Standing ovation for Croatia’s 2013 EU accession

Croatia standing ovation.JPG

MEPs applauded a motion approving Croatia's EU membership on 1 July 2013, after passing it yesterday (1 December) by a large majority in the European Parliament. EU heads of states are expected to sign the Accession Treaty at next week's summit in Brussels.

The Parliament resolution, drafted by Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda (Socialists and Democrats), was passed with 564 votes in favour, 38 against and 32 abstentions.

MEPs hailed the decision with a standing ovation in the plenary chamber.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament has acquired the right to give its consent to any new EU membership before the Accession Treaty is signed.

In Croatia's case, the treaty will be signed by EU Heads of state and governments on the margins of the European Council on 9 December, with the participation of Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and Croatian President Ivo Josipovi?.

"We have given a clear sign of the extent to which the EU wants Croatia," Parliament President Jerzy Buzek stated in plenary.

Referendum

The former Yugoslav Republic is expected to become a full EU member as of 1 July 2013, after holding a referendum over its EU membership in the weeks following the signing of the Accession Treaty.

Holding an accession referendum is not a requirement for Croatia, but Zagreb took the initiative as a sovereign decision. According to a recent opinion poll, 52% of Croats say they would vote in favour of EU membership.

The treaty also needs to be ratified by all 27 member states (see background). No member country is expected to hold a referendum on Croatia's accession.

In an accompanying report, MEPs urged Croatians to turn out en masse for the EU referendum. They called on EU member states to complete the ratification process swiftly and said they looked forward to receiving Croatian observers in Parliament very soon.

MEPs emphasised that they will follow the pre-accession monitoring process and asked the European Commission to keep Parliament abreast of the extent to which the Croatian authorities honour the commitments made in the negotiations.

Judicial reforms and fight against crime, corruption

Unlike Bulgaria and Romania, which have joined the EU under a "Cooperation and Verification" mechanism to monitor their deficient law-enforcement systems, Croatia will be monitored only until its accession. MEPs invited Zagreb to tackle remaining challenges, especially regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organised crime.

They urged Croatia to step up its efforts to prosecute war criminals, comply with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, including on the returning of war refugees, especially Serbs.

Finally, MEPs called on Croatia to continue making structural reforms to its economy, stimulate employment by reviving the labour market and pursue fiscal consolidation in order to boost competitiveness.

The EU's Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle stressed that Croatia was the first country to negotiate its EU membership according to a new method that includes benchmarks for opening and closing policy chapters.

In future enlargement talks, one of the first chapters to be opened will be law enforcement, the Commission recently said, having learned lessons from its recent experience.

Polish State Secretary for European Affairs Miko?aj Dowgielewicz congratulated Croatia on behalf of the Polish EU Presidency, saying that it was a very important event also for Croatia's Southeast European neighbours.

Dowgielewicz expressed satisfaction that Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor would attend as an observer the meeting of the European Council, to start right after the signing of the accession treaty.

The European Parliament's rapporteur on Croatia, Hannes Swoboda (S&D Austria), said that Croatia had done a huge job during the negotiations, underlining the fight against corruption and illustrating it with the fact that former PM Ivo Sanader was on trial for corruption.

Joseph Daul MEP, Chairman of the European People's Party (EPP) in the European Parliament, welcomed the vote. "I am looking forward to the signature of the Accession Treaty and to Croatia becoming an acceding State of the European Union, with the right to speak in the European Institutions, particularly with the timely arrival of the Croatian Observer Members to the European Parliament", said Daul.

Green foreign policy spokesperson Franziska Brantner MEP said the Parliament had recognised the huge progress made by Croatia to reform its judicial system. "The process of reform is not over, however, and Croatia should continue on its reform path. This is particularly true in the areas of justice reform, anti-corruption reforms, minority protection and the prosecution of war crimes," she said.

"The EP has today also criticised the crackdown on the last Gay Pride Parade in Split, in spite of efforts by the EPP to muzzle this criticism," she continued, adding that "the EP must now continue to monitor the situation to ensure Croatia implements all reforms and that the EU Commission properly oversees this."

"To this end, the Greens believe the EP should be given the role of assessing the 6-monthly monitoring reports on Croatia's progress," Brantner stressed. 

Croatia's accession treaty will be ratified in EU countries together with the post-Lisbon Treaty protocols accommodating the concerns of Ireland and the Czech Republic, which they made preconditions for their ratifications of Lisbon.

Ireland secured guarantees that nothing in the Lisbon Treaty would affect current EU rules on taxation, that the treaty "does not affect or prejudice Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality," and that it cannot overrule an Irish constitutional ban on abortion. 

The 'Czech guarantees' addressed requests persistently made by eurosceptic Czech President Václav Klaus, whose signature represented the last hurdle before the definitive adoption of the treaty. In particular, Prague obtained opt-outs from the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

  • 9 Dec. 2011: EU and Croatian leaders to sign roatia Accession Treaty at Brussels summit.
  • Weeks after: Croatia expected to hold referendum over its EU accession.
  • 1 July 2013: Croatia xpected to become full EU member.

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