Restart of ‘win-win-win’ Croatia talks

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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. 

During the French EU Presidency, Slovenia blocked the opening of negotiating chapters with Zagreb over Croatia's EU accession due to an unresolved border dispute (EURACTIV 18/12/08). Overall, Ljubljana prevented nine negotiating chapters from being opened and five from being closed.

The subsequent Czech EU Presidency failed to make any progress in the negotiations. In the meantime, hopes have died for Croatia's objective of wrapping up accession talks by the end of the year with the aim of joining the bloc in 2010.

The border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia concerns small pockets of land along the Adriatic coast, which could prove important if accompanied by exclusive access rights to deep-sea zones.

A huge mediation effort from the Union was abandoned last June (EURACTIV 15/06/09). The beginning of the Swedish Presidency marked a toughening of the EU's mediation efforts, as Sweden stated that it would not engage in solving bilateral problems, including the Croatia-Slovenia border dispute (EURACTIV 23/06/09).

On 11 September, 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 (EURACTIV 11/09/09).

On 29 September, the Slovenian parliament unblocked negotiations with a vote in its committee on EU affairs (EURACTIV 30/09/09). 

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