The European Union has given a conditional thumbs up for Croatia to join the bloc. That should see accession talks wrapped up as early as next week, allowing the former Yugoslav state to finally enter in 2013.
The decision ends years of difficult negotiations.
Brussels had accused Zagreb of foot dragging over democratic reform, while Croatia complained of the EU’s reluctance to expand.
EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy said: “We expect the Council to conclude the accession negotiations very soon, before the end of June. We would then sign the accession treaty before the end of the year. The future accession of Croatia brings new momentum to the European vocation of the countries in the western Balkans.”
Despite the provisional go-ahead, European opinion polls show the majority of Croats are eurosceptic.
However, Andrej Plenkovic, Croatia’s representative to the EU, insisted that was not the case.
“Croatians are not Eurosceptic, they are Eurorealists. I am convinced that the referendum that will be held at the end of the year will be positive and a win-win for both Croatia and for the European project,’‘ he said.
The arrest and conviction in April this year of General Ante Gotovina for war crimes was a key condition for entry. Despite that, Croatia has been told it must continue to fight corruption with ‘‘vigour’‘.
Euronews’ Gülsüm Alan says: “Following a long and difficult negotiation process, Croatia is finally close to reaching its goal. Before encountering any more hurdles it wants to join the European club on the date that has been set. The question now is who will be next after Croatia and will Europe continue to enlarge?”