Commission consults war crimes tribunal over EU hopefuls

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Chief UN Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Serge Brammertz held talks on Tuesday (4 May) in Brussels with EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle, Croatian press agency HINA reports.

The press in Croatia reports that few details emerged from the meeting. However, it is widely assumed that Brammertz was able to give his assessment of Croatia's cooperation with the ICTY, as he had previously indicated.

The high-level Belgian prosecutor, who replaced the Swiss Carla Del Ponte on 1 January 2008, said he expected Croatia to submit to the ICTY prosecution military documents on the so-called 'artillery files' case (see 'Background') and to be engaged in intensive dialogue.

Several EU member states blocked Croatia's EU entry talks in chapter 23 – which concerns the judiciary and fundamental rights – over the artillery files, which the ICTY wants and Croatia claims it cannot locate.

The impasse was broken in mid-February when the Netherlands withdrew its reservations about opening chapter 23 and Croatia was invited to submit its negotiating position for the chapter as part of its EU accession negotiations.

Zagreb has submitted its negotiating position, and the European Commission has subsequently started to draw up an EU joint negotiating position, which is expected to be forwarded to the EU Council this month (EURACTIV 30/11/09).

After that, EU member states are expected to open a debate that will lead to the unanimous adoption of a joint negotiating position, which is a precondition for opening negotiations on each chapter (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on EU-Croatia relations).

Croatian Justice Minister Ivan Simonovic discussed Chapter 23 in Brussels yesterday (5 May). He also met Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding and the European Parliament's rapporteur on Croatia, Hannes Swoboda (S&D, Austria).

Simonovic, who has just been appointed UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said earlier on Tuesday (4 May) that he would like to finish work on opening the negotiations on the 'Judiciary and Fundamental Rights' chapter as part of Croatia's EU accession talks before taking up his new position at the UN.

"Before taking up the new post, I would like to see Chapter 23 opened and Croatia receiving closing benchmarks," Simonovic is quoted by HINA as saying.

Should his wish materialise, Croatia would have closed the most difficult chapter of its negotiations during the Spanish Presidency. Simonovic is expected to take office in New York in early June.

The latest European Commission Enlargement strategy said that in the case of Serbia, cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has further improved, but war criminals Ratko Mladi? and Goran Hadži? - who have both been indicted - remain at large (EURACTIV 15/10/09).

Regarding Croatia, considerable challenges remain regarding access by ICTY to important documents on the use of artillery by Croatian forces during the Balkan war in the 1990s, the Commission paper says. The so-called 'artillery files' refer to Operation Storm, a Croatian military offensive to regain territory which caused around 200,000 Serbs to flee the former Yugoslav republic at the end of the 1991-1995 war. 

Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor's decided in October 2009 to establish an Inter-Agency Task Force to locate the missing documents related to the 1995 operation.

Speaking to the European Parliament last February, Serge Brammertz, chief UN prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), underlined the close link between cooperation with the ICTY and the EU membership prospects of Balkan outsiders (EURACTIV 02/02/10).

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