Croatia made “substantial progress” by opening six and closing five negotiating chapters with the EU, said Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn after a meeting between representatives of Croatia, Slovenia and the EU on Friday (2 October). But Zagreb recognised the difficulty of the challenges ahead in its accession talks, especially in justice and home affairs.
“I would say that this is not only a win-win situation for Slovenia and Croatia; it’s a win-win-win, because it is also a victory for the European Union if we can unblock the negotiations with Croatia and see that the border dispute is settled,” said Commissioner Rehn.
The conference, led on the EU side by Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Bildt, and on the Croatian side by Gordan Jandrokovi, minister of foreign affairs and European integration, opened negotiations on six chapters: Chapter 4 (Free Movement of Capital), Chapter 11 (Agriculture and Rural Development), Chapter 12 (Food Safety, Veterinary and Phytosanitary Policy), Chapter 16 (Taxation), Chapter 22 (Regional Policy and Coordination of Structural Instruments), and Chapter 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security).
It also provisionally closed five other chapters: Chapter 2 (Free Movement of Workers), Chapter 6 (Company Law), Chapter 18 (Statistics), Chapter 21 (Trans-European Networks) and Chapter 29 (Customs Union).
Rehn insisted that the reopening of the negotiations, which now comprise a total of eleven chapters, represent a crucial step in Croatia’s accession process.
Croatia/Slovenia border dispute
On the border row (see ‘Background’), Jandrokovi said that his country was continuing talks with Slovenia “in good faith”. He added that he is sure “important steps forward” are to follow. He refused to give further details of the agreement “for the moment”.
His Slovenian counterpart Samuel Bogar warned that “it took six months of efforts to reach an agreement” and said both sides still needed a technical meeting to finalise their conditions before signing the deal.
Difficult challenges ahead
Both the EU and Croatia recognise that difficult chapters, such as justice and human rights, are a challenge for the candidate country.
“We are aware of our homework,” said Jandrokovi.
Indeed, Croatia still needs to step up its fight against corruption and make its courts and public administration more efficient. It must also show it is cooperating fully with the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
A progress report by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia’s (ICTY) chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz will be presented on 14 October, announced Rehn.