Croatia’s chances of completing European Union entry talks this year are threatened by its border dispute with Slovenia, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn was quoted on Thursday as saying.
EU-member Slovenia has vetoed a number of negotiating areas in Croatia’s EU entry talks because it fears they would prejudge the outcome of the 18-year-old border spat.
Rehn, in an interview with the Financial Times, said Croatia’s main tasks were to step up the fight against organized crime and corruption, complete a restructuring plan for its shipbuilding industry acceptable to Brussels and establish a mechanism for solving the border dispute with Slovenia.
“If we can find a way forward on the border issue, and if Croatia works very intensively on these two areas of reform, then it’s within reach,” Rehn said, referring to an informal December 31 target for concluding the entry talks.
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said on Tuesday his country aimed to wrap up European Union membership talks by the end of 2009 despite the border dispute. Croatia hopes to join the 27-nation bloc in 2011.
The Financial Times said Rehn hoped to set up an EU expert group in the next fortnight to make recommendations to solve the dispute, which centres on Slovenia’s access to international waters.
Rehn also said he would travel to Cyprus next week to underline EU support for talks that started last September between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders on a comprehensive settlement to reunite the island. (Reuters)