Today is an historic day for Croatia – and for the European Union. Nearly nine years since you applied for membership, after six years of negotiations, the Accession Treaty of Croatia to the European Union is ready for signature. Croatia is set to become the 28th Member State of the Union. I wholeheartedly congratulate President Josipovic and Prime Minister Kosor. Your courageous leadership has paved the way for this achievement.
It is a day of joy for Croatia, and for the EU as a whole. Whenever a new member is to join our Union, we thereby reconfirm our founding values and our will to continue our journey together.
In a moment of crisis, as we are now living, it is good to remember what we have achieved together. For our more than 500 million citizens, Europe today is by and large the most prosperous, social, most secure and most free continent on earth. We have acted as a powerful magnet for peaceful change and modernisation in our neighbourhood. The example of the Western Balkans shows how the European perspective has provided more stability, security and prosperity in a region that was torn by war less than 15 years ago.
The political criteria for EU membership have encouraged countries to establish stable institutions, guaranteeing the core European values: democracy, the rule of law, human rights as well as respect for and protection of minorities. The economic criteria have helped to speed up the development of a functioning economy and to improve competitiveness. Many domestic reforms have taken place to comply with the EU law and standards, be it social, environmental or other policies. This has changed societies – for the better.
The achievement of Croatia proves to all in the region that through hard work, persistence, political courage and determination, EU membership is within reach. Croatia is a pioneer, demonstrating in a tangible way that the future of the Western Balkans as a whole lies in the European Union. The Union remains committed to this perspective.
The European idea was born sixty years ago under the motto "no war any more". The last cruel war on the European continent belongs forever to the past, because Europe is the anchor for peace. Europe equals peace.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today is an important milestone, but not yet the end of the road for Croatia. After the act of signing Croatia will assume its active observer status in the daily work of the Union, starting right today with the European Council. Before the date of accession, reforms will have to continue, new laws adopted and other ones implemented. The European Commission will closely monitor Croatia's fulfilment of all its commitments, and we all expect Croatia to perform well.
To the Croatian people taking a decisive decision at next year’s referendum I say: You are warmly welcome in the European family. You will discover that we are a family united through our values and institutions, but respecting the cultural diversity of the continent. You can be assured that the European Union is an historic opportunity: it will bring your country further economic and social development and political influence over decisions that affect Europe and the world. In the end, it is your support which will determine the success of Croatia’s EU membership.
This is true for all Member States: without public support, the Union can neither develop nor grow. This is not an issue of party politics, but an issue for us all.
To conclude, I would like to extend my gratitude to the Polish Presidency of the Council, the previous Presidencies, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council Secretariat for their pivotal role in making this momentous day happen.
We all cherish today's achievement with Croatia and the Croatian people.
Once more, welcome to the European Union!