ZAGREB (Croatia), October 14 (SeeNews) – The European Commission said on Wednesday that Croatia has made good progress in its accession talks with the bloc and the negotiation process could be concluded in 2010 if the country meets all outstanding benchmarks in time.
“Croatia has made good progress in meeting the benchmarks set in the accession negotiations and negotiations have now formally resumed following the political agreement between Slovenia and Croatia over handling the border issue,” the Commission said in a statement, outlining the key findings of its progress report on the European Union (EU) hopeful.
In September, Croatia and EU member Slovenia reached an agreement on the resumption of accession talks between the bloc and the government in Zagreb and on continuing their negotiations on a long-standing bilateral border dispute.
“Croatia will need to pursue its reform efforts, in particular on the judiciary and public administration, the fight against and organised crime, and minority rights. If Croatia meets all outstanding benchmarks in time, the accession negotiations could be concluded next year,” the statement said.
Croatia's EU membership talks, launched in 2005, hit a major snag last December when its neighbour Slovenia vetoed any further progress in the negotiations because of a dispute over their Adriatic sea border in the Bay of Piran. The dispute is dating back to the collapse in 1991 of the former Yugoslav Federation, of which both Croatia and Slovenia were parts.
“Twenty eight out of thirty five negotiation chapters have been opened so far. Out of these chapters, thirteen have been provisionally closed,” the statement added.
“The good overall progress achieved by Croatia in numerous chapters means that technical preparations in the negotiations are now nearing their final phase,” it added.
“Croatia continues to meet the Copenhagen political criteria. New legislation and organisational changes have been introduced for reforming the judiciary and for fighting corruption and organised crime. Public administration reform has received increased attention.”
“Croatia is a functioning market economy. It should be able to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the Union, provided that it further implements its comprehensive reform programme with determination in order to reduce structural weaknesses,” the statement said.
“Although the economy of Croatia has been increasingly hit by the global crisis, macro-economic stability has been preserved. Croatia adapted its fiscal policy, including successive budget revisions and spending adjustments. External imbalances have narrowed, exchange rate stability has been preserved, and inflationary pressures have subsided. The banking sector remained sound and resilient to the crisis,” it added.
However, the government's economic policy has sometimes lacked a clear medium-term orientation, the Commission said.
Structural reforms have advanced at a slow pace and there were limited improvements in the business environment. Employment rates are low and the labour market overly rigid. Little progress has been achieved in increasing the efficiency of public spending. The fiscal deficit increased significantly. A high level of external indebtedness and large short-term repayment obligations are key vulnerabilities of the economy, it added.
Further efforts lie ahead, in particular as regards further reinforcement of the administrative structures and capacity necessary for proper implementation of the acquis and in difficult chapters such as judiciary and fundamental rights, competition policy and agriculture and rural development, the Commission said.
Also, vigilance is required to ensure the budget cuts necessary in the context of the economic downturn do not disproportionately affect preparations for EU accession, it added.