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Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy

Speech at the 12th Ministerial Meeting on Accession Negotiations with Croatia and the EU-Croatia Association Council

12th Ministerial Meeting on Accession Negotiations with Croatia / EU-Croatia Association Council

Brussels, 19th April 2011

This morning, we started with the 12th EU-Croatia Inter-Governmental Conference, which provisionally closed two more chapters, thus reaching a total of 30 closed chapters out of 35.

I would like to commend the Croatian authorities for this success which shows Croatia's determination in pursuing reforms and preparing for accession.

Allow me some remarks on the two chapters that were dealt with today which cover policy areas of particular relevance for Croatia and its citizens. They are also important in budgetary terms as they make up about three quarters of the yearly budget of the EU.

First on Chapter 11, Agriculture and Rural development. This chapter sets out the main principles for the allocation of these funds to Croatia. The Common Agricultural Policy will enhance rural development, and ensure a stable supply of affordable and safe food for people, while allowing the agriculture industry to modernize and develop. Upon accession, Croatian farmers will benefit from direct payments from the EU budget.

Second on Chapter 22, Regional Policy and coordination of structural instruments, including the cohesion and structural funds. These funds, if efficiently used, will enhance the growth potential in Croatia, modernise its economy and thus create new jobs and raise living standards.

The policies and funds covered by these two chapters are a tool to deliver better economic opportunities, reduce income gaps and foster further economic development. The benefits of this will be felt directly by businesses and citizens alike.

Overall, the closure of negotiations is within reach. However, important challenges lie ahead of Croatia in this final stage. The restructuring of its shipyards is making progress and I wish to commend the Croatian authorities for their work which now needs to be completed.

In the field of judiciary and fundamental rights, the Commission in its Interim Report has recognised the progress made by Croatia, but also indicated shortcomings which remain to be addressed.

The EU's expectations are high, in particular concerning questions of judicial reform, fundamental rights and the fight against corruption.

Croatia must address these benchmarks to demonstrate that reforms are credible and sustainable across the board and are progressively enabling their citizens to rely on institutions which are fundamental in any modern democracy like an independent judiciary or transparent financing of political parties.

These issues were discussed in detail at the 7th meeting of the Stabilisation and Association Council; at this meeting, we reviewed the implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and stressed the progress on Croatia's preparations for membership.

We have discussed Croatia's need to make further efforts in reforming its public administration and judicial system, on intensifying its fight against corruption and in ensuring full cooperation with the ICTY.

After today's two meetings and also following my recent visit to Croatia, together with President Barroso, I can say with confidence that Croatia is fully committed to tackling these issues.

The Commission is also committed to Croatia's accession process. We are looking forward to welcoming Croatia as the 28th EU Member State as soon as possible.

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