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Croatia Aims for Completion of EU Talks in June as Parties Unite

Croatia moved closer to completing talks with the European Union in June after opposition and governing parties united to agree on structural changes needed to become the bloc’s 28th member, said Vesna Pusic, head of the parliamentary committee overseeing the talks.

Ruling party and opposition leaders met on April 8 for the first time in more than a year to coordinate efforts to meet the June goal, Pusic, leader of the opposition Croatian People’s Party, said late yesterday in an interview in Zagreb. Croatia has been negotiating with the EU for five years to become the second former Yugoslav republic to join the bloc after Slovenia.

“As far as June is concerned, the situation has in the last few days returned from the brink of ‘no-go’ to a distinct possibility,” Pusic said. “We still can’t say if it will happen. But the fact that all the relevant political parties put their joint weight behind the reforms could play a role in the decision-making.”

Croatia, still struggling to end a two-year recession, has in recent months stepped up efforts to overhaul its back-logged judiciary and increase its independence. It also has to eradicate corruption, including indicting former prime minister and more than a dozen of former ruling party officials and improve human rights protection.

EU Funds

Failure to complete the talks by June may delay the process by a year, “which means we would miss out on receiving 2 billion euros ($2.9 billion) of EU funds that Croatia badly needs,” Pusic said.

“We would also miss out on an opportunity to use the EU Cohesion Funds, and participate in budget discussion for the period of 2014 to 2020,” she said. The Cohesion Fund finances major projects in transport and environment, helping EU member states reduce economic disparities and stabilize their economies.

Last month the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said Croatia needs to work harder to prosecute war-crime cases, stem corruption and ensure the rights of minorities before it’s ready to join the bloc. To complete the membership talks, Croatia still has to complete reforms in two chapters, or policy areas, including the judiciary and fundamental rights and competition.

It’s “high time” accession talks with Croatia are concluded, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said today in Brussels. Hungary currently holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency. British Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said during a visit to Zagreb yesterday he was “hugely impressed” by the program of reforms in the judiciary, the key area Croatia needs to improve.

Croatia also needs to conclude talks as soon as possible to ensure general elections, which must happen by the end of the year, don’t interfere with the process, Pusic said.

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