In an annual report, the European Commission is expected to tell Croatia it should conclude its accession talks by the end of next year, if it takes the necessary steps.
Other hopefuls are lagging behind. A draft said Macedonia can not start entry talks yet. Turkey will be told to put new energy into reforms. Serbia must do likewise and cooperate over warcrimes, even to get on the candidate ladder.
The progress report criticised The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia over its failure to meet the
political criteria, notably frowning on an election it held this year which was widely considered flawed.
Officials say the Commission will partially praise Turkey for improving relations with Armenia, for help stabilising the Caucasus and for some economic reforms.
Serbia’s interior minister has said it hopes to win EU candidate status even before general Ratko Mladic is captured. He said: ‘Like America hasn’t arrested Bin Laden yet but is trying, we’re also doing our best.’
Brussels said Croatia could see a Commission financial package for its accession mid-way through next year, though the draft could still be changed before the Commission adopts it.
EU sources said the steps Croatia still needs to take include tougher anti-corruption action and industrial reform in line with EU aid rules.
Violence linked to organised crime, including the murder of a newspaper editor last week, has blotted Zagreb’s EU accession efforts.