By the 31st of December 2012, the Croatian government will implement 8 out of the 10 recommendations in the European Commission report from October 10th. The other two points will be ready by January 31st, the first deputy prime minister and minister for foreign and European affairs, Vesna Pusic, reported at the Council of Ministers meeting on December 20 when she presented her report on the Action Plan that has been approved by the Zoran Milanovic' government in the autumn. After the presentation of the Commission report, the government has decided that Vesna Pusic should report at least once a month on the work on the remaining problematic areas. On December 20th she presented her second report. In Ms Pusic's words, out of 10 measures 8 are under control, so by the spring Croatia will have cleared all the remarks the Commission has.
In its report, the Commission has outlined the following areas still of concern: privatisation; increasing the effectiveness of the judiciary; implementation of court rulings; establishment of a conflict of interest commission; introducing a legislation ensuring access to information; applying the law for the police; building border crossings on the external borders; appointing the necessary number of border police; adopting a migration strategy; increasing the capacity for translation of European legislation.
The report Vesna Pusic presented before her colleagues in the government, is huge - 272 pages that contain the country's progress on all the chapters of the European acquis communautaire. In it, the 10 specific areas that are of particular interest for the Commission and the EU member states, according to the last for the year European Council summit, are not highlighted. As euinside wrote, in the leaders' conclusions a specific focus is put on regional cooperation.
Efficiency of the judiciary
This is one of the very sensitive areas for all countries in South Eastern Europe that have demonstrated specific resistance to reforms. That is why the Commission, but the member states as well, observe with great attention the measures that are being undertaken to overcome the remaining problems, most of all against the backdrop of the failure with the control mechanism that has been introduced specifically for Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 which for now is not envisaged for Croatia. Among the many technical measures in Pusic's report, the adoption of a draft legislation for the courts is reported that is already in Parliament. The main goal of the draft is increasing the efficiency of the work of the courts via enhancing the responsibilities of the court president, expanding the powers of court advisers, creating a position of a director of the Institute for Judicial Administration and a detailed description of the work of the judicial inspectorate.
Croatia is criticised in a series of Commission reports for protraction of trials which was a major criticism for Bulgaria as well. According to Pusic's report, with the draft legislation are introduced tools ensuring justice within a reasonable period of time. The presidents of courts will report regularly to higher instances and the Ministry of Justice for the reasons why a procedure is taking a lot of time. As reasonable is defined a period of 6 months to rule on a case, except when there are certain circumstances that impose a longer period. When a case is not solved in the determined period, the sides can turn to a higher court and request a compensation for infringement of the right of justice within a reasonable period of time. The sum of the compensation cannot exceed 35 000 kunas (around 4500 euros).
The draft law also envisages a higher court to directly supervise the work of the lower court and individual judges, as well as the president of the court at least once a year. There will also be a report after the supervision which the president of the court has to present in the State Judicial Council and in the Ministry of Justice.
Fight with corruption
This is another highly sensitive issue which has turned into a priority number one in the European Commission enlargement strategy. There are no specific recommendations for Croatia in this area but the monitoring over the country covers all areas. The Croatian government is planning to present in the fourth quarter of 2013 an entirely new anti-corruption strategy. It is expected soon work to begin on significant amendments in the Code of Penal Procedure. The amendments are expected to be harmonised with the legal opinion of the Constitutional court which is scheduled to happen by the 15th of December next year. Changes and additions are planned in the Law for Confiscation of Property Gained from Criminal Activities. The changes are needed, according to Vesna Pusic's report, to ensure terminological harmonisation with other laws.
Very briefly is mentioned the work of the Ministry of Justice on monitoring the Action Plan of the General Prosecution and the Ministry of the Interior in terms of war crimes. It is only written that the two ministries will continue monitoring with a focus on unbiased and systemic prosecution of war crimes. An issue which is highly sensitive in terms of regional cooperation. According to the analytical edition Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, prosecution of crimes committed during the "Storm" (Oluja) operation will be a huge test for Croatian justice. The web site quotes data from non-governmental organisations, among which especially the Centre for Reconciliation with the Past Documenta, that show that Croatian courts do not apply the same criteria when they prosecute Serbs and Croats. The Croats in general get significantly lighter sentences than Serbs, the edition claims.
This topic was very broadly dealt with in the Council conclusions where it is pointed out that Croatia is expected to continue to play active role in the regional cooperation in the Western Balkans, to have in mind how important good neighbourly relations are and to apply legally binding international agreements. It is also pointed out that additional efforts are needed to tackle war crimes impunity via unbiased solving of current cases and through continuing the cooperation with the war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia. The conclusions do not mention explicitly any particular country that Croatia has such problems with but they are predominantly two - Serbia and Slovenia.
Relations with Serbia after the war marked rudiments of improvement during the presidency of former President Boris Tadic. After the elections in Serbia this year, however, relations between the two countries cooled down and in the autumn deteriorated significantly after the ruling of the war crimes tribunal in former Yugoslavia to acquit two key figures in the war - the generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac. In Ms Pusic's report it is pointed out that Croatia does wish further development of the relations with Serbia. "2012 is marked by a significant stagnation of relations between the countries regarding the electoral activities in both states", the report says, adding that the meetings between the foreign ministers Vesna Pusic and Ivan Mrkic had opened perspectives for future cooperation based on solving opened issues, economic cooperation and European integration.
The main priorities Croatia outlines to achieve that are three: continuing support and transferring experience for European integration; continuing work on open issues; economic cooperation. Nothing more is mentioned. At this stage, however, there are no planned meetings between the prime ministers of the two countries Ivica Dacic and Zoran Milanovic, even less between Presidents Tomislav Nikolic and Ivo Josipovic. At the December 13-14 European Council in Brussels Mr Milanovic was asked by a Serb journalist about his expectations whether Serbia would get a date to start accession negotiations (a decision that was postponed for June), to which the Croatian premier replied evasively saying that Serbia's future was very important for Croatia and that Zagreb supported Belgrade on its path toward European membership. He, however, avoided more specific questions about bilateral meetings.
Another important country for regional cooperation with which Croatia has serious problems, even threatening its accession on July 1st 2013, is Slovenia. There is a huge unresolved problem between the two countries and that is the payment of old deposits of Croatian citizens in the non-existent Ljubljanska banka from the time of former Yugoslavia. The two countries appointed in the summer two financial experts with the task to find a solution that would be offered to the governments in Zagreb and Ljubljana. So far, however, there is no solution, although the two experts claim they are close to a compromise. It is important to note, though, that the mandate of the Slovenian expert, France Arhar, was initially fixed (by the end of the 2012) but has recently been expanded endlessly and Slovenia has put the resolution of the problem as a pre-condition to ratify Croatia's accession treaty.
Zagreb insists the issue to be solved via an international mediator like the Bank for International Settlements. In Vesna Pusic's report it is said that it is important to keep the positive character of the relations between Croatia and Slovenia "as on political, so on public level, with the goal to solve the remaining open issues". It is also said that Croatia hopes Slovenia to ratify the accession treaty by the spring of 2013. The main priorities Zagreb has for development of relations with neighbouring Slovenia are five: keeping the positive tone in the cooperation and the dialogue on solving open issues; application for the Arbitrage Agreement; enhancing economic cooperation; continuation of talks about connecting energy and transport infrastructure, as well as environment protection and water economy; strengthening consultations on issues related to EU and NATO as well as stabilising the situation in South-Eastern Europe.
One of the ten points in the report of the European Commission concerns management of Croatia's external borders and more specifically the number of border police officers. The government reports that in October 2012 the total number of border policemen reached 6037 people, of whom 4717 are distributed along the future external border of the EU and 1320 - on the future internal borders. In 2013, it is planned another 506 people to be appointed along the external borders. In 2013 it is also expected Croatia to complete the technical equipment for border control with funding from the pre-accession programme IPA and the Schengen Facility Fund.
The Action Plan and the report have been approved unanimously and without discussion by the government. Without comment passed also the report on harmonisation of Croatian legislation with the EU acquis. In Vesna Pusic's words, 108 laws and 191 legal acts are left to be approved. But she pointed out that this is a dynamic process which will continue in the future because the EU legislation is changing too. The European Commission will publish its final progress report for Croatia in the spring. Depending on its conclusions, Germany will decide whether to complete the ratification procedure of Croatia's accession treaty.
By now, the ratification procedure is complete and the ratification tools are deposited by 13 EU member states. Those are Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, Slovakia. The countries where parliamentary support has been obtained but the ratification instruments are still not deposited are: Finland, Greece, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Britain. The countries where the treaty is still not ratified are: Belgium., Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia.