Croatia’s EU accession party tempered by economic difficulties

Zagreb hopes to tap €13.7 billion in EU funds before 2020

A woman walks by a government notice in Zagred yesterday on which someone has crossed off the term  “EU”. Photograph: Reuters/Antonio Bronic

A woman walks by a government notice in Zagred yesterday on which someone has crossed off the term “EU”. Photograph: Reuters/Antonio Bronic

Mon, Jul 1, 2013, 08:03

Croatia has become the European Union’s 28th member today, amid celebrations that belie the country’s economic woes and fears for the future of the bloc itself.

Fireworks erupted over Zagreb and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy rang out in the city’s main square at midnight, as the former Yugoslav republic hoisted EU flags and EU signs were unveiled at the country’s border posts.

Towns and cities across the 4.4-million-strong country, and on its islands in the Adriatic, also celebrated EU accession with public concerts and firework displays.

Some 28 presidents and prime ministers attended a celebratory dinner hosted by Croatia’s president Ivo Josipovic , before joining thousands of revellers in central Zagreb for speeches by Croatia’s leaders and European Commission chief José Manuel Barroso.

Mr Josipovic plans to hold a working breakfast with the leaders of seven other Balkan states this morning, to underline what he hopes will be his country’s role as “bridge” to the EU for neighbouring states.

From former Yugoslavia, only Slovenia joined the EU ahead of Croatia. Festivities were tempered a little by the knowledge that EU membership would not immediately cure Croatia’s most pressing problems: a stagnant economy, unemployment of over 18 per cent, rising debt and a widening budget deficit.

But many Croats, having fought a war for their independence just 20 years ago, are proud to be “welcomed back” into the European fold and hope it will spur investment in the country. Zagreb also hopes to tap some €13.7 billion in EU funds before 2020.