EU-Croatia relations

Croatia is poised to be the first country to join the EU since the accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007, with the former Yugoslav republic accession negotiations expected to conclude in 2011.

Background

Croatia was part of federal Yugoslavia before and after World War Two. The country declared independence in June 1991. This led to war with the troops from the remainder of Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia and with members of the ethnic Serb community inside Croatia itself.

  • 1992: EU established diplomatic relations with Zagreb.
  • Oct. 2001: Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) signed.
  • End 2001: Commission adopted country strategy for Croatia (2002-2006), providing assistance via the CARDS programme.
  • 21 Feb. 2003: Croatia submitted its application for EU membership
  • June 2004: Council gave a go-ahead to open membership talks.
  • Dec. 2004: EU said it would open accession talks in spring 2005, provided that the country co-operates fully with the international war crimes tribunal.
  • 16 March 2005: EU postponed launch of accession talks, arguing that Zagreb had not met related conditions.
  • Oct. 2005: EU formally opened membership talks with Croatia.
  • The screening process started in October 2005 and was completed in October 2006.
  • The negotiation chapter on science and research was opened and closed in June 2006.
  • 29 March 2007: Negotiation chapter on intellectual property law was opened.
  • 19 Dec. 2007: 4th EU-Croatia Accession Conference in Brussels opened negotiations on two more chapters: trans-European networks, and financial and budgetary provisions. 
  • 30 Oct. 2008: 7th meeting of the Accession Conference at deputy level: four negotiation chapters are provisionally closed, leaving the number of chapters open at 21.
  • Nov. 2008-Sept. 2009: Croatian negotiation process comes to a halt due to border dispute with Slovenia. Despite considerable diplomatic efforts, the Czech Presidency did not succeed in unblocking the impasse (EURACTIV 19/06/09).
  • The Croatian and Slovenian prime ministers agree that it should not constitute an obstacle to Croatian accession. An arbitration agreement was signed in September 2009 and has already been ratified by the Croatian parliament. It now requires ratification in Slovenia's parliament.
  • 20 Apr. 2010: Since 2005, negotiations have been opened on 30 out of 35 chapters and provisionally closed on eighteen (EURACTIV 20/04/10).
  • May 2010: European Commission submits draft negotiating position on accession chapter 23 - judiciary and fundamental rights - to the Council. The EU member states must endorse the position in order for the chapter to be opened.
  • 30 June 2011: An Inter-Governmental Conference closes accession negotiations.
  • 12 October 2011: The European Commission adopts a favourable opinion on Croatia's accession to the EU.
  • December 2011: The European Parliament gives its consent. The Accession Treaty is signed.
  • 1 July 2013: Accession of Croatia, subject to the ratification of the Accession Treaty.

Issues

Croatia has met the political preconditions for EU membership spelled out in its accession roadmap. Progress has been made in most areas, particularly regarding respect for the rule of law. However, more needs to be done, especially in the fields of judicial and administrative reform, the fight against corruption, minority rights and the return of refugees.

Croatia has met the political preconditions for EU membership spelled out in its accession roadmap. Progress has been made in most areas, particularly regarding respect for the rule of law. However, more needs to be done, especially in the fields of judicial and administrative reform, the fight against corruption, minority rights and the return of refugees. Cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has been sustained, but the European Commission has expressed concern over the difficulties encountered by the ICTY in accessing important documents.

In terms of economic issues, Croatia is already considered to have a functioning market economy as advanced and stable as some existing EU member states. The Commission has recognised the country's efforts to achieve "a considerable degree of macroeconomic stability with low inflation".

Financial assistance for Croatia is provided under the new Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA). The 2009 IPA programmes amounted to €151 million. Croatia will also benefit from a €200 million IPA crisis package for the Western Balkan region. 

In its enlargement strategy adopted on 5 November 2008, the Commission put forth a roadmap for reaching the final stage of accession negotiations with Croatia by the end of 2009. According to the October 2009 Commission report, the roadmap has successfully prompted Croatia to initiate and complete the reforms necessary to close twelve negotiation chapters.

A bilateral border issue with Slovenia dashed Croatia's hopes of joining the EU in 2009. Despite Croatia's advances in many areas, a number of chapters could not be formally closed due to Slovenia's blockages in the Council. In September 2009, the standstill came to an end after Slovenia decided to lift the informal veto on Croatian accession. 

Another positive signal that Croatia is heading for EU membership is linked to guarantees offered to the Czech Republic by the European Council of 29/30 October 2009. Czech President Václav Klaus made his signature of the much awaited Lisbon Treaty conditional on a guarantee that Germans expelled from Czech Republic after WWII would not be in a position to claim their land back once the Treaty has entered into force (Euractiv 30/10/09). 

EU leaders meeting in Brussels agreed to attach these formal guarantees as a new declaration to Protocol 30 of the Lisbon Treaty. But the impossibility of amending the Lisbon text at this stage of the ratification process implies that the modification must take place at another time. According to Czech sources, the clause is expected to be added to Croatia's EU accession treaty, implying that Croatian membership is a fait accompli

Positions

New enlargement commisioner Stefan Füle stated on 23 March 2010 that Croatia is approaching the end of its EU membership negotiations, but there is still some work to be done and ''the last leap will be the hardest''.

Former enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn stated on 14 October 2009 that "Croatia is nearing the finishing line after four years of intense accession negotiations". 

"However, Croatia needs to pursue and intensify its reform efforts, especially on the judiciary [and] the fight against corruption and organised crime before the negotiations can be concluded. And it has to definitely solve the issue of access to documents by the ICTY as a matter of urgency," Rehn added. 

Gunnar Hökmark MEP, chairman of the European Parliament's EU-Croatia joint parliamentary committee, considers the rapprochement between Ljubljana and Zagreb to be an important moment in resolving the border dispute, but more importantly the key that opens Croatia's door to become the EU's 28th member state (14 October 2009). 

At its fifth meeting (27 April 2009), the Stabilisation and Association Council noted the progress made by Croatia in respect of the Copenhagen criteria for EU accession and encouraged it to step up implementation of measures for housing care for returning refugees. 

Ian Micallef, acting president of the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, expressed satisfaction with the agreement reached between Croatia and Slovenia on solving their territorial dispute. He added that "this is a move in the right direction which should open a new chapter in relations between these two member states of the Council of Europe, which will certainly have a larger positive impact on the region as a whole" (16 September 2009). 

Regarding Croatia's cooperation with the ICTY's Serge Brammertz, the UN's chief prosecutor, stated that the only outstanding issue is the prosecution's request that Croatia provide a number of key military documents related to Operation Storm in 1995. On 4 June 2009, the prosecutor informed the UN Security Council that "progress in the lengthy investigation has been limited" and that "to date, the large majority of the military documents have not been submitted to the Tribunal". 

In a letter addressed to the Czech EU Presidency, Amnesty International stated its concern at the continuing lack of progress made by the Croatian authorities to investigate war crimes committed during the 1991-1995 war and fully cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Timeline

  • 29 March 2007: Negotiation chapter on intellectual property law opened.
  • 26 June 2007: Six new chapters are opened, namely: freedom to provide services, company law, financial services, information society and media, statistics and financial control, bringing the number of open chapters to twelve.
  • 19 Dec. 2007: Negotiations opened on two more chapters: trans-European networks, and financial and budgetary provisions.
  • 17 June 2008: EU opens two new chapters with Croatia: free movement of workers and social policy and employment, bringing the total number of opened chapters to 20 of 35 that have to be closed before accession. 
  • Dec. 2008: Slovenia vetoes the opening of nine negotiation chapters due to its border dispute with Croatia. The border dispute concerns small pockets of land along the Adriatic coast, which could prove important if accompanied by exclusive access rights to deep-sea zones.
  • 11 Sept. 2009: Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and her Slovene counterpart Borut Pahor announced that the border dispute should not constitute an obstacle to proceeding with Croatia's EU accession negotiations. 
  • 29 Sept. 2009: Parliamentary committee on EU affairs in Ljubljana votes in favour of lifting the veto that had prevented the closure of negotiation chapters between the EU and Croatia. 
  • 14 Oct. 2009: EU publishes a new enlargement strategy and a progress report on Croatia which stresses the successes of the accession roadmap.
  • 6 June 2010: Slovenia narrowly approves an arbitration deal to end its border dispute with Croatia. In a referendum, 51.5% of Slovenes supported the deal, which would be legally binding and remove a major obstacle to Croatia's EU accession.
  • 2010: Expected end of Croatia's accession negotiations.

Further Reading

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe