European Union leaders said Croatia is ready to become the bloc’s 28th member, signalling peace in the Balkan region.
“The future accession of Croatia brings new momentum to the European vocation of the countries in the Western Balkans,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters at the conclusion of a two-day EU summit in Brussels Friday.
Negotiations with Croatia should be concluded by the end of June, and an accession treaty will be signed by December, according to the summit’s draft conclusion. The ratification process by member states will probably last until June 2013, opening the path for Croatia to become a full member of the world’s largest trading alliance.
Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor also needs to convince voters to accept cuts in public spending and vote for EU membership at a referendum, which must be held within 30 days of the signing of the accession treaty.
EU Commission President Jose Barroso said he was confident Croatia will meet its goal. Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Barroso said Croatia’s accession is a signal of peace in the Balkan region.
Kosor pledged to continue with the changes needed and said she sees the conclusion of talks on the eve of Croatia’s 20th anniversary of gaining independence as an “historic” moment.
“This will give us strength to continue with all the hard work,” Kosor told reporters.
Croatia hopes to be the second former Yugoslav republic, after Slovenia, to join the EU. In more than five years of formal negotiations, the country has completed talks on policy areas including agriculture, environmental protection, fisheries and trade. It improved competition by selling state-subsidized, unprofitable shipyards and started reforms in education, government administration and health care.
Croatian authorities in the past year investigated hundreds of corruption cases, targeting government officials and ruling- party members, including former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, who is awaiting extradition from Austria on suspicion of abuse of power and corruption.
Unlike recent members Bulgaria and Romania, Croatia also had to overcome the effects of the Balkan wars during the break-up of Yugoslavia that devastated the region’s economy and led to the creation of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
Croatia will probably have to comply with EU monitoring until it becomes a full member to ensure its reforms are irreversible.