Croatia on track to end EU talks in 2010, negotiator says
Jul 27, 2010, 16:58 GMT
Brussels - Croatia is 'on the right track' to conclude European Union accession talks this year, its chief negotiator said Tuesday, after his country made further strides in the process.
Meeting that self-imposed target would allow the Balkan country to join the EU in 2012 or 2013, considering the time required for its accession treaty to be ratified by the bloc's existing members.
'I'd say we are on the right track,' Croatia's chief negotiator Vladimir Drobnjak said in an interview with the German Press Agency dpa.
He spoke after a so-called Accession conference certified that Croatia had brought its laws into line with EU standards on food safety and contributions to the bloc's budget, two of the 33 technical dossiers or 'chapters' that make up the accession process.
Another two chapters, bringing up the total to 35, are normally tackled at the end of the process, but are seen as a formality.
'We are keeping a good momentum,' Drobnjak noted, declaring himself 'really happy' with the pace of negotiations.
Tuesday's meeting left Croatia with the task of concluding work on a further 11 technical dossiers, touching sensitive areas such justice and competition policies.
Drobnjak seemed confident that the Croatian government would be able to heed Brussels' demands to clean up the judiciary, privatize the shipyard industry and achieve 'full cooperation' with the United Nations' war crimes tribunal in the Hague (ICTY).
In a decision published Tuesday, ICTY acknowledged that 'the Croatian government in recent years has taken a proactive approach and made substantial efforts' to supply documents requested by prosecutors.
However, it also indicated that 'in other areas, documents surfaced only gradually and many requested documents were not produced.'
Drobnjak pointed out that ICTY judges accepted that 'no-one can firmly conclude' whether the material, related to the trial of former general Ante Gotovina, 'exists at all and can be retrieved at all.'
But with Britain and the Netherlands ready to block EU talks if ICTY's top prosecutor, Serge Brammerts, declares himself unhappy with Croatia, Drobnjak repeated his government's pledge to 'keep doing the best.'
Croatia, which started talks in 2005, made its latest progress towards the EU on the day the bloc launched negotiations with Iceland, a more advanced nation that some say could leapfrog other applicants on the way to Brussels.
But Drobnjak was unfazed, insisting that Croatia 'shall be the 28th member state' of the EU. He wished 'all the best' to 'those who are coming after, Iceland being one.'
Croatia's EU talks, while proceeding far more swiftly that Turkey's, which also started in 2005, hit a snag late 2008, when Slovenia halted them over a territorial dispute.
The issue appeared to have been resolved last month, when Slovenians approved by referendum to let international arbitrators settle the row.
'We still have some small details to iron out but I think a historical milestone has been achieved,' Drobnjak said.
'We are exiting the phase of disagreements and problems and we are rapidly entering into a phase of strategic cooperation ... I don't expect our relations with Slovenia will pose any further problems,' he added.