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Croatia will finish EU entry talks next year

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said the Balkan nation will complete entry negotiations with the European Union next year.

„Our strategy is to open all chapters this year and to close all chapters next year,” Sanader said yesterday in an interview in Brussels, referring to demands for closer alignment with EU policies across a range of industries and legislation. „This is a very good strategy and also very realistic.” Croatia began entry talks with the EU in October 2005 and aims to join in 2009, almost 18 years  declaring independence from Yugoslavia and triggering the outbreak of civil war. The conflict damaged the Adriatic nation's infrastructure and economy and drove away tourism, its biggest industry. It has recently restored ties with the West and applied for membership in NATO.

Croatia has opened five and closed two of the 35 areas in which it must adapt its legislation and implement the laws, according to the nation's European Integration Ministry. The EU said on March 6 Croatia should step up its fight against corruption and overhaul uncompetitive industries to keep its entry bid on track. The restructuring of the steel and shipbuilding industries „must continue and be intensified,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said on March 6 in Brussels. „Loss-making companies consume a too-large share of public funds.” Croatia spent around 3.5% of GDP in state subsidies last year, mostly on shipyards and railways. The EU average is less than 1%.

„A couple of chapters will be very difficult to deal with,” Sanader said. „One is agriculture, the second one is the shipyard industry, you know that Croatia is one of the leading countries in this industry. A third field where the negotiations will be tough is ecology.” Croatia has four state-owned shipyards, all requiring state subsidies for production. The government plans to sell them all by 2011, it said last year. It prepared a proposal for the industry's restructuring and sent it to the European Commission for approval, Deputy Prime Minister Damir Polancec said in February. Croatia has not yet signed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which mandates greenhouse-gas emission cuts. Only 0.05% of its energy comes from renewable sources, while the EU average is 6.4%. The union said it wants to increase its use of renewable energy sources to 20% by 2020.

Sanader said support for his country to join the bloc is strong in member states, even though some citizens have wearied of the expansions that have added 12 new members to the EU. „In polls conducted by European Barometer every month, European citizens from all over Europe are in favor of Croatian membership,” Sanader said. „In all countries, the percentage which supports Croatia's membership is over 50%.” Central bank governor Zeljko Rohatinski said in an interview yesterday that Croatia may be ready to adopt the euro two years after entry because it already meets most of the rules set out in the Maastricht Treaty, including inflation, government spending and currency stability. (Bloomberg)