Croatia’s accession negotiations set to conclude this year

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The European Parliament has given a positive overall verdict on last year's efforts by Croatia and Macedonia to qualify for EU membership. In resolutions debated and approved yesterday (10 February), MEPs also took note of the limited progress made by Turkey in meeting EU membership criteria.

Accession negotiations with Croatia could be wound up in 2010 and Croatia's successful accession would give a "positive impetus" to the process of integrating the rest of the Western Balkan region within Europe, say MEPs in a resolution drafted by Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda (S&D).

It was adopted yesterday (10 February) at a Strasbourg plenary session by 582 votes to 24, with 37 abstentions.

MEPs are nonetheless concerned that public support for membership is diminishing in Croatia.

Croatia is expected to "co-operate fully" with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and allow the Court access to documents requested for use in war-crime trials, the resolution said (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

Arrangements for solving the bilateral border dispute with Slovenia "have created the momentum to open all remaining chapters," the resolution mentions (EURACTIV 12/01/10).

Parliament recommends that the Council should decide "as soon as possible" to open the "Judiciary and Fundamental Rights" chapter of the negotiations (EURACTIV 30/11/09).

Macedonia talks to begin 'in the near future'

Concerning Macedonia, MEPs backed the Greek government's suggestion of a "symbolic and motivational target date of 2014" for the EU accession of Western Balkan countries, in a resolution drafted by Slovenian Zoran Thaler (Socialists & Democrats) and adopted by 548 votes to 45, with 35 abstentions.

MEPs expect the negotiations with Macedonia "to begin in the near future". Parliament asked the Council to confirm at its March 2010 summit that it had accepted the Commission's recommendation that negotiations be opened (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

On the issue of the country's name, Parliament asked the governments of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece to "redouble their efforts at the highest level to find a mutually satisfactory solution to the name issue" (EURACTIV 04/02/10).

Turkey made 'limited efforts'

Progress on concrete reforms remained limited in 2009, said a resolution on Turkey drafted by Dutch MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten (European People's Party).

Parliament recalled that the opening of negotiations in 2005 was the starting point for "a long-lasting and open-ended process".

MEPs deplored the non-implementation of the Additional Protocol to the EC-Turkey Association Agreement for the "fourth consecutive year". "Failure to do so may further seriously affect the process of negotiations," they warned (EURACTIV 26/11/09).

The Turkish government should contribute "in concrete terms" to the comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue, MEPs also said (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

MEPs appreciated the diplomatic efforts made to normalise relations with Armenia but asked for the relevant protocols to be ratified (EURACTIV 12/11/09). In addition, they acknowledged Turkey's role in regional security (the Black Sea and the Middle East).

Parliament welcomed the signature of the Nabucco pipeline agreement and called for the opening of the energy chapter in its accession negotiations (EURACTIV 06/10/09).

On Croatia:

"I agree that it is possible to complete negotiations this year, but whether they will be completed depends on Croatia," the European Parliament's rapporteur on Croatia, Austrian Socialist MEP Hannes Swoboda, said during a debate on the progress of EU candidate countries ïn Strasbourg.

"There is a need to finalise negotiations with Croatia during 2010," said Swedish EPP (European People's Party) MEP Gunnar Hökmark, chairman of the Parliament's delegation to the EU-Croatia Joint Parliamentary Committee. "Croatia's efforts are not made for us; they are making Croatia a better country and a better society for its citizens," he added.

"If we were to close the door, we would run the risk of facing new problems and new threats to European values. We need to move forward with enlargement based on criteria we fully support in order to achieve a better Europe," he concluded.

"Croatia's accession is the best message we can send to the whole region: that we wish to have it firmly anchored within European structures," said German Christian Democrat (EPP) MEP Bernd Posselt.

"The EU has a great responsibility in making sure that the hope of membership remains a strong incentive for reforms. This is all the more true in countries where the stabilising effect of the EU still plays a major role," he added.

"Croatia has undertaken many reforms, bringing it closer to the conclusion of negotiations. Now it must step up the fight against corruption and reform the judiciary," said Slovenian Liberal MEP Ivo Vajgl.

"The government led by the new Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor must also fully cooperate with the ICTY, respect human rights and protect national and other minorities," he added.

"Croatia should undertake intense efforts to solve open questions with neighbouring countries, especially the open border issues. These steps are vital to Croatia's European future," he concluded.

Green MEP Franziska Katharina Brantner said that her parliamentary group would also like to see Croatia as an EU member as soon as possible, citing the progress the country had made. From the security point of view, it would be an important message to the entire region, she added.

European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) MEP Charles Tannock said that bilateral problems should not slow Croatia's EU entry, pointing out that Italy didn't stop Slovenia's entry over border and minority issues.

He said that Croatia had made great progress in meeting the benchmarks.

On Macedonia:

Slovenian MEP Zoran Thaler, S&D rapporteur on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, stressed that the opening of accession talks had been recommended and was expected to begin soon.

"We hope that the March EU summit will confirm the start of negotiations. The EU needs to honour its commitments and encourage the country to comply with European principles and values," he said.

Liberal MEP Norica Nicolai (Romania) said: "This report shows a welcome consensus from the Parliament on the way forward for FYROM. Accession negotiations should start this year as recommended by the Commission. The name issue with Greece should not be an impossible obstacle."

On Turkey:

"I welcome the broad public debate in Turkey on a number of important issues such as the rights of minorities, the citizens of Kurdish origin, but also the religious miniorities such as the Alevis," said EPP rapporteur Ria Oomen-Ruijten. "On the other hand, I notice a number of setbacks in the process," she added.

"I regret that where legislation on the Copenhagen political criteria is in place, its implementation is insufficient," she stressed.

"Cyprus is an issue that has bedevilled Turkey's EU membership application," said Liberal MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (Germany).

"The report rightly calls for all parties to do their utmost to reach a negotiated settlement on the division of the island, with the support of the United Nations," he added.

Croatia is poised to be the first country to join the EU since the accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007. Of the 35 chapters, 28 have been opened and 17 have been already closed (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

In April 2008, Athens vetoed Macedonia's invitation to join NATO, arguing that the name 'Macedonia' could lead Skopje to make territorial claims over Greece's own northern province of the same name (EURACTIV 04/04/08).

Due to the 'name dispute', Macedonia still finds itself unable to start accession talks with the EU, despite the fact that it received candidate country status as early as December 2005.

The EU symbolically opened membership talks with Turkey in October 2005, but a number of stumbling blocks remain on Ankara's road to EU accession, in particular concerning trade links with Cyprus, freedom of expression and the rights of the Kurdish minority.

Twelve out of the 35 chapters have so far been opened by Turkey. The environment chapter was opened in December 2009 (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

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