Fighting graft key to Croats' EU bid


CROATIA’S BID to join the EU has entered its “final phase” but the European Commission has told the country it needs to do more to fight corruption before its application can be completed.

As enlargement commissioner Stefan Füle set out an annual report on all applicant countries, he called for Montenegro to be granted candidate country status and said Albania must make further progress to guarantee democracy and the rule of law.

He criticised the slow pace of accession talks with Turkey, calling on its leaders to improve their relations with Cyprus.

Mr Füle said the EU executive will provide a further update on Croatia’s application in the first quarter of 2011. “The commission considers that negotiations should be concluded once Croatia has met outstanding closing benchmarks – in particular in the field of judiciary and fundamental rights, including [the] fight against corruption – thus removing the need for the EU to consider a co-operation and verification mechanism after accession,” he said.

In its report on Croatia, which hopes to become the 28th EU member, the commission said the country was well on the way to meeting membership criteria. It must make further progress to ensure the “independence and efficiency” of its judiciary, protection of minorities, and co-operation with the UN war crimes tribunal.

Mr Füle added that the commission had decided that accession talks should begin with Montenegro and Albania, but only if certain conditions were met.

Talks with Albania “should be opened once the country has achieved the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria, and in particular the Copenhagen political criteria requiring the stability of institutions guaranteeing, notably, democracy and the rule of law”.

In the case of Montenegro, he said talks could open once the country’s institutions can guarantee “notably, the rule of law”.

Mr Füle renewed criticism of Turkey’s failure to comply with a deal to open its ports to Cyprus. The country’s application, resisted by Germany and France, has been stalled for years. “It is now urgent that Turkey . . . makes progress towards normalisation of bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus,” the commissioner said.