Doubts raised over reforms by Croatia on way to joining EU

 

THE EUROPEAN Commission has urged Croatia to take further steps to reform its judiciary, prosecute war crimes and tackle corruption while delivering a critical assessment of the country’s effort to prepare for EU membership.

In an interim report which raised doubt about Zagreb’s effort to complete accession talks in June, enlargement commissioner Stefan Füle said yesterday that target was “highly” ambitious given the slow pace of judicial reforms and policy on fundamental rights.

While the report said Croatia had made considerable progress in these areas, the commissioner said “much remains to be done” if the country was to meet EU membership criteria.

“We have a mixed picture in front of us,” he told a committee of MEPs. “Croatia has not met all closing benchmarks so far and we are not therefore proposing closure of this chapter.”

However, Croatian diplomatic sources have expressed confidence that all benchmarks will be met on time and say substantial progress had been noted.

Accession talks have been ongoing since 2005 and Croatia hopes to be admitted in 2012. The talks are provisionally complete in 28 of 35 policy areas, known as chapters, while all but two of the others are largely technical.

Zagreb hopes to provisionally close talks on competition policy next month but the commission said the judicial and fundamental rights area meant this would be among the last chapters to be closed.

The commission’s report criticised Croatia for not properly addressing impunity for war crimes in the 1990s conflicts over the former Yugoslavia and said a new strategy to ensure the investigation and prosecution of such crimes remained to be executed.

The report also said it had not established a convincing track record of recruiting and appointing judges and state prosecutors based on the application of uniform, transparent and objective criteria.

The report also said most high-level corruption and public procurement cases had yet to reach the stage of court rulings.

“Croatia will need to demonstrate effective handing of a sufficient number of cases through the relevant stages of the procedure [investigations, prosecutions or court rulings] covering high-level corruption cases, local-level corruption and including cases related to public procurement and the judiciary.

“Effective control of the dismissal by the prosecutor of criminal cases is required.”