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Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy

Statement at the EU–Croatia Intergovernmental Conference

EU–Croatia Intergovernmental Conference

Brussels, 30 June 2011

Today's closure of the accession negotiations with Croatia marks the successful conclusion of a long journey, a common journey I would say, started in October 2005 when negotiations were opened.

In the course of the journey, Croatia fulfilled an impressive number of benchmarks, to open and to close the 35 chapters covering the whole range of EU policies and rules. And today we have been able to close the remaining four chapters, amongst them the particularly difficult chapters on competition policy and judiciary and fundamental rights.

We are celebrating this event with our Croatian friends: Within 20 years as an independent republic, Croatia has changed tremendously. It has made impressive progress towards meeting the EU membership criteria. This is being rewarded today.

I wish to congratulate first and foremost the Croatian authorities, the country's Government, Parliament and all of its institutions, who worked relentlessly to achieve this historical objective.

The reforms put in place to fulfil the benchmarks have helped to transform many aspects of the Croatian state, its legislation and administration, in line with European standards and the Copenhagen criteria.

The Commission has been fair but strict in its assessment of Croatia's progress. No discount has been accorded, no shortcuts have been taken. At the same time we have worked together, providing guidance, advice and support.

The first who stand to gain from this process are the Croatian citizens: they will benefit from a more efficient and professional judiciary, from a more transparent and efficient public administration, from the protection of human rights and civil liberties.

Moreover, the package agreed today ensures that Croatia as a Member State of the EU will benefit significantly from EU policies such as the structural and cohesion funds and from agricultural policies. Croatia stands to gain almost €700 million from EU funds in the second half of 2013 alone, which will provide a significant boost to economic development and job creation in Croatia. The availability of funds for Croatia will continue to increase significantly from 2014 with the phasing-in of EU policies.

But becoming a member of the European Union is not only an economic or social gain. It is first and foremost a sense of belonging. Belonging to the European family, belonging to a community based on the rule of law, to an area of peace, stability and prosperity.

The EU also stands to gain from Croatia's accession, through an enlarged internal market and the dynamism new Member States bring to the process of European integration. It will set an example to the countries in the region and demonstrates clearly that the EU is able to deliver on its commitments.

Croatia's accession will give a powerful signal to the peoples of the Western Balkans: provided that conditions are met, the door to the EU is open. This should provide an additional incentive for reforms.

Today is a day to congratulate Croatia for all its efforts over the last six years and to welcome Croatia as the 28th Member State of the EU. Tomorrow, Croatia must get back to work, to complete the remaining work, to be fully prepared for EU membership from the first day of accession. What a great contribution to the credibility of the enlargement process! Congratulations!

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