but in order not to miss their "reforms momentum" (after the expression in the European Commission progress report of 2010), they were accepted unprepared and with a special post-accession mechanism in the area of justice and home affairs, which has been functioning for 5 years now with mixed results.

It is these mixed results that are the reason not one or two EU member states to block the integration of the two Eastern European nations to Schengen, and also to maintain the maximum allowed transition period, restricting workers from the two countries to work in 10 member states. There was a danger of a post-accession monitoring for Croatia as well, but the idea was quickly rejected precisely because of the not very good results it brought in Sofia and Bucharest. This is why EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule announced on Wednesday that the problems in precisely those areas would be in the centre of the enlargement process of the countries in the Western Balkans from now on. For Croatia he said that he had no reasons to suggest that the country would not be able to fulfil its commitments. Moreover, he assured, the Commission had enough instruments to exert influence in the case of a conflict between commitments and reality. But he did not elaborate which these instruments were.

The Commission has so far reacted sharply in two cases - Hungary and Romania, as in both cases it exerted strong pressure over the governments of the two countries. In the case of Romania, the Commission had an even larger field for influence because of the mechanism, which it will again come up with a report on in the end of the year. And for Hungary helped the fact that the country then took over the EU presidency for the first time. But to what extent could such a pressure be effective in the future when these circumstances will not be available remains an open question, the answer to which will be sought in possible changes to the EU treaties, of which there already is word.

Zagreb's ten tasks

Zagreb is expected to fulfil ten tasks by the 1st of July 2013, work on many of which has already started or is about to end.

1. Privatisation in the country is a problem in every report, even before the signature of the accession treaty on December 9th last year. Now it is noted that the process of denationalising is going slowly. Croatia has to sign a privatisation contract for the Brodosplit shipyard for which there already is a selected buyer, as well as to decide what the fate of the other two lifeless shipyards - May 3rd and Brodotrogir - should be.

2. The short-term measures aimed at increasing the efficiency of the judiciary need to be applied immediately, as well as the reduction of the number of unresolved cases that choke the system. In general, work on this point is going on well, with which Bulgaria, for instance, cannot boast. What Zagreb remains to do is to ensure the good work of the Judicial Academy which trains professionally future magistrates. The report points that there is a risk because of the reduction by 28% of the budget of the academy for 2012. At the moment, Croatia is in a tough economic situation and is trying to limit the debt growth and the budget deficit, forcing the government to cut spending. According to Brussels, however, attention must be paid the preparation of judges that will apply the European legislation, to be guaranteed.

3. Croatia has to adopt the relevant enforcement legislation to ensure execution of court decisions and reduce the backlog of enforcement cases.

4. One of the tasks the European Commission puts a strong focus on and it is precisely the experience with Bulgaria that makes the EU executive especially cautious, is the creation of a Conflict of Interest Commission which has to be fully operational by the 1st of July 2013.

5. The country is also expected to adopt new legislation for access to information in order to enhance the legal and administrative framework in this area.

6. To complete and adopt the related by-laws to ensure the implementation of the police law.

7. The construction of border crossing points has to be completed across the Neum corridor. This is the segment of Croatia's coastline, interrupted by Bosnia and Herzegovina's outlet to the Mediterranean. On September 19th in Brussels there was a trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia with several commissioners, among whom Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, Regional Development Commissioner Johannes Hahn, John Dalli, of consumer protection and health care, etc., as the purpose of the meeting was to agree on the details of the arrangement of the movement of goods through the corridor.

8. The recruitment target for border police has to be completed for 2012.

9. The migration strategy has to be finalised and adopted, clearly setting measures for integration of the most vulnerable groups of migrants.

10. Increasing the capacity for translation and revision of the European legislation, acquis communautaire.

These ten remaining tasks for Croatia were used in a quite negative article [in German language] in the influential German edition Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which yet in the title points out: "Brussels calls Croatia: the conditions for accession have not been fulfilled". The newspaper writes that the Croatian government is still not sufficiently prepared to apply the European legislation and that the Commission wants to leave all options opened but does not mention explicitly that it will seek a delay of accession. This article was broadly commented in the Croatian public domain. Stefan Fule said, however, that Croatia's capability to handle the tasks was out of any doubt.

Separately from these 10 tasks, the reports points to several other issues which the country has to tackle. One of them is minority protection. The report warns that the government's plan for ensuring minority employment levels is not completed yet, particularly in the judiciary and the public administration. It is also pointed out that work is needed for establishment of a spirit of tolerance toward minorities and specifically toward Serbs, who are still subject of threats, discrimination, hostility and violence. Roma minority also has problems that need to be addressed, most of all related to education, social protection, health care, employment and the access to various documents.

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