German skepticism on EU enlargement hits at Croatia

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Germany's Foreign Ministry reassured Croatia that the country is on track to join the Union on 1 July 2013, following a surprising statement from Bundestag leader Norbert Lammert, who said that the former Yugoslav republic was not ready to join and that EU  enlargement should be frozen.

The European Union cannot take on new member states for the time being as existing members still have a lot of work to do on consolidation, Lammert, president of the lower house of the German parliament, reportedly said on Saturday (13 October).

In an interview, Lammert warned against admitting Croatia to the EU too quickly. "We must take the European Commission's latest progress report seriously, especially in light of the experiences we had with [EU members] Bulgaria and Romania. Croatia is clearly not yet ready for membership," Lammert said.

"We have so many urgent tasks to complete in terms of consolidating the community that we should not let ambition once again take the place of necessary stabilization," he said.

One day before Lammert’s comments were made public, EurActiv Germany reported about growing skepticism in the Bundestag to Croatia’s approaching EU accession.

Croatia concluded its accession negotiations and signed its EU accession treaty in December (see background). Last week, the Commission published a positive assessment on Croatia’s preparation for EU accession, with a last monitoring report to appear in spring 2013. Up to now more than half of the EU countries have ratified Croatia’s accession treaty.

Lammert’s statements unleashed a flurry of reactions in Croatia. President Ivo Josipović said that he “understood” general skepticism towards EU enlargement, but stressed that Croatia was well on track according to the latest Commission monitoring report.  

The speaker of the Croatian Parliament, Josip Leko, also said that the country credibly fulfilled its obligations and expressed his view that the EU countries see in it a “desirable new newcomer”.

Foreign and European Affairs Minister Vesna Pusić has said that Croatia treated seriously every warning regarding its road to EU accession.

"We are in touch with representatives of the German government and German parliamentarians. We take seriously any warning. We believe that Croatia is capable of meeting conditions and tasks which it has been given in that report. I think that [some German] positions reflect, to a certain degree, scepticism that generally exists in Europe about enlargement. The tasks are big and important, and we are capable of achieving them and we will achieve them," Pusić  said, as quoted by the Croatian agency HINA.

In the meantime, the German government made efforts to set the record straight after the confusing statement of the Bundestag chief.

“In the pre-accession monitoring the European Commission has pointed to some remaining deficiencies which it detects.  … We are confident that Croatia can meet them within the stated timeframe," the German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said at his regular press conference on Friday.

The government published his statement on its web site on Saturday.

"Whoever calls Croatia's entry into question believes that the European Union is incapable of making peace in Europe in the future. This is the most mistaken understanding of the award of the Nobel Prize for Peace to the European Union," the Minister for European Affairs of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, Hans-Peter Friedrich of the SPD, was quoted as saying by Spiegel Online.

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