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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
03ZAGREB432 2003-02-26 16:01:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Zagreb
Cable title:  

CROATIA APPLIES FOR EU MEMBERSHIP

Tags:   PREL PGOV PHUM HR 
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					  UNCLAS ZAGREB 000432 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM HR
SUBJECT: CROATIA APPLIES FOR EU MEMBERSHIP




1. SUMMARY: PRIME MINISTER RACAN SUBMITTED CROATIA'S
OFFICIAL APPLICATION FOR EU MEMBERSHIP ON FEBRUARY 21 IN
ATHENS. CROATIA'S STATUS AS A CANDIDATE COULD BE CONFIRMED
WITHIN A YEAR'S TIME, THE EUROPEAN INTEGRATION MINISTER
SAID. REFUGEE RETURNS, COOPERATION WITH THE WAR CRIMES
TRIBUNAL (ICTY), AND REFORM OF THE JUDICIAL SECTOR ARE
MAJOR CHALLENGES ON THE EU PATH. THE GOC BELIEVES THAT
CROATIA COULD BE READY FOR MEMBERSHIP IN THE EU BY THE END
OF 2006. THE PROCESS LEADING UP TO THE APPLICATION,
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 02 ZAGREB 00432 271601Z
INCLUDING AN EXTENSIVE GOC LOBBYING TOUR AND BROAD NON-
PARTISAN SUPPORT IN THE PARLIAMENT, SHOWS THE GREAT
IMPORTANCE OF THE ISSUE FOR CROATIANS. END SUMMARY.



2. PRIME MINISTER IVICA RACAN OFFICIALLY SUBMITTED
CROATIA'S APPLICATION FOR MEMBERSHIP IN THE EUROPEAN UNION
TO THE GREEK PM AND CURRENT EU CHAIR, COSTAS SIMITIS, ON
FEBRARY 21 IN ATHENS. THIS ONE-PAGE DOCUMENT -- WHICH
COMES IN PACKAGE WITH A PROMOTIONAL CD TITLED "REMEMBER
CROATIA" -- WAS CO-SIGNED BY RACAN AND PRESIDENT STJEPAN
MESIC. AT THE OFFICIAL PRESENTATION IN ATHENS, RACAN
ACKNOWLEDGED THAT CROATIA WAS COMMITTED TO BUILDING A TRULY
DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY, THE RULE OF LAW AND AN EFFICIENT
ECONOMY -- ADDING, HOWEVER, THAT THE SERBIAN "AGGRESSION"
AND ITS CONSEQUENCES HAD SLOWED CROATIA ON THAT PATH.
RACAN ALSO RECALLED THAT CROATIA'S AMBITION TO JOIN THE EU
HAD WON ACROSS-THE-BOARD SUPPORT FROM EU MEMBERS DURING HIS
GOVERNMENT'S LOBBYING TOUR PRECEEDING THE APPLICATION.

OPTIMISTIC?


--------------------------





3. GENERALLY, THE GOVERNMENT HAS TRIED TO CONVEY OPTIMISM
ABOUT ITS EU ASPIRATIONS, ALTHOUGH THE IRAQ CRISIS HAS CAST
A CLOUD OVER ITS EFFORTS. PM RACAN PRIVATELY TOLD THE
AMBASSADOR FEBRUARY 24 THAT THE EU APPLICANT STATUS OF
CROATIA MADE ITS POSITION VIS-A-VIS IRAQ "TWICE AS DELICATE
AS THAT OF BULGARIA AND ROMANIA WHICH IN TURN WERE IN A
SITUATION TWICE AS DELICATE AS THOSE OF OTHER CANDIDATES."
MORE BROADLY, AUTHORITIES HAVE TOLD US THAT THE
GOVERNMENT'S EFFORTS HAVE BEEN SUSTAINED AND PROGRESS IS
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 ZAGREB 00432 271601Z
STEADY. MIRJANA MLADINEO, THE DEPUTY MINISTER OF EUROPEAN
INTEGRATION, REMINDED US OF HER PREDICTION OF OVER A YEAR
AGO. SHE WAS VERY SATISFIED THAT CROATIA'S APPLICATION
PROCESS HAD PROCEEDED ACCORDING TO PLAN. HER MINISTRY HAD
ADDED TALENTED STAFF AND WAS WORKING CLOSELY WITH THE LINE
MINISTRIES. EUROPEAN INTEGRATION MINISTRY OFFICIALS
ENJOYED GOOD COOPERATION WITH COUNTERPARTS IN COUNTRIES
AHEAD OF CROATIA IN THE ACCESSION PROCESS, INCLUDING
HUNGARY AND SLOVENIA, AND BEHIND THEM, INCLUDING SERBIA AND
MONTENEGRO.



4. TALKING TO THE PRESS ON FEBRUARY 25 IN ZAGREB, EUROPEAN
INTEGRATION MINISTER NEVEN MIMICA SAID CROATIA COULD BE
READY TO BECOME AN EU MEMBER BY THE END OF 2006 -- A GOAL
MOST OBSERVERS CONSIDER HIGHLY OPTIMISTIC IF NOT DOWN RIGHT
IMPLAUSIBLE. HE EXPECTED CROATIA TO SECURE CANDIDATE
STATUS WITHIN A YEAR, AFTER THE EC HAS STATED ITS OPINION
ON THE APPLICATION. IN THE MEANTIME, MIMICA EXPECTS THAT
CROATIA WILL COMPLETE ALL THE TERMS OF THE STABILIZATION
AND ASSOCIATION AGREEMENT WITH THE EU (SAA) NEXT YEAR.
WHILE PREDICTING THAT THE IRAQ CRISIS WOULD NOT
SIGNIFICANTLY AFFECT THE PACE OF CROATIAN ACCESSION, MIMICA
IDENTIFIED THE RETURN OF REFUGEES, COOPERATION WITH THE
HAGUE TRIBUNAL (ICTY) AND THE REFORM OF THE JUDICIARY AS
THE THREE MAIN CHALLENGES ON CROATIA'S PATH TO THE EU AND
NATO. MOST OBSERVERS AGREE THAT EU MEMBERSHIP ENJOYS WIDE
SUPPORT IN CROATIA, WITH ONLY FRINGE FIGURES ON THE RIGHT
OPPOSING IT.

COMMENT


--------------------------


UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 04 ZAGREB 00432 271601Z



5. THE POLITICAL IMPORTANCE OF GETTING ON THE ROAD TO EU
MEMBERSHIP COULD BE UNDERSCORED BY THE UNPRECEDENTED
LOBBYING EFFORT THAT THE PRESIDENT, PRIME MINISTER, FOREIGN
MINISTER AND OTHERS PERSONALLY ENGAGED IN DURING THE MONTHS
LEADING UP TO THE APPLICATION. FEW DOUBT THAT THE GOC HAS
SO FAR BEEN NAVIGATING THE EASY WATERS. THE COMING PERIOD
WILL BE DIFFERENT; SUBSTANCE MUST REPLACE PROCESS. THE
GOVERNMENT MUST WORK ON AN ASSORTMENT OF REQUIREMENTS TO
HARMONIZE DOMESTIC LAWS WITH EU LAWS, TO MOVE TO COMPLY
WITH INTERNATIONAL OBLIGATIONS WITH RESPECT TO THE WAR
CRIMES TRIBUNAL AND THE RETURN OF REFUGEES. THE LIST OF
RESPONSIBILITIES IS LONG -- AND GOC EFFORTS TO DATE HAVE
BEEN MIXED AT BEST AND NON-EXISTENT AT WORST. WHILE THE
EUROPEAN INTEGRATION MINISTRY HAS MANY TALENTED PEOPLE, IT
IS IN THE LINE MINISTRIES -- JUSTICE IN PARTICULAR -- WHERE
THE HEAVY LIFTING WILL HAVE TO BE DONE BEFORE CROATIA
ENTERS THE UNION. WE DOUBT MANY DIFFICULT REFORMS WILL BE
ON THE GOVERNMENT'S AGENDA BEFORE CROATIAN ELECTIONS, WHICH
MUST BE HELD BY SPRING NEXT YEAR.

ROSSIN

UNCLASSIFIED

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