Despite the considerable progress made by Croatia since the beginning of accession negotiations, much remains to be done, said panellists at a joint EPC-King Baudouin Foundation conference.
The panellists agreed that accession negotiations have become more complex as the “acquis communautaire” has grown and the number of member states has risen. As a result, the new candidate countries, like Croatia, have to face more complicated requirements.
Croatia is to negotiate the 35th chapter of the “acquis communautaire”, and twelve chapters have so far been opened, with two provisionally closed. A further seven chapters are being processed and two more will be opened “within days”, explained Vladimir Drobnjak, Croatia’s chief negotiator.
However, enthusiasm for enlargement has waned in the EU, as member states concentrate their attention on constitutional and institutional reform, he noted.
Croatia has now entered the most difficult phase of the negotiation process, said Christian Danielson, acting director for Croatia in DG Enlargement. Horizontal reforms are now required in areas such as the public and judicial sectors in order to implement the full “acquis communitaire”, he added.
Other issues to be addressed include agriculture, public procurement, restructuring industry in areas such as the ship-building sector and security matters such as the establishment of clear borders to enable Croatia to join the Schengen zone, he said.
He also outlined positive results attained by Croatia, including a doubling of foreign direct investment (FDI) since 2005. Indeed, FDI reached “a record €1.2 billion in the first quarter of 2007”. GDP has grown annually by 4.8% and GDP per capita stood at €7,700 in 2006, he reported. Moreover, unemployment has decreased to a record low of 11.2%.
Danielson said he does not consider “enlargement fatigue” to be a barrier to Croatia’s accession, as the phenomenon already existed during the latest enlargement. He believes that the way to overcome this situation is to ensure that the negotiation process is rigorous, to make it clear that a country is ready by the time it joins.
Panellists also discussed the issues raised by the European Parliament, which include:
- Concerns about local hostility to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia;
- the dispute with Slovenia over fishing rights in Piran Bay;
- the need for Croatia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
- the need for Croatia to improve its public administration to make it more transparent and reform the judicial system.