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European Commission

Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Lecture: Croatia ready to join the EU

VERN University/ Zagreb, Croatia

26 March 2013

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends, 

It is a great privilege for me to address this audience of students, professors, diplomats, politicians and representatives of civil society and business today. I have just come from a meeting with the entire government and now I am particularly keen to reach out to you on this important day for Croatia and I would claim not only for Croatia.

This morning, the European Commission adopted its monitoring report on Croatia –the last monitoring report – and I'm delighted to be able to tell you that the report confirms that:

  1. Croatia has delivered on the priority actions that we highlighted in our October 2012 comprehensive monitoring report, and 

  2. Croatia is generally meeting the requirements for all negotiation chapters and will be ready for European Union membership in July.

I now look forward to Croatia being welcomed as our 28th Member State on 1 July 2013.

Membership of the European Union also brings a shared responsibility for the future of the European project. As a European Union Member State, Croatia will actively participate in shaping and defining the future of Europe as a stable, prosperous union at home and a political and economic power on the world stage. 

This is a right, but also a responsibility. I look forward to us working together in order to promote and strengthen the European project. One of the first opportunities Croatian citizens will have to play an active role in shaping the future of Europe will be in the elections for the Croatian members of the European Parliament on 14 April. This is your chance to have your say in Europe – please use it!

Croatia's accession is the result of a long and rigorous process, under strict conditionality. Croatia applied for membership in 2003. Negotiations started in 2005 and finished six years later in 2011. Croatia is now not only a different country, it also arrives to the European Union better prepared than many other acceding countries.

European integration has brought positive changes in a whole range of areas in Croatia. Let me mention a few examples:

  1. There has been significant progress in fighting corruption and organised crime.

  2. You now have laid the foundations for a better functioning judiciary, leading to increased efficiency and a reduction in the backlog of old cases.

  3. Croatian tax payers are getting a better value for their money – through better procedures for public procurement

Croatia has also faced up to its own recent past, and in doing so it has demonstrated its maturity to deal with this painful legacy.

As I look ahead I can see that European Union accession will bring a number of tremendous gains

  1. for Croatia; 

  2. for the European Union; and

  3. for the region as a whole

Let me start with the gains that accession will bring to Croatia. Stability and prosperity will be enhanced and helped by financial assistance through the structural and cohesion funds, also opening the door for new business opportunities. 

Full application of European Union standards will deliver major improvements in areas such food safety and the environment.

And for you, the many students in the auditorium today, there will be many new opportunities to travel, study and work in the European Union. 

For the European Union, the gains from Croatia's accession will also be hugely important. Peace and stability in the region will be even further strengthened. The fight against corruption and organised crime in the EU and in the region will be boosted, as will the fight against other transnational and trans-border problems.

European Union companies will be able to pursue business opportunities and invest in Croatia knowing that now there is more legal certainty for them. 

Turning to the benefits for the region, Croatia has already started transferring its know-how to the other countries of the region. We expect it to continue. Here, Croatia is a "role-model" and a tangible example that reforms bring results. 

Croatia has also demonstrated the importance of the willingness to resolve bilateral disputes in order to make progress in the accession process, concrete examples being the arbitration agreement with Slovenia and the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with Slovenia on Ljubljanska Banka on 11 March. 

Continuous engagement with regional partners will also have economic benefits for Croatia. It has established itself as a key CEFTA economy with important trade and investment flows in its southern neighbourhood. The European Commission is now negotiating with the countries of the Western Balkans with the aim to achieve that these traditional trade flows maintain preferential treatment after 1 July. Croatian companies will be thus able to export and expand. Of course, the same companies will also gain new trading possibilities through full participation in the EU Single Market, and the many free-trade agreements the EU has around the world. 

I am convinced that European Union integration will not be complete until the countries of this region are also part of the European Union. Croatia, the second country from former Yugoslavia to join the European Union has moved this goal a step closer to its achievement.

And that brings me to the broader perspective for enlargement in 2013. It is a year full of opportunities for enlargement and it is for the candidate countries to be aware of the opportunities and to make the full use of the momentum that has been created

Those who talk about the so called "enlargement fatigue" should understand that the real and bigger danger is the reform fatigue combined with the tendency in the partner countries to sometimes put their domestic political agenda ahead and at the expense of the European agenda. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong about the domestic agenda, and I will never say that the European Union agenda should substitute the domestic one, but it would be a pity if the opportunities for enlargement in 2013 were missed due to the domestic agenda. 

Looking to the future for Croatia, the work is not over with the publication of the Spring Report. Croatia wants to join Schengen, and the euro, in the future. This means that efforts need to continue in all areas: on the rule of law, on the prevention and suppression of corruption and on the protection of the external borders. 

Last but not least, Croatia arrives in the EU at a moment when the Union is experiencing its first serious economic crisis. Croatia needs to contribute to the resolution of this crisis by taking all necessary measures. The work on structural reforms needs to continue and to be enhanced within the new economic framework being implemented by the EU. 

This is needed in order to enhance the competitiveness of the Croatian economy and to allow it to exploit the opportunities offered by the single market, within a stable and sustainable macro-economic framework.

The European Union, and Croatia face considerable challenges in bringing the economy back to a sustainable growth path. Together, we will be better placed to successfully address these challenges.

To conclude, let me offer my warmest congratulations to all those in Croatia that have contributed to this success. Your success is Europe's success and I look forward to celebrating it with you on 1 July 2013.

Thank you.

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