The European Council [official website] on Friday agreed [meeting report, PDF] to grant Croatia [EC materials] EU membership following six years of accession negotiations. The decision calls for negotiations to close [press release] by the end of the month and the accession treaty to be signed by year's end, allowing for the country to become the 28th member of the EU on July 1, 2013. In the interim, EU leaders strongly encouraged Croatia to continue pursuing crucial reform initiatives. Announcing the development, Council president Herman Van Rompuy [BBC profile] remarked [press release]:
[Croatia] has turned the fundamentals of the State inside out to be fully aligned with European standards. It performed impressively through the past monthseven up until the last weeks and days. Moreover, we are confident that you will continue to pursue the necessary reforms with the same vigor until the accession date, and beyond. Croatia's achievement serves as an inspiring example for the other countries of the Western Balkans. Croatia demonstrates that with political will, a strong national consensus and dedicated work, it is possible to overcome the shadows of the past and to move towards membership of the European Union.The European Commission (EC) [official website] formally recommended [JURIST report] Croatia for accession earlier this month. Countries still in formal negotiations for acceptance into the EU include Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro and Turkey [EC materials]. It was also announced earlier this month that Serbia [EC materials] will become a candidate country next year [B92 report], with talks slated to open in the spring.
Croatia has been increasing efforts to reform their judiciary in order to gain accession to the EU. Earlier this month, 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] calling for the prosecution of individuals responsible for war crimes a day prior to 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 (ICTY) [official website] investigating war crimes in the area. The entry talks resumed in October of that year after the ICTY declared that Croatia was fully cooperating [JURIST report].