On 9 November, the Commission adopted its 2010 Enlargement package. It comprised a Strategy paper, the Opinions on the membership applications by Montenegro and Albania and seven Progress Reports on the potential candidate countries and on the candidate countries including Croatia. On Croatia, the Commission concluded that the good overall progress achieved by Croatia in numerous fields means that negotiations have entered their final phase. Negotiations should be concluded once Croatia has met the outstanding benchmarks, in particular in the field of judiciary and fundamental rights.
Ahead of the adoption of the Report, Commissioner Füle stated: "EU membership for Croatia is in sight. The last 100 metres in a marathon are always also the most difficult. The country has to be able to fully take on board, as from day one of accession, the membership rights and obligations. We trust the Croatian politicians and the society at large to pull their efforts together to deal with the remaining reforms necessary to achieve this objective soon."
Croatia continues to meet the political criteria. Progress has been made on the benchmarks associated with Chapter 23, including efforts to strengthen the independence of the judiciary by adopting new legislation and reducing case-backlogs. The Office for the Fight against Corruption and Organised Crime (USKOK) remains active and the first high level political cases are before the courts. Croatia has contributed to improved bilateral relations in the region.
Efforts must continue in particular in the fields of judicial and administrative reforms, minority rights, refugee return and war crimes. Full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) remains a requirement for Croatia's progress throughout the accession process, in line with the Negotiating Framework. Judicial reform has continued, however remaining challenges include the application of objective and transparent criteria for the appointment of judges and prosecutors, the further reduction of the backlog of cases and the length of proceedings as well as improved enforcement of decisions. Corruption remains prevalent in many areas. The new structures and tools have not yet been tested fully in practice, particularly the courts' ability to handle the increasing number and complexity of cases. Stronger political commitment and improved coordination between the key stakeholders is needed to achieve tangible results in the area of public administration reform.
The Commission will closely monitor Croatia's progress in the field of judiciary and fundamental rights and take stock of the situation in the first quarter of 2011.
Croatia is a functioning market economy. It should be able to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the Union, provided that it continues to implement its comprehensive reform programme with determination in order to reduce structural weaknesses.
Croatia's economy was severely affected by the global economic and financial crisis. Like many other countries, Croatia fell into recession in the first quarter of 2009 and there were no clear signs of a recovery by mid-2010. Unemployment, public deficit and debt have increased significantly. External indebtedness rose further and remains a vulnerable aspect of the economy. Monetary stability was preserved by the policies of the central bank and the financial sector weathered the crisis relatively well. The Economic Recovery Programme has given economic policy a medium-term orientation, but this needs to be implemented effectively.
The labour market remains rigid. The investment climate continues to be hampered by regulatory burdens and para-fiscal taxes. Further efforts are needed to contain the rising deficit and to increase the efficiency of public spending. Improving the budgetary process and discipline remains a key challenge in order to achieve medium-term fiscal sustainability.
Croatia's preparations for meeting EU requirements are well advanced. There has been further progress in all key areas, including in those chapters where the level of alignment with EU rules was already high. However, additional efforts are needed, in particular to strengthen further the administrative capacity necessary for the proper implementation of the EU legislation, and standards, as well as the absorption of EU funds.
EU - CROATIA: KEY DATES
February 2003: Croatia submits EU membership application
April 2004: The European Commission issues positive opinion on Croatia’s application for EU membership application
June 2004: Croatia obtains the status of candidate country
1 February 2005: Entry into force of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU
3 October 2005: Accession negotiations begin
5 November 2010: Inter-Governmental Conference closes three more chapters. This brings the total of provisionally closed chapters to 25.
More information at:
EU Delegation in Zagreb: http://www.delhrv.ec.europa.eu/?lang=en