Croatia, Serbia Get Closer to EU Membership

Posted June 30th, 2011 at 5:45 pm (UTC-5)
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Croatia has formally closed European Union entry talks, setting a target of becoming the bloc's 28th member in July 2013.

The six-year-long negotiations were officially wrapped up Thursday in Brussels. Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Gordan Jandrokovic called the event a historic day for Croatia, but also important for its neighbors.

Jandrokovic said the reforms that Croatia has undergone since the beginning of the talks have made it a better society. He added that he hopes Croatia's neighbors will follow its example.

The next step for Croatia is the drafting of an accession treaty, which is expected to be signed by the end of the year. The treaty will then have to be ratified by all 27 EU states and Croatia.

The European Commission, the EU's executive body, says Croatia's accession is on schedule for July 1, 2013.

Also on Thursday, Serbia got closer to joining the EU after a parliamentary committee in the Netherlands approved the start of talks aimed at closer ties between Belgrade and the bloc.

Dutch lawmaker Henk Jan Ormel said the committee approved the beginning of the ratification process of the Stabilization and Association Agreement between the EU and Serbia, which is the first step to becoming an EU member. The Netherlands previously had rejected Belgrade's EU bid, insisting it must first bring to justice top war crimes suspects hiding in Serbia.

Serbian authorities last month delivered to the international war crimes court in The Hague one of the top two fugitives, Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic.

Before the negotiations can start, Serbia will also have to normalize relations with Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. The next round of talks between Belgrade and Pristina is set for Saturday in Brussels.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton congratulated Croatia on what she called its “hard-won success.” It would be the second former Yugoslav republic to join the EU after Slovenia in 2004.