EU likely to open Croatia talks in weeks: Rehn

European Union member Slovenia said on Friday it was ready to lift its veto on Croatia's accession talks immediately.

EU likely to open Croatia talks in weeks: Rehn

The European Commission hopes to resume Croatia's EU entry talks in coming weeks and conclude them in the first half of 2010 after Zagreb struck a border deal with Slovenia, the bloc's enlargement chief said on Monday.

European Union member Slovenia said on Friday it was ready to lift its veto on Croatia's accession talks immediately, following an agreement by the countries' prime ministers on how to solve the 18-year-old border dispute.

"It is a substantial step forward in resolving the long-term bilateral issue and unblocking Croatia's EU negotiations," European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said before a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

"I expect that shortly, in the coming weeks, we could have an accession conference to open and close a number of chapters," Rehn told reporters, referring to negotiating areas that countries must conclude to join the 27-nation EU.

"I expect that if Croatia concludes its good work on reforms, it should be possible to conclude the technical negotiations in the course of next year, even in the first half of next year."

Last week's news was a boost to Zagreb -- whose EU bid has been on ice for almost 10 months -- and other EU hopefuls in the Western Balkans, where bilateral disputes abound.

Slovenia, which in 2004 became the only former Yugoslav state to join the EU, had blocked Croatia's entry talks since last December because of the border dispute, which arose after the two became independent in 1991.

Ljubljana said documentation Zagreb had submitted for EU accession prejudged the border row. Croatia said last week it had now pledged no documents used in the EU negotiations would be prejudicial to the outcome of the dispute.

The two countries said negotiations on the border would continue with international mediation, as proposed by the European Commission earlier this year. The Commission had envisaged a five-member expert team, including three international experts, to review the border dispute.

Slovenia said the two countries should determine the way of solving the border issue before the Slovenian parliament approves Croatian EU accession.

Croatia had hoped to wrap up its membership talks this year and join the bloc as early as 2010, but Slovenia's objection has made that practically impossible.


Reuters

Last Mod: 15 Eylül 2009, 16:32
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