The European Commission (EC) [official website] officially recommended [statement text] Croatia [EC materials] for accession to the European Union (EU) [official website] and announced on Friday that Croatia will become the 28th member of the EU on July 1, 2013. EC President Jose Barroso stated that Croatia has made significant enough improvements in their final four "chapters," Competition, Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, Financial and Budgetary Provisions and Other Issues, to allow closure of the chapters and ultimate accession.
This important step forward by Croatia towards membership is also a signal to the rest to of South Eastern Europe: It shows that enlargement works, that the EU is serious about its commitment, and that structural European reforms in the countries pay off. I therefore hope that Croatia's progress is an inspiration to our other partners to reinvigorate their reform efforts and to deliver to the benefit of their people. This is also in the EU's self-interest. As I saw again during my two recent visits to the region, a credible enlargement policy remains our most important tool for strengthening mutual stability and prosperity in South Eastern Europe.Croatia's Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor [academic profile] expressed her delight at the announcement [press release]. Countries still awaiting acceptance into the EU and are in formal negotiations include Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro and Turkey [EC materials]. It was also announced on Friday that Serbia [EC materials] will become a candidate country next year [B92 report], with talks starting in the spring.
Croatia has been increasing efforts to reform their judiciary in order to gain accession to the EU. On Thursday, Croatian authorities charged [JURIST report] former military commander and senior interior minister Tomislav Mercep [official profile, in Croatian] for war crimes committed against Serbians during the 1990s conflict in the Balkans. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF; press release] calling for the prosecution of individuals responsible for war crimes the day before Mercep's arrest. In 2008, AI called on the EU to use Croatia's status as a candidate country to ensure that the Croatian government actively investigates and prosecutes [JURIST report] suspected war criminals. AI criticized the slow pace of war crimes investigations, and noted that Croatian courts have mostly focused on crimes allegedly committed by ethnic Serbs even though Croats have also been accused of ethnic-based war crimes. In March 2005, the EU suspended entry talks [JURIST report] on the grounds that Croatia was failing to fully cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [official website; JURIST news archive] investigating war crimes in the area. The entry talks were resumed in October of that year after the ICTY declared that Croatia was fully cooperating [JURIST report].