Croatia’s bid to enter the European Union could be wrapped up as early as next year.In its annual report on EU hopefuls, the European Commission has made it clear it is going to take many years before the the bulk of the applicants will be able to join the 27 nation bloc. However, if Croatia is able to meet all the outstanding benchmarks in time, as it is on course to do, the accession negotiations could be concluded as early as next year according to the Commission. Croatia’s progress has been aided by the settlement of a border dispute with EU member Slovenia which meant accession talks were frozen for a year. The Commission report also urged EU governments to open membership talks with Macedonia as the former Yugoslav territory has cooperated fully in attempting to achieve the required reforms. Other Balkan countries striving for EU membership are Montenegro and Albania. Along with Bosnia, Herzogovina, Serbia and Kosovo, they are all said to be making “uneven” progress towards membership. The situation is especially grave in Bosnia and Herzegovina, says the Commission report because the leaders of ethnic communities are not able to agree on reforms. Iceland has emerged as a likely candidate for speedy assimilation into the EU, possibly at the same time as Croatia. The EC document gives no entry date for Croatia but diplomats say the state, with a population of four and a half million, could become the EU’s 28th member in 2012 after ratification of its accession treaty as early as next year.