„It is a very important moment. The end of a long journey that started in October 2005, almost six years passed, six years, during which Croatia has changed tremendously, six years that have transformed the country into a major democracy, based on the rule of law and into functioning market economy, six years that have helped the society to grow stronger and more dynamic.”
These words of EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule describe at best the importance of the date June 10 in Croatia’s contemporary history. 20 years after gaining its independence and after six years of negotiations, the country has received the highest possible assurance – from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso – that the EU is ready to accept it as its newest member in two years.
The European Commission has just proposed to the EU Council of Ministers to close the last four chapters in the accession negotiations with Croatia, thus paving the way for Croatia to join the EU as the 28th Member State as of 1 July 2013, if this indicative date proposed by the Commission were to be retained by the Council, a statement issued by Barroso said.
“I would like to applaud the Croatian authorities, in particular the current government, for their hard work over the last years. Even more importantly, I would like to congratulate the people of Croatia. Joining the EU family of nations is first and foremost your success! During my visit to Zagreb in early April, I witnessed that EU accession is a project which transcends political boundaries and is embraced by society as a whole, in particular by Croatia's youth,” he says in the statement.
From Moscow, where he was that moment, Barroso personally called Croatia’s Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, who was in London to meet her counterpart David Cameron, to congratulate her with the “good news”. In her turn, Kosor promised her government to continue with the reforms even after the end of the negotiation talks – a condition also set by Commissioner Fule. After confirming the news that Croatia had ended the membership talks, Fule explained that as far as the Commission was concerned, the work was completed and it was up to the member states to make the final evaluation and decide whether the negotiations can be officially concluded and the accession treaty signed.
“In one word, Croatia had to prove to have taken irreversible course of action. We will continue to work with Croatia until the moment when it will join the European Union, closely monitoring and reporting about the implementation of the commitments taken by Croatia to be achieved before the date of accession,” he told reporters in Brussels. According to Fule, the oversight of Croatia's implementation of its accession promises would be "multi-faceted" and would include additional monitoring in the areas of judiciary and human rights - one of the most difficult negotiation chapters. He, however, did not elaborate on whether the accession date could be delayed, if the country did not keep its commitments.
Jadranka Kosor has been reiterating in the last few months that the government aims to end the accession talks by the end of June when the Hungarian Presidency steps out of office. In its efforts to show Brussels that the country is ready to become part of the European community, Kosor’s cabinet went as far as arresting her predecessor Ivo Sanader, as well as some to state-owned companies officials and former ministers.
In the meantime, on Thursday (June 9) Sanader, who as arrested in the end of last year in Austria, said he wanted to return to Croatia as soon as possible to reject all lies against him and everything he was charged with. According to local media, however, his aim was not to help the country to end the EU talks faster, but he wanted to leave Austria because he knew that the Austrian authorities were preparing his extradition. Croatian media did not rule out that he could return to politics, which he left in silence several years ago and join the election campaign.
Because the end of the negotiation process, besides total euphoria, also brings the question what will happen after the Commission's decision? The country is to hold general elections by the end of this year or in the beginning of 2012. Kosor herself has been rejecting the option for snap elections before June, saying that such elections were possible once the EU talks ended.
And the government’s success to bring the talks to a successful end is not equal to an election success. First of all, because the bulk of Croatians are still skeptical towards the membership and are even afraid of it. And second, according to the public support for the government, the citizens seem not to be satisfied with its work.