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Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Press points – Accession Conference EU-Croatia

11th Ministerial Accession Conference with Croatia

Brussels, 22 December 2010

Today, on the eve of Christmas, I'm happy to say that a huge step has been made by Croatia on the road to fulfilling its European goal.

Today's Inter-governmental Conference has closed three more chapters (24 justice, freedom and security, 27 – Environment and 31 – foreign Security and defence policy).

As we reach the end of the year, let's take stock of the remarkable progress achieved so far. Indeed 2010 has been an impressive year for Croatia.

As we have already highlighted in this year's Enlargement package, Croatia has achieved progress across the board.

The country has succeeded in closing 11 chapters, thus reaching a total of 28 provisionally closed chapters (out of the 35 chapters which constitute the EU body of law). And Croatia also made considerable progress in all the other 6 open chapters which is a good basis for closing more chapters in the coming months.

This shows the Croatian authorities' determination in pursuing reforms. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Croatian government on its commitment to a reform process which is not an easy process but a necessary one to be part of the European family.

But let me be clear, this is not just about opening and closing chapters. It is not just a bureaucratic process, but it is about concretely improving the lives of people.

If we take a look at chapter "Justice, freedom and security", this lies at the very heart of today's European Union. Croatia's actions on reinforcing judicial cooperation with EU Member States will make it easier to enforce Court rulings, thus ensuring that the rights of citizens are better defended: this is the basic principle of rule of law, on which the EU is founded.

Also, improved police cooperation with Police forces from EU Member States, from neighbouring countries and Europol, means more effective fight against organised crime: and this will contribute to making Croatia a safer country to live in.

As far as the Chapter on "Environment" is concerned, it is a telling example of the well known fact that enlargement is in the mutual interest of the Union and the aspirant countries. Fight against climate change, reduction of air and water pollution – Croatia's citizens will gain from a better environment in all these areas.

But the EU will also reap the benefits from Croatia's commitment to tackle environmental challenges. Take for example the Danube: Croatia's actions in treating waste water will directly result in a cleaner, possibly even "bluer" Danube for all.

Let me underline again that we have reached the final stage of negotiations. However, important challenges lie ahead of Croatia in this final push: there are no "easy chapters" left to be closed. Each chapter on the table – from Agriculture to Fisheries, to Regional Policy – requires determined action and difficult decisions from the Government.

Above all, the reforms of the judiciary and public administration, the need to fight against corruption at all levels, the restructuring of its shipyards, will determine the pace of this final lap.

Croatia must address all benchmarks and establish convincing track records, demonstrating that its reforms are credible and sustainable across the board.

I am confident that the good results achieved in 2010 will provide the necessary momentum for the Croatian authorities to make the exceptional effort necessary to complete negotiations. Congratulations on the excellent work conducted so far! Merry Christmas! You deserve it!

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