Croatia looks set to become 28th member of the European Union.
A report onsays Croatia could wrap up accession negotiations by the end of 2009. That would put the former Yugoslav republic of 4.4 million on track to join the EU in 2011.
But seven other countries bidding to join the union still have a long way to go. While all are well on their way to becoming market economies, they are all called upon to enforce the rule of law. In nearly all cases, Croatia included, corruption and organised crime remain major hurdles.
To become members, countries must meet a long list of political, legal and economic criteria. The commission, which is in charge of the process, publishes.
At present, three countries - Croatia, Turkey and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia (FYROM) - have been officially accepted as candidates for EU membership. Five other western Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo - are considered potential candidates.
Only two - Croatia and Turkey - have already begun negotiations on joining. The report says the other official candidate, FYROM, still does not qualify for entry talks because it has not completed political reforms – especially on ensuring free and fair elections. Last year’s parliamentary elections are criticised in the report as deeply flawed. More efforts to fight corruption, revamp the civil service and stimulate employment are also needed.
The commission praises Turkey for helping to stabilise the Caucasus region during last summer’s Georgia-Russia conflict. But it says Turkey needs to speed up reforms. Turkey began entry talks in October 2005, the same time as Croatia.
As for Serbia, it could become an official candidate in 2009, but much depends on progress in key areas related to the rule of law and economic change, as well as its cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal.
Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina are also making strides, but as elsewhere corruption and organised crime remain serious problems. In particular, Albania needs to ensure next year’s parliamentary elections go smoothly. Montenegro needs to continue to push ahead with judicial reform.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, political tensions are slowing down reforms and jeopardising achievements made so far. Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in February this year, is still at an early stage of integrations with the EU. The commission will present a study next year on how to help Kosovo proceed.
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