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Procedure : 2011/2191(INI)
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Texts tabled :

A7-0389/2011

Debates :

PV 30/11/2011 - 15
CRE 30/11/2011 - 15

Votes :

PV 01/12/2011 - 6.20
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2011)0539

Debates
Wednesday, 30 November 2011 - Brussels OJ edition

15. Accession Treaty : Treaty concerning the accession of the Republic of Croatia - Application of Croatia to become a member of the European Union (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. − The next item is the joint debate on:

– the recommendation (A7-0390/2011) by Hannes Swoboda, on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, on the draft Decision of the Council of the European Union on the admission of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union [14409/2011 – 2011/0805(NLE)], and

– the report (A7-0389/2011) by Hannes Swoboda, on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, on the application of Croatia to become a member of the European Union [2011/2191(INI)].

 
  
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  Hannes Swoboda, rapporteur. (DE) Madam President, Mr Dowgielewicz, Mr Füle, I would like to welcome the group of guests from Croatia which is headed by the speaker of the Croatian Parliament Mr Bebić, several Members of the Croatian Parliament and also the chief negotiator and Croatian ambassador to the EU.

I must admit, ladies and gentlemen, that it makes me feel very happy and quite emotional to submit my last report on Croatia to Parliament today and to ask you to give your agreement to Croatia’s accession to the EU. It has been a long and sometimes very difficult process. During the accession negotiations I dealt with three prime ministers, Ivica Račan, Ivo Sanader and Jadranka Kosor, and, of course, with many other politicians, including Vesna Pusić, Zoran Milanović and Milorad Pupovac. All of these politicians have shown a great deal of maturity across party boundaries and have committed to taking a joint approach to European questions. This sets a good example, in particular for the other countries in the region. I would like to thank the highly committed shadow rapporteurs. We have worked together extremely well. Of course, I would also like to thank the Commission and, in particular, Mr Füle. As far as it is possible, I would also like to give my sincere thanks to the Council.

Only by putting in place a consistent policy on the European side have we succeeded in ensuring, together with the responsible politicians in Croatia, that Croatia has made the necessary reforms and, above all, has begun working together with the International Criminal Court in The Hague and has since increased its cooperation. This is not about revenge or about European sensitivities. It is about the fact that only by coming to terms with one’s own history is it possible to reappraise the mistakes made in the past. I have never seen this as a criticism of Croatia’s right to defend itself. It is only a criticism of the fact that some of these situations may have been exploited in order to commit war crimes. That is the decisive issue and not the question of Croatia in and of itself.

However, a great deal has also been done in the fight against corruption. For me, the fact that a former prime minister is standing trial is not evidence of how widespread corruption is. Instead, it is evidence that Croatia is coming to grips with and overcoming the problem of corruption.

Of course, the judicial system has also been reformed and significant progress has been made. In addition, there will be a monitoring mechanism in place, which is important from my perspective, because the Commission will ensure that the reforms are continued before the actual accession takes place.

The efforts made to integrate the returning Serbian refugees were also important and Croatia has achieved a great deal in this area. I would particularly like to thank the two presidents, Ivo Josipović and Boris Tadić, for having the courage to take joint action, in particular with regard to their visit to Vukovar. I travelled to Vukovar a few weeks after the dreadful destruction and I have seen what human aggression can do when it is incited by unscrupulous politicians. However, on my most recent visit I also found that there are many people living in Vukovar who are looking to the future. I went to a school attended by both Croatian and Serbian children and discovered that they were prepared to talk about the future. There I had one of the best discussions about Europe that I have ever had. The people in Vukovar know what Europe is all about, which many of us have forgotten. Europe is about overcoming hate and conflict.

There in Vukovar I looked across the Danube, a river that should increasingly be bringing people together rather than dividing them. The citizens of Croatia understand this too.

Against this background, I would like to say that I am convinced that for precisely these reasons Croatia will do everything it can to give the other countries in the region the opportunity to join the European Union. Neighbourhood policy is an important area. I would like to mention once again that I am very grateful for the fact that Croatia and Slovenia – and I would like to mention the Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor in this respect – have succeeded in bringing an end to their long dispute and have initiated a process which will put a stop to the border conflict and the border disagreements.

For me, the accession of Croatia is an important step towards European integration. I hope that the Council will be brave enough to make a move with regard to Serbia and Montenegro in the near future which will demonstrate that the integration process will continue even after Croatia’s accession. I know that many people in Europe today think that enlargement lies at the heart of our problems and is also the cause of them. However, it is not the constitutions of the new countries that have failed. Furthermore, the economic problems were not brought about by the new countries but by the old ones.

For this reason, I hope that tomorrow there will be a broad majority in favour of the accession of Croatia and that this will generate hope and confidence. During a phase of pessimism, which we have just been discussing, and even sometimes of defeatism, it is important to show that we believe in Europe. We believe in Europe together with Croatia and we will work with Croatia to develop and defend this new Europe.

(Applause)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: RODI KRATSA-TSAGAROPOULOU
Vice-President

 
  
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  Mikołaj Dowgielewicz, President-in-Office of the Council. − Madam President, Commissioner, honourable Members, I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate; it is one of the final stages of a process which will lead in a few days’ time to the signature of the Croatian Accession Treaty which will turn that country into the 28th member of the European Union. This is a very positive development. I think we can all congratulate Croatia on achieving a successful outcome to the lengthy process of negotiating accession.

I want to use this occasion to reiterate a firm belief that enlargement policy is one of the biggest successes of the European Union. European integration has as one of its primary objectives the strengthening of peace, stability and reconciliation. Enlargement is one of the main instruments for reaching these objectives. At a time when the Union is facing very significant challenges, which we just discussed a few minutes ago, the accession of Croatia reminds us of the reasons why Europeans have chosen to cooperate in the unique framework that is the European Union. It reminds us of the extraordinary success of European integration as witnessed by the aspirations of others to become part of that success, and this Parliament has been unfailing in its support for Croatia throughout the negotiating process. I want to thank you for that support.

I want to underline today that one of the cornerstones of the renewed consensus on enlargement is the ‘own merits’ principle: candidates progress according to their own efforts in meeting the strict conditionality laid down by the EU. This conditionality is essential for ensuring that they are ready for membership. Membership of the EU of course brings significant benefits but it also brings with it obligations. These obligations themselves serve to ensure that all citizens are able to take full advantage of membership and this has a direct bearing on the credibility of the whole enlargement policy. It is something which I cannot underline enough.

There is also another important aspect of credibility in the process. If the candidate fulfils the criteria set for membership, the EU also delivers on its promises. Provided that you give your consent to the accession of Croatia, the Accession Treaty can be signed next Friday here in Brussels. Since the ceremony will take place in the morning, the Croatian Prime Minister, Ms Kosor, will be able to be able to participate as an observer at the European Council later the same day. Let us hope she will witness a very optimistic and united European Council.

I want also to mention and underline that the work on Croatia’s accession is not yet over. As stated by the European Council in June, Croatia will need to continue its reform efforts with the same vigour so as to be able to assume fully the obligations of membership from the date of accession. Further sustainable results and improved track records are expected. Close monitoring of progress in all areas before accession will continue, particularly in relation to judiciary and fundamental rights issues (Chapter 23) and to the area of justice, freedom and security (Chapter 24).

The Council has therefore been considering the Commission’s progress report on Croatia and the ongoing monitoring for all the negotiating chapters. Let me assure you that the Council, closely assisted by the Commission, will continue to follow and assess developments and will keep this Parliament fully informed. Of course, let us not forget that the future accession of Croatia is significant for the whole region. It is a very positive sign and it should be read as such a positive sign to foster stability, peace, prosperity and reconciliation based on good neighbourly relations.

This fact, this event – the signature of the Treaty – should also be a very strong encouragement to the other countries in the region to follow the same values, to follow reconciliation with neighbours and to show full determination on the road to fulfilling the accession criteria. We hope this event on 9 December will give a new momentum to the European perspective of the Western Balkans as a whole, provided that all countries concerned persevere on the path of reform.

 
  
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  Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. Madam President, today is a decisive moment. You are called to give your consent to Croatia becoming the 28th Member State of the European Union. I am pleased that many Croatian colleagues who have worked with us for months and years are with us to share this important day.

The Commission has already given its favourable opinion, on 12 October. I hope that your vote tomorrow on the recommendation and resolution prepared by Mr Swoboda will be positive. This will allow the Council to take its decision on the admission of Croatia so that the Accession Treaty can be signed on 9 December.

Your vote is a vote for Croatia, a vote for the region, and a vote for the European Union. First of all, it is a vote for Croatia – a Croatia that is very different to the country that applied for accession to the European Union nearly a decade ago, a Croatia where the transformative power of the enlargement process can be clearly seen in many regards. The economy is ready to form a part of the internal market and has coped with the financial crisis, although in today’s challenging times Croatia should not neglect further economic reform.

Most importantly, democratic principles and fundamental rights are respected and the rule of law has been strengthened through a number of reforms. This is the result of the hard work Croatia has done across the board.

Following the renewed consensus on enlargement, Croatia is the first candidate country to have completed accession negotiations in line with an adapted negotiating methodology, which involved a systematic use of benchmarks. Croatia has been able to demonstrate that it met the strict conditions and will therefore be ready to become a Member State on 1 July 2013.

A specific focus has been placed on judiciary reform and the fight against corruption. This helped and guided Croatia during the negotiation process. It has also led to substantial results on the ground: for example, the way the Croatian prosecution and judicial authorities are addressing corruption cases.

This is not the end of the story. Croatia now has to demonstrate that it will live up to the commitments taken in the context of the negotiations. Preparations will continue until accession. Completing these preparations will be a key priority for the government which will be formed after the elections in December.

I can assure you that the Commission will continue monitoring and reporting on Croatia’s respect of the commitments taken, thoroughly and objectively, all the way to accession. We will continue to assist Croatia in this final phase of preparation. The Commission will also continue keeping the European Parliament fully informed and I am at your disposal to discuss our findings with you.

This is also a vote for the region. Croatia’s progress has shown the way to others. It has shown that the benefits of European integration are within their grasp. Enlargement offers huge political, social and economic benefits. Enlargement has served as an anchor of stability and regional cooperation. Enlargement is a driver of democracy and the rule of law. Economically, enlargement has led to increased living standards in the new Member States.

The enlargement process is not just about aligning legislation with the acquis communautaire. Above all it is about changing society, about accepting the values on which our Union is based. These values are closely linked to the areas of ‘Judiciary and fundamental rights’ and ‘Justice, Freedom and Security’. We have therefore developed a new approach and in future negotiations we suggest tackling these issues first and closing them last.

We must not forget that this vote is also a vote for the European Union. Enlargement is in our strategic interest, for our security and our prosperity. The adoption of our values by the Western Balkans ensures stability and irreversible political reform. Integration into the internal market benefits our exporters and investors. Adoption of the acquis enables us to better meet our strategic policy objectives in fields such as energy, transport, the environment and other strategic interests. A credible enlargement policy is our most effective tool to support this process of reform and transformation. That the accession of Croatia is now a reality proves the credibility of this policy.

I would like to conclude by thanking you for your cooperation and support because, without it, I doubt that we would be able to make history here today.

 
  
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  Göran Färm, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Budgets.(SV) Madam President, Croatia’s membership is a historic event, which I hope will continue with the rest of the Western Balkans.

The Committee on Budgets has carried out an assessment of the economic aspects of Croatia’s membership. It will result in a certain increase in the EU budget. It means that Croatia will have to further increase its capacity to deal with EU assistance in a responsible and effective manner, particularly at local and regional level for small businesses and others. This is not just about the central state. We are convinced that it can develop this capacity in the same way as it has made progress in the fight against corruption.

We are also convinced that increasing EU aid to Croatia is not actually a cost, but an investment in human and democratic development, a better environment and better economic growth that will benefit the whole of Europe.

Therefore, we say, on a very broad political front, welcome Croatia!

 
  
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  Rafał Trzaskowski, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs. Madam President, it is a happy thing that in these difficult times we can continue with enlargement which, contrary to certain fears, has always gone hand in hand with deepening, being a catalyst for indispensable change and bringing potential for growth.

I would like to share with you one institutional point from my opinion. I would like to point out that the procedures for the adoption of, on the one hand, the Accession Treaty with the Republic of Croatia and, on the other hand, the protocols requested by Ireland and Czech Republic, have different Treaty bases – Articles 49 and 48 respectively – and therefore they could not be legally incorporated into a single act.

Two procedures may coincide in time, reflecting the spirit of the political agreement incorporated into the Council’s conclusions of June and October 2009. However, any linkage between the two processes may not in any way unduly delay the date of accession, so that we send a positive signal to the Union, which is now in dire straits. To our Croatian friends on their last journeys on the road to the European Union, I would like to say ‘Sretan put!’ [Have a good journey!].

 
  
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  Bernd Posselt, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (DE) Madam President, this House has been supporting Croatia for more than 30 years. As a young assistant of Otto von Habsburg at the start of the 1980s, I was involved in bringing the first Croatian exiles here under the leadership of Ms Dončević and in enabling the first civil rights campaigners led by Vladimir Šeks to come to Strasbourg and to talk to us about the desire of the Croatian people for freedom and about the human rights situation there.

We played a part in the process of introducing democracy during the first free elections in 1990. For a year, we did everything we could to draw the attention of the states to the fact that it was necessary to negotiate with Belgrade about the peaceful transformation of Yugoslavia into a loose confederation, which Croatia was prepared to do. This failed as a result of resistance from the militaristic communists and as a result of the lack of involvement of many countries in the Western world. It was right that the European Parliament finally asserted itself in early 1992 and that the European Union recognised the independence of Croatia.

Since then, Croatia has been moving towards joining the European Union by introducing reforms and taking part in negotiations. It is a Central European country which is extremely well prepared. In fact, it is one of the best prepared candidate countries that we have ever had. I would very much like to thank Mr Swoboda for enabling us, along with all the other rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs over the years, to ensure that it was this House which was responsible for removing many of the unfair obstacles placed in Croatia’s path.

This country has been constantly blocked in a way which was completely inacceptable and which sometimes involved artificial measures. The natural accession process is difficult enough, because we have tried imposing stricter criteria on Croatia than any other candidate country has ever had to meet. Croatia has overcome these obstacles in style. Therefore, I am already looking forward to the day when observers from Croatia will help us here in the European Parliament to give the European Union a new impetus. I am looking forward to hearing Croatian spoken in this House. Živjeli Hrvatska!

 
  
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  Kristian Vigenin, on behalf of the S&D Group.(BG) Madam President, Commissioner, I am sure that today’s sitting would have been much more celebratory if the debate prior to this had not focused on the European Union’s economic, financial and monetary problems. I even think that if Croatia’s citizens had heard some of the statements made prior to this by my colleagues, they would have thought twice about whether to join the European Union. At the same time, Croatia’s accession to the European Union is a great success both for the country and the European Union.

I think that Croatia is joining at a very important time for us, which will perhaps make us rethink that the situation in the European Union is still not as tragic and tough as some are trying to depict it, and that our Union does have a future and continues to be attractive.

I would like to mention at this point a statement made by an official representative of another candidate country, who said: ‘You are constantly saying what a hard time you are having, but you do not know what it is like to be outside the European Union and to have to face this tough crisis.’

I believe that the European Parliament will vote by a huge majority in favour of the decision supporting Croatia’s accession to the European Union, just as the Committee on Foreign Affairs has already done. I think that, from now on, Croatia’s task must be to work with the Member States, as we hope that the timetable for ratifying the agreement will be adhered to and Croatia will be able to join according to plan.

We are pleased that Mr Swoboda, a representative of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, successfully completed his job and helped Croatia in a highly proficient manner to reach this point. I wish to highlight one point from his speech: civic participation. This aspect is of paramount importance, and we hope that there will be a high public turnout for the referendum, by which I mean the referendum in Croatia, and that it will be sufficiently positive.

Finally, if possible, I would like to say one thing in reply to Mr Posselt. Croatia did actually have to go through tougher requirements, but this allows it to join the European Union without any monitoring mechanisms, which Bulgaria and Romania still continue to be afflicted by. I wish Croatia every success.

 
  
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  Ivo Vajgl, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (SL) Madam President, Commissioner, our distinguished Croatian guests in the gallery, we are honoured to have you with us today, on a day that is important to you and important to us.

Croatia has had to wait a long time for this momentous occasion. While more momentous occasions are to come over the next few weeks, I believe Croatia has truly had to pay a higher price for membership than many other countries that have joined the European Union over the last 10 years.

This arose from, amongst other things, a misguided view in Europe. That is, the view that Croatia was one of the perpetrators of the Balkan Wars, but not their biggest victim.

In any case, today we can see that the European idea, the European future of Croatia has contributed to a greater cohesion of Croatian policy and among the Croatian people – this is an important achievement. A particularly important achievement for a country so historically diverse. Today everyone in Croatia looks forward to the achievement of a common goal.

There is more work to be done. The Commissioner spoke very articulately about this and I fully agree with him.

There are a considerable number of areas in which Croatia must still improve its performance over the coming years – in fields such as media freedom, protection of human rights, minorities and others – but we also have these problems, they are not specific to Croatia.

Finally let me say welcome to Croatia and let us look forward to the accession of a new, 28th member of the European Union.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Madam President, I had the pleasure of spending my summer holidays in Croatia and seeing first hand the level of prosperity and social progress in that beautiful country. As it has negotiated all EU chapters for accession, my group, the ECR, will indeed give its assent tomorrow to Croatia becoming the 28th Member of the European Union.

Croatia has led its Balkan neighbours in the reform process in the post-Yugoslavian space, for example even imprisoning a former Prime Minister for corruption, thus demonstrating a firm commitment to the Copenhagen criteria. However, there is still plenty of work to be done, particularly in the area of fighting organised crime and the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Croatia must also ensure it cooperates fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and protect relevant witnesses so it can put behind it the dark side of its recent history in conflict.

As a small but prosperous Mediterranean country, Croatia’s accession will pose few problems, particularly if temporary derogations are in place with regard to mass labour migration across the European Union, which would of course put pressure on already stretched public resources, particularly in my country. Indeed so far, current visa liberalisation measures for Croats travelling within the Schengen Area has not resulted in large numbers seeking to abuse this concession, and sadly Balkan criminals will move freely around Europe whatever measures are in place.

Croatia will now be the second former Yugoslav country to join the community after Slovenia and I express my hope that its former Yugoslav neighbours of Montenegro –on which I am the European Parliament’s standing rapporteur and with whom Croatia seeks to resolve a small boundary dispute – and Macedonia, will similarly soon open negotiations.

Though the timing for EU membership for all other Western Balkan countries beyond Croatia is far from clear, this prospect remains the essential glue which drives their reforms and anchors them all in peace and democracy. Once Croatia becomes an EU Member State – once a referendum is passed and all the Member State parliaments ratify it – it in turn must support its former regional foes in their accession to the European Union, in particular Serbia.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Bernd Posselt (PPE).(DE) Madam President, I am pleased by Mr Tannock’s contribution, but I just wanted to ask, because he mentioned a former prime minister, whether he is aware that Croatia would not have made so much progress without this prime minister and whether he is also of the opinion that this man deserves a fair trial, without special treatment and without unfair treatment either, simply a fair trial, with no advance political judgments.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock (ECR). - Madam President, in my country for matters sub judice it is customary for politicians not to comment, but of course I believe in a fair trial for everybody. I would also recognise that Dr Sanader played a major part as Prime Minister in actually paving the way for eventual Croatian accession to the EU. He is an extremely able politician but, if he is guilty of the charges of corruption and embezzling public funds, he must pay the criminal price and go to jail. That is very clear to everybody. But that is up to the courts to decide, not this Parliament.

 
  
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  Ulrike Lunacek, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Madam President, Mr Füle, these are good times for Croatia and for Europe. At the moment, we in Europe are not experiencing many good times, so we should at least take this opportunity to celebrate the events tomorrow and the signing of the Accession Treaty by Croatia next week. I would like to congratulate the Croatian Government and all the people of Croatia on behalf of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance for everything that they have achieved in recent years.

With the vote tomorrow in the European Parliament and the signing of the Accession Treaty next week, a process which has taken almost 10 years will reach a temporary climax. However, this will not be the end of the process. It will be necessary to implement further reforms with undiminished enthusiasm. Combating corruption, judicial reform, the prosecution of war criminals by the Croatian justice system and the protection of minorities must remain high on the reform agenda.

This is why the unspeakable amendment tabled by the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) for tomorrow’s vote is a move in completely the wrong direction. The Members of the PPE Group want to remove from the resolution the condemnation of the violence against gay and lesbian participants in the pride march in Split this year. We hope that a majority of this House will show its solidarity and will give courage to all of those who are fighting against prejudice, homophobia and dangerous nationalism.

We in the European Parliament, in collaboration with the Commission, will ensure over the next few years that the Commission clearly identifies the problems and that civil society in Croatia is included in the reform and monitoring process in the years to come. The next Croatian Government will have to take responsibility for this, because it will only be able to convince the people of Croatia that reform is possible if there is a transparent process in place. The process in Croatia will provide an impetus for the entire region and, therefore, I wish all the West Balkan countries every success in their move towards the European Union. Welcome Croatia, hvala lijepa!

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Bernd Posselt (PPE).(DE) Madam President, I have only one question for Ms Lunacek and that is: has she read the text? The Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) obviously condemns this violence. This relates to paragraph 14. We are only opposed to the fact that paragraph 15 accuses the government or the authorities of failure, because this amounts to electioneering. That is what I wanted to explain. Of course we condemn violence.

 
  
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  Ulrike Lunacek (Verts/ALE).(DE) Madam President, Mr Posselt, I have indeed read it and, of course, this is not about supporting the election campaign in one form or another. However, in our opinion it definitely was a failure on the part of the authorities, which were unable to give the people in Split proper protection. This is why we are upholding our criticism and hoping that you will perhaps withdraw the amendment.

 
  
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  Takis Hadjigeorgiou, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(EL) Madam President, we in the Confederal Group of the United European Left - Nordic Green Left welcome the accession of Croatia to the European Union. Of course, it is joining at a time when faith in the European Union is at an all-time low. Let us hope that this accession will, insofar as it is able, restore the faith that, together, we can do better. I am not optimistic and, what is more, I hope that the accession of Croatia will not coincide with the demise of the euro and decades of dreams.

The 2011 progress report states that accession prospects have given Croatia the incentive to make positive changes and that, as a result, it has made considerable progress in various sectors. We too wish to welcome the progress made on the return of refugees, gender equality, combating discrimination and bridging differences with neighbouring countries.

However, apart from that, we must also pay heed to the most important socio-economic problems besetting the people of Croatia, such as poverty, long-term unemployment and the lack of respect for labour rights. Unfortunately, the proposals to promote a competitive, liberal economy will exacerbate the already difficult socio-economic circumstances of the people.

We must therefore support the promotion of real social development, through the modernisation of the social protection system, with people-friendly measures to combat economic problems and unemployment and improve access to services, especially health, housing and education.

 
  
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  Nigel Farage, on behalf of the EFD Group. – Madam President, I recently visited Croatia; I wanted to find out whether a proper national debate was going on, whether there was a fair campaign. What did I find? Well I found that the EU is doing everything it can to bribe the political class in Croatia. Doing it quite well too. Already the EU has given EUR 320 million to Croatia in what is called pre-accession aid; the EU has just spent a million euros on a blatant propaganda advertising campaign telling Croatia that the EU is their only hope.

Cleverly, you have even given jobs to Croatians – highly paid jobs to Croatians in the European Parliament and in the European Commission – just to show them how well off they – the ruling class – will be if they join. And you have got EU flags flying on official buildings all over the country, to give the impression that it is a done deal. You have some willing helpers because the old Communists are still there in Croatia. They still hold all the positions of power and they will all become personally enormously wealthy if Croatia joins the European Union.

There is an even more sinister side to this because there is not a free press in Croatia. There is no national debate going on at all. Indeed a prize has been offered – HRK 10 000 – if anybody can find an article in any Croatian newspaper suggesting that joining is not the right thing to do.

The whole campaign is bent, corrupt and distorted. We have seen this before from the European Union, but I think it is happening on a scale in Croatia that is worse than I have seen before. This country has for nearly a thousand years sought independence and for 20 years they have had independence. They got out of the failed political experiment that was Yugoslavia. If they vote to join the European Union, they are voting to rejoin a new Yugoslavia, a failing political experiment that will implode. I hope there is, in the last month or two, a debate in Croatia. Sadly, I doubt it.

 
  
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  Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). - Madam President, it is 20 years since Croatia declared its independence, following a 95% backing in a referendum, and it fought to defend that independence, its territory and its people. Many died and were seriously wounded in defence of those interests.

It is tragic that Croatia is now about to sign away that independence to the European Union. To ensure its entry, Croatia had to pass quantities of legislation enforcing social liberalism, hand its generals over to the International Criminal Court, as though they were sacrifices to a jealous god, and sign up to economic liberalism that will prevent its government from defending the jobs of its people.

That the Treaty will be signed before the people have spoken in the referendum shows a contempt for democracy, a contempt for the Croatian people and especially a contempt for those who died in Croatia’s war of independence. The Government of Croatia is not content to have used – or rather misused – public funds to pay for propaganda dressed up as information to skew the result of the referendum. It is treating the referendum result as though it were a mere formality. But of course, if there should be a ‘no’ vote, there can always be another referendum, and another, and another, until they get the right answer. That is the European Union way.

 
  
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  Othmar Karas (PPE).(DE) Madam President, Mr Swoboda, ladies and gentlemen, the decision-making process for the accession of Croatia, together with the vote tomorrow, shows that these are good times and not just for Croatia. They are very good times for the European Union which is a project that will integrate the continent, overcome the violent division of Europe, introduce peace, freedom and responsibility for one another instead of conflict and respond to the crises that we are experiencing and the challenges that are facing us.

The enlargement process is not complete and the process of deepening relationships must be speeded up. We need to establish an economic and social union and we must do the job properly. In Croatia and in the European Union we must not rest on our laurels. We must continue along the road to reform. Both Croatia and the European Union have potential for improvement with regard to combating corruption, respecting fundamental rights and implementing the necessary reforms.

It is no coincidence that we – Mr Swoboda, Ms Lunacek, Mr Posselt and I – have been following Croatia’s progress for years and that Austria was one of the first countries to recognise Croatia’s independence. There are many economic, employment-related, cultural and historic connections between us. Therefore, we are pleased that the process of the last few years can be successfully completed and that a new chapter will be started.

We hope that everyone will vote in favour tomorrow, that we will warmly welcome Croatia to the European Union and that we will give each other a new impetus to meet the challenges faced by the European Union together. This also sends out a positive signal to the other West Balkan countries.

 
  
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  Tanja Fajon (S&D). - (SL) Madam President, our support for Croatia tomorrow will send an important message that enlargement continues despite difficult times. I hope this year will see European governments send more positive messages to the countries of the Western Balkans.

My sincere congratulations to Croatia on a truly great success, important for all countries in the region.

I am also optimistic that Croatia will serve as a good model for others, especially in resolving existing bilateral disputes and particularly in building mutual trust.

I agree that the arbitration agreement between Slovenia and Croatia has been a great success.

Membership has benefits for both the Union and Croatia, which has carried out tough reforms, particularly in the fight against corruption and organised crime.

This mixture of marathon and sprint cannot end here. Of this everyone must be aware, including politicians not only in Croatia but also in the region, whose reckless statements so often upset the delicate balance achieved.

People must be aware that it is these politicians who will decide whether they want a future in the European Union.

In Slovenia, we successfully passed the test of a referendum. I believe Croatia will also pass this test successfully, since a European future is an investment in progress, reform and stability in our region.

I look forward to meeting our Croatian colleagues very soon in this parliamentary forum.

 
  
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  Nikolaos Salavrakos (EFD).(EL) Madam President, Mr Swoboda, who has a reputation for seriousness, has prepared a comprehensive and serious report. However, I must emphasise that Croatia has made considerable efforts to address the huge problems facing it. It has responded successfully and I trust that reform efforts will continue with the same momentum, especially in the justice and fundamental rights sectors, in improving how corruption cases are handled, in transparency in public procurement and in party funding.

It has made huge progress in comparison with other candidate countries in the area; I refer in particular to FYROM, which is lagging behind and which, leaving the question of the name aside, is not ready to continue the process. This being so, I trust that, in any event, the accession of Croatia, will breathe new life into the European prospects of the Western Balkans and, on that note, I welcome Croatia into the European Union.

 
  
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  Gunnar Hökmark (PPE). - Madam President, I would like to thank the rapporteur, welcome Croatia and congratulate the European Union.

Tomorrow when we have the opportunity to vote for the accession of Croatia to the European Union, it will be an expression and a manifestation of ideas and of the strength of European cooperation. I regret that Mr Farage is not here any more, because he has a problem with Croatian membership. This membership is a message that European cooperation in the European Union has values which are more attractive than his policies. It underlines that we in a time of crisis are able to proceed with one of the miraculous efforts of the European Union – the enlargement which we have seen is building a stable democracy and open societies. With Croatia we will be able to take another step; making Europe better.

Croatia has become a better society and, through membership of the European Union, Croatian citizens will have the same opportunities as all other citizens of the European Union. It will make Europe better, but it will create better opportunities for all of us: Croatians, Swedes, Austrians and all others, who are taking part in this fantastic project. So tomorrow we will be manifesting the strength of the European Union in a time of economic crisis. I think that also underlines that there is room for optimism and there is also room for the message to other countries of the Western Balkans: when you reform, when you transform, when you develop, then we can all share peace, democracy and open societies.

 
  
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  Kinga Göncz (S&D).(HU) Madam President, it is a real pleasure for me to vote yes to Croatia’s membership application as the representative of a neighbouring country, Hungary. I congratulate Croatia for getting to this point. There is very serious work behind it. Croatia is also a good example for the other countries of the region that are heading towards the European Union. The message it sends is that if they meet the conditions, the EU will be open for them and the European Union will keep its word.

During the Hungarian Presidency we were successful in closing the negotiations with Croatia. The reason I mention this is that Hungary has always been unanimously committed to helping Croatia and the Croatian accession process. However, there are further tasks that I would like to mention here, to be performed until and after full membership is achieved. I say this as the representative of a country that only recently acceded to the European Union and knows about these difficulties from experience.

In this region maintaining good neighbourly relations and holding back nationalist impulses demand continuous effort. Not long after a war and in the middle of an economic crisis, European values, their wide-ranging social support and approval can only be achieved and maintained if the government and the politicians represent them in a unified way and provide credible information to the public about the rights and obligations involved in EU membership. Therefore, in the hope of continued good cooperation I welcome the Croatians and Croatian accession.

 
  
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  Alojz Peterle (PPE). - (SL) Madam President, my sincere congratulations to the Republic of Croatia on the successful conclusion of negotiations and the signing of the Accession Treaty in the near future.

Croatia is proof that it is possible with hard work to benefit from the European objective of strengthening the still unfinished process of unifying Europe.

Croatia will be the second country to have emerged from the region of the former Yugoslavia and joined the European Union.

I hope Croatia’s success will stimulate progress in the accession processes of the other countries in south- eastern Europe endorsed for European membership in Thessaloniki.

This process should be continued, regardless of the current crisis, for the good of peace, development and cooperation in the region, in the interests of the whole of Europe.

 
  
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  Daniel Caspary (PPE).(DE) Madam President, I believe it is very important that Croatia – and here I strongly agree with the opinions of all the previous speakers – is definitely one of the countries which has been best prepared for accession to the European Union. Many improvements have been introduced, in particular in recent months, and I am very grateful specifically to the Commission and to our partners in Croatia for the significant efforts that they have made.

However, what concerns me is that we have clear rules in the European Union concerning the conditions that a country has to fulfil. I regret that once again we are accepting a country which has not completely met all the requirements. Therefore, I would like to make it quite clear, because I do not want to put Croatia at a disadvantage compared with the other countries, that Croatia has made more progress than most countries at the time of accession. Nevertheless, for all future accessions I would like to see rightful equality and not unfair equality.

Many of the problems which we have in Europe today are caused by the fact that we have put in place effective rules which are not followed nearly often enough. I would be very grateful if we could genuinely take this into consideration for future accessions.

 
  
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  Zuzana Roithová (PPE). - (CS) Madam President, I am frankly delighted at the successful conclusion of the negotiations on Croatia’s accession. Croatia’s reforming changes are an example to other countries in the region. Croatia’s accession to the EU will also guarantee the stability of the Western Balkans, which was plagued by armed conflict until recently. I am doubly pleased on account of the excellent relations that exist with Czech citizens, and the historically deep-rooted bilateral links between the two nations. I am all the more concerned that the Czech Republic may complicate ratification of Croatia’s Accession Treaty. Due to the stubbornness of our President and the social democratic party, there is a risk that Croatia will become a hostage in the dispute over the toothless Klaus protocol to the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, despite the fact that this protocol does not create any opt-out from the Charter for the Czech Republic, so that neither the social certainty of Czech citizens nor the Beneš decrees will be affected by this protocol. I would like to assure you that Czech citizens very much want Croatia to achieve membership as soon as possible. This will also be a sign of the attractiveness and viability of the EU.

 
  
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  Jelko Kacin (ALDE). - (SL) Madam President, Croatia’s success marks yet another significant defeat for Eurosceptics and so I congratulate Croatia, the negotiating teams on both sides, Croatia’s parliament and people, the Commission, particularly the Commissioner and his team, and the Polish Presidency.

We should all be proud of this significant achievement and the European Union’s success. I would like to thank Johannes Swoboda for his many years of constructive work.

On 9 December, we must pass the baton of enlargement from Croatia to Montenegro and set a date for accession negotiations. Croatia deserves a neighbour with whom to negotiate. It also deserves the naming of a new candidate, as does the whole of the Western Balkans. We support and endorse Serbia and Montenegro because it will be good for the region.

Therefore I call upon the European Commission and Council, particularly the Polish Presidency, to consolidate our efforts over the next few days and seal the success of Croatia with success for Serbia and Montenegro.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Madam President, we welcome Croatia’s accession to the European Union. I think that Croatia’s accession will make a significant contribution to implementing the European Union Strategy for the Danube Region. Croatia, along with Bavaria, is responsible for implementing Priority Axis 6 on conserving biodiversity, and it is responsible along with Baden-Württemberg for coordinating Priority 8 – business competitiveness. As a Member State, Croatia also needs to help develop the trans-European transport network because Croatia plays an absolutely crucial role in extending the trans-European transport infrastructure with the transport infrastructure in the Balkans region.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Madam President, after a lot of bureaucratic obstacles, the accession negotiations with Croatia have now – thank goodness – been brought to a positive conclusion. That is very much to be welcomed. In the meantime, as we know, Croatia has achieved a great deal – I am thinking in particular of the judicial reform in the country.

However, Croatia is also obliged to carry on and consider other matters, for example the phasing out of nuclear power and the decommissioning of the Krško power plant that is run with Croatian involvement. It will also be important for it to fulfil its obligations in relation to combating corruption and border management in respect of the route across the Balkans. Competition is another issue that remains to be dealt with, of course.

The Commission has really demanded a great deal from Croatia, much more than from the other candidate countries, whereas Turkey is still being treated with magnanimity, generosity and forbearance – despite its poor progress reports – and billions of euros in pre-accession assistance are continuing to flow down the Bosphorus. That also needs to be mentioned in this context.

 
  
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  Eduard Kukan (PPE). – (SK) Madam President, tomorrow’s vote on Croatia’s accession to the EU will mark an important milestone, and I believe it will strengthen the EU and demonstrate the credibility of the EU’s expansion policy and commitments towards the Balkans. The accession process has made a significant contribution to Croatia’s transformation into a democratic country based on European values. I firmly believe that Croatia’s accession to the EU will contribute to stability, security and freedom in the region. Croatia should continue to play the role of a strong supporter and representative of European values. At this moment, however, it is important to think of other countries as well, and of our joint efforts to bring them into the Union. The success of Croatia has allowed us to acquire new experience which, I hope, we will be able to make good use of in the EU’s future expansion process. I warmly welcome Croatia as the 28th member of the EU.

 
  
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  Csaba Sógor (PPE).(HU) Madam President, aAt present the European Union is going through what is probably the most difficult period in its history, when the willingness to cooperate and solidarity are, in many cases, replaced by mistrust and introversion. I welcome the fact that the Commission and the Member States have remained committed to Croatia’s accession even in these difficult times. Without the integration of the West Balkan states the united Europe cannot be complete. At the same time, the accession of these states also means that dealing with the problems of ethnic minority communities at the European level will become unavoidable. We have to confront this issue. West Balkan integration can only be successful if we do not sweep the question of minorities under the carpet. I am convinced that even after accession Croatia will not make the mistake of following in the steps of those Member States that have ignored the promises they had made before accession about the protection of ethnic minorities.

 
  
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  Štefan Füle, Member of the Commission. Madam President, I would like to thank honourable Members very much for this debate – a debate which was overall very positive and inspiring. I am encouraged by the broad support you have given to the accession of Croatia. I hope this will be translated into a decisive vote tomorrow.

I also heard your encouragement to Croatia to continue its preparation for membership. The findings of our autumn monitoring show that Croatia has maintained the momentum in its preparation for membership and has achieved a very high level of preparation to assume the responsibilities of membership upon accession. Completing these preparations should be a key priority for the government that will be formed after the upcoming elections.

I am making that remark to stress the point that there will be no exceptions for Croatia from meeting the obligations we have negotiated with Croatia, and that these obligations will be met by the time that it accedes to the European Union. Let me also confirm that the ratification of the Accession Treaty will indeed be a stand-alone Act based on Article 49 of the Treaty of the European Union.

From the Commission’s side, I reiterate my firm commitment to continue our close cooperation and I will make sure that you are adequately informed about the progress achieved by Croatia in the months to come, up to accession.

The enlargement policy is the response to the legitimate aspiration of the people of Europe to join the endeavour of a unified Europe. Let us work together so that the lesson of Croatia – that hard work pays off – remains the hallmark of a credible enlargement policy.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: LÁSZLÓ TŐKÉS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Mikołaj Dowgielewicz, President-in-Office of the Council. Mr President, I also want to greet the Croatian delegations. I see the chief negotiator there, so I want to congratulate him very warmly, and also personally, for all the efforts and very hard work over the years to bring Croatia to the doorstep of the European Union. Maybe, I could jokingly say that when Croatia enters you will get even more used to Slavic names like Dowgielewicz – so that will certainly be very welcome.

I want to focus now on something else in my final remarks. I remember very well when this Parliament voted in Strasbourg on the accession of ten Member States in the spring of 2003, and I remember very well the debates that existed before the accession referenda in those countries, notably my own country Poland. I remember the sea of eurosceptic nonsense that was flowing everywhere about losing national identity; the economic Babel that was going to come with accession; the end of agriculture; the end of values; the end of Christianity – all that nonsense.

Look at Poland now, look at other countries like the Czech Republic or the Baltic states, and look how much we prosper in the European Union. Look at how big a success enlargement has been, and especially the last round that I am referring to. I very much hope that the Croatian debate ahead of the referendum will be a debate based on the facts, and that there will be a campaign, discussions and debate based on real issues. I very much hope that we will not see a repetition of the same discussions that lead nowhere and are just based on myths that are very far from reality.

So I hope for a very positive vote tomorrow. I also want to thank the rapporteur, Mr Swoboda, for all the efforts and commitment he has put into this report and also the work with Croatia over the years. I very much hope that in these difficult times we will all be able to communicate this optimism, dynamism and positive message that flow from the fact of Croatia’s accession.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 1 December 2011.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D), in writing. (LT) Twenty years since its declaration of independence and eight years since its application for accession to the European Union, Croatia has successfully completed an historic stage in the process of EU integration. Croatia’s membership will strengthen the EU, enrich European culture and heritage and contribute towards maintaining the credibility of the enlargement process, and will also be a good example of how it is possible to achieve all objectives previously set by conscientiously meeting all obligations. Following a negotiation process that has lasted almost six years and preparations that have lasted several years and which have changed the country’s political, economic and cultural environment, Croatia will join the cradle of European states. Although Croatia has already made significant progress, the European Parliament calls on the Croatian authorities to continue to strengthen the fight against corruption, and to promote a culture of political accountability in the public sector and the judiciary in line with EU best practices, because this is a precondition for establishing and strengthening the rule of law. Furthermore, we should increase efforts to investigate war crimes and implement a new strategy for combating impunity, which is essential for guaranteeing justice and achieving long-term regional reconciliation. The European Parliament welcomes the fact that in July 2011 the Croatian Government adopted a declaration on promoting European values in South-East Europe and calls on Croatia to continue to promote EU enlargement and European values in this region in order to guarantee peace, well-being, freedom, the rule of law, democracy and a social market economy.

 
  
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  Cristian Silviu Buşoi (ALDE), in writing.(RO) I welcome Hannes Swoboda’s report which has also been received very enthusiastically by my colleagues in the European Parliament. After six years of negotiations, eight years of applying to become a Member State and 20 years on from independence, the accession negotiations with Croatia were concluded in June this year. Respect for human rights and the fight against corruption were the main topics of negotiation during the last year. Indeed, the increased pace of the reforms in these areas was evident even in the middle of 2009. Croatia is ready to join. However, it must address prevalent challenges, such as those posed by the legal system, as well as step up its efforts to indict war criminals, continue the economic structural reforms, encourage fiscal consolidation with a view to boosting competitiveness, and stimulate employment by revitalising the labour market. The Members of the European Parliament and I have clearly indicated that we would like Croatia to be inside the European Union, and Croatians too will have the opportunity to express their support for the European Union through a referendum. We hope that we will welcome Croatian observers in the European Parliament as soon as possible.

 
  
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  Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz (PPE), in writing. – (HU) Croatia has multiplied its efforts in the past months. This hard work and commitment can serve as an example for countries preparing for EU membership. However, with the deepening of the crisis it is unfortunate that a number of countries are showing reluctance about enlargement, as they are of the opinion that this would also multiply the economic problems. I do not agree with those who believe that there is a need for a period of consolidation after accession, because Croatia has proven that it is worthy of EU membership. This is a common objective in the region, both politically and economically speaking. I am certain that Croatia’s accession will give new impetus to the entire enlargement process as well, ensuring a European perspective for the Western Balkans. It is well known that the possibility of EU membership also exerts a powerful effect on the introduction of democratic reforms in Balkan states. It should be emphasised that the negotiations also promote control of the conflicts of this fluctuating region, and will exert a positive effect in the future as well. The Balkan states must keep this image of the future in mind, and they must continue with the reforms. Citizens should not forget that the reforms do not serve Brussels, they serve the citizens. However, we too must be clear about our commitments and promises. The last phase of Croatia’s accession negotiations proved how effectively EU institutions are able to cooperate. I believe that other countries may also draw new energy for the tasks before them from Croatia’s results.

 
  
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  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (S&D), in writing. Twenty years after the declaration of its independence, and about eight years after submitting its application for EU membership, Croatia has reached an historic accomplishment and is expected to become the EU’s 28th member in July 2013. Croatia’s anticipated accession will result in the creation of a stronger and better unified European community. It will also provide inspiration to other candidate countries which have started the accession process, for the accession of Croatia clearly illustrates the credibility of the EU’s enlargement policy. For Croatia years of negotiations and preparations to meet the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership have resulted in political, economic and social reforms that positively transformed the country’s landscape. Yet, while acknowledging Croatia is ready to enter the EU, we must also recognise Croatia’s need to tackle remaining challenges. Membership of the EU comes with many privileges and opportunities for prosperity, stability and raising living standards. My country, Poland, is a vivid example that illustrates these benefits. But, being an EU member also comes with certain obligations, which Croatia will best comply to if continuing to reform its juridical system, fight corruption, improve minorities’ rights and cooperate with the ICTY. I remain hopeful that by July 2013 Croatia will have achieved all that.

 
  
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  Jiří Havel (S&D), in writing. (CS) The forthcoming accession of Croatia to the EU is good news for Croatia, the Western Balkans and the EU. It also shows that the idea of ‘enlargement fatigue’ has no real basis in the Member States or the EU institutions. However, the possibility of the idea continuing to exist cannot be excluded, particularly if the predictions of a pause until 2020 in the expansion into the Balkans now actually come true. That would be asking for a problem, of course - and a big one too. The Western Balkans are highly vulnerable to the economic and financial crisis. The EU‘s credibility is on the wane here. The independence of Kosovo has unsettled the regional states, even though it was thanks to the EU that it was recognised. We should therefore accelerate the expansion process. Waiting until 2020 could be fatal. We should start with the fact that, on 9 December this year, the European Council made Serbia a candidate country, with a deadline for starting accession talks. I expect that Croatia will give other states in the region as much help as possible to join the EU as quickly as possible. I am thinking particularly of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. I also expect that no Croatian premier will send public or private greetings to people tried for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

 
  
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  Lívia Járóka (PPE), in writing. – I would like to welcome the steps that Croatia has taken in publicly standing up for the rights of minorities and reaffirming their place in society as well as the specific policy measures that the government has taken in improving the quality of and access to early childhood education with special regard to the Roma minority. I would also like to welcome the implementation of the anti-discrimination law, although – as it is the case in almost all Member States – more awareness must be raised of the legal possibilities granted by the law and its scope. Despite some advances in certain other policy areas, such as the improvement of infrastructure of Roma settlements, verified also by the 2010 Progress Report of Croatia, these are only the first steps towards the socio-economic (re)integration of Roma communities that the European Framework for National Roma Inclusion Strategies aims for. I very much hope that Croatia, as the 28th Member State of the EU – along with other enlargement countries – will elaborate its own long-term strategy for Roma inclusion, including the necessary cross-sector, complex and territorially targeted development and inclusion programmes called for by the Framework Strategy.

 
  
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  Danuta Jazłowiecka (PPE), in writing.(PL) After many years of arduous negotiations, Croatia stands at the threshold of the European Union. We should appreciate the historic significance of this fact, because Croatia is the first country which was an active participant in the Balkans conflict to join our community. Only in this context can it be seen what a long and difficult road Croatia has travelled. So I would like here to extend warm thanks to all those who have contributed to this success, including most of all the Croatians themselves. However, there is one fact to which I would like to draw attention. There is a high probability that in the context of the current crisis many Member States will introduce transition periods in relation to the free movement of workers from Croatia. Such steps must be based on reliable and credible information, and not just on completely undocumented suppositions. The example of some Member States shows very clearly that overlong delays in opening the labour market to workers from new Member States does in fact have an adverse effect on the economy of the Member State which imposes such restrictions. Some countries of the Fifteen were afraid of a mass influx of cheap labour from Poland, for example, but now the economies of those countries are not even able to attract the people they do need. Let us remember that the source of growth is work, and that during a crisis effective management of human capital is particularly important. So I hope that the Member States will not create unnecessary barriers which restrict the liberty of Croatian citizens to take up work in the European Union.

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam (PPE), in writing. The broad-based support in the European Parliament to complete Croatia’s accession process should be seen as a symbolic hopeful message, not only for Croatia but also for the rest of the Balkan countries and – not the least – for the EU as a whole. While facing a long-term financial and trust crisis, continuing the enlargement process will help the EU to become less self-centred and to restore confidence in the basic goals and ideals of the European community. I am very glad that we can officially welcome our Croatian friends into this House very soon. This is an occasion to further understanding about the importance of Croatia’s accession for further EU enlargement, especially in the Balkan region. I am truly alarmed about the prolonged political impasse which has blocked the start of accession negotiations with Macedonia, despite the Commission’s repeated favourable opinion. It is an unprecedented situation. With every candidate country the EU has solved the problems within the framework of the enlargement process, not outside of it. We cannot afford to leave a promising candidate country hanging in uncertainty. I call on our Greek colleagues to show solidarity and allow the negotiations to start.

 
  
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  Lena Kolarska-Bobińska (PPE), in writing. Today, we are giving a positive sign not only to Croatia, but also to Europe. Croatia’s accession is most welcomed in this time of crisis. It is a sign that the Union is still an important place in the world. Its membership is still something that all Europeans who want to live in free and democratic societies strive for. Croatia has done more to ensure it meets the criteria of membership than any in the past. The negotiation process was longer and more in-depth. It has already applied most EU directives and regulations and is ready to be full member of all the European institutions. It has also worked to address the problems left from the wars of the last century and to finalise reconciliation with its neighbours. Before Poland and Hungary’s membership, many of the same questions and doubts were raised and yet today these countries are some of the most proud and pro-European of all nations. Poland is better off today because of its membership in the Union, so will Croatia be. I look forward to welcoming Croatia into our Union. This is just one more step towards a Europe where solidarity and peace are guaranteed.

 
  
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  Monica Luisa Macovei (PPE), in writing. The report ‘Application of Croatia to become a member of the European Union’ welcomes the conclusion of the accession negotiations with Croatia. However, crucial challenges remain to be properly addressed in order to ensure the sustainability of the reforms introduced by the Croatian authorities during the accession process in the fields of the judiciary, anti-corruption and confiscation of illegally or unjustified gained assets. Croatia must pursue the full implementation of the reforms adopted. Moreover, the country still needs to establish a convincing track record of recruiting and appointing judges and state prosecutors based on transparent, objective and merit-based criteria. A track record of convictions in high-level political corruption and fraud cases is also needed. Finally, transparency and integrity in public administration need to be further strengthened as well as depolitisation and professionalism in the police. Adopting and implementing the crime of illicit enrichment is also needed in Croatia. These issues must remain top priorities on the political agenda of Croatia under the supervision of the Commission.

 
  
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  Iosif Matula (PPE), in writing. – In light of several factors that will be explained below, I am in favour of Croatia’s accession to the European Union. Considering Croatia’s eight-year path since first submitting its application for accession, the Commission’s monitoring of its progress in meeting the requirements and its subsequent approval, it is fitting that Croatia will be prepared to assume accession in 2013. In spite of its accomplishments, the Croatian Government still has some challenges ahead. It is crucial that reforms are embraced in order to meet the Copenhagen criteria, in addition to better integrating itself in the framework of democratic values upheld by the European Union. The challenges include, but are not limited to the judicial and economic realms, especially with regard to the implementation of anti-corruption measures, the prosecution of war criminals and its ability to absorb EU funds. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile mentioning that Croatia has a higher GDP than seven existing EU Member States. From an economic standpoint, Croatia’s plans for accession are welcomed.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI), in writing. – (DE) I am extremely pleased that, after years of negotiations, Croatia can now sign the EU Accession Treaty. This process has, as we know, been fraught with obstacles, for example in the case of Ante Gotovina or the maritime border dispute with Slovenia. For the EU, but also for Croatia itself, it will be important not to sit back satisfied with having achieved the intermediate goal of EU accession, but to implement the necessary reforms as quickly as possible and to push forward with the fight against corruption. Furthermore, Zagreb is obliged to push on with the move away from nuclear power without delay and to work towards the decommissioning of the Krško power plant that is run with Croatian involvement. However, the Croatian negotiations in particular have once again made it abundantly clear that Brussels applies double standards. From Christian, central European Croatia almost the impossible is demanded, whereas Islamic, Anatolian Turkey can always count on our forbearance. The fact that, in Turkey, the reforms largely exist on paper only and ethnic and religious minorities such as Kurds and Christians have to suffer constant discrimination, does not seem to bother anyone in Brussels. A greater degree of honesty needs to be brought into the negotiations with Turkey and the way prepared for a privileged partnership.

 
  
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  Katarína Neveďalová (S&D), in writing.(SK) I warmly welcome the forthcoming signing of the Accession Treaty with Croatia and I trust that it will be ratified without hindrance by the Member States and that Croatia will become the 28th member of the European Union. As an MEP from the Slovak Republic, I would like to say that Croatia is a country that is very close to us. Apart from the cultural and linguistic affinity, it is also one of the favourite travel destinations for Slovaks. Croatia has undergone major changes and tough reforms in recent years, but at the same time, I would like to call on the country not to halt the reforms at the end of accession talks and the start of the ratification process, particularly in the area of justice, the fight against corruption and organised crime, and integration of refugees. I am keeping my fingers crossed for Croatia and looking forward to it shortly becoming a member of our club.

 
  
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  Kristiina Ojuland (ALDE), in writing. I would like to take this chance to express my sincere content that Croatia has come so close to becoming a full member of the European Union. Breaking apart from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and declaring its independence in 1991 was a courageously bold move. Unfortunately, the long-expected freedom did not come without major sacrifices – the Croatians had to fight for it, in the most brutal sense of the word. The war of independence left its scars on the country, but it remained free. In the past 20 years, Croatia has become a member of the Council of Europe and also of the NATO. I believe that the accession to the EU will mark the successful completion of the implementation of democracy and other core European values. In February 2003, when Croatia submitted its formal application to become a member of the EU, there were many who doubted whether it would be possible in the next ten years. Fortunately, they were wrong and I truly believe that the vast majority of Europeans will open-heartedly welcome Croatia to join the Union on 1 July 2013.

 
  
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  Pavel Poc (S&D), in writing. – (CS) I welcome the recommendation of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, which proposes that the European Parliament agree to Croatia’s accession to the EU, and to the Council decision approving the application for accession. If the European Parliament approves the recommendation, the Accession Treaty will be signed on 9 December this year at the European Council meeting, and we will welcome Croatia as the 28th member of the EU on 1 July 2013. I trust that the EU Member States, in this turbulent period, will complete the ratification process on time. The accession of Croatia to the EU is a very positive signal in a time of mounting anti-European tendencies. It is also a signal for all of us that cooperation to the benefit of our citizens is possible, and that life goes on regardless of the extortion or intimidation practised by all of those anonymous groupings who so dislike a unified Europe and the EU. I see the signing of the Accession Treaty as evidence of the credibility and high-quality work of the European expansion policy. In view of the traditionally good relations between the Czech Republic and Croatia, I am particularly pleased that accession has taken place at a time when the area of expansion and the neighbourhood policy is under a Commissioner from the Czech Republic, Štefan Fülle, whom I warmly congratulate on this.

 
  
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  Cristian Dan Preda (PPE), in writing.(RO) The adoption of the Swoboda report marks an historic moment for the European Parliament as it paves the way for the actual accession of Croatia, which will soon become the European Union’s 28th Member State. Given Croatia’s imminent accession and the fact that we would all like it to be a success, we must insist on the need for this country to continue with implementing the reforms, in keeping with the European Commission’s recommendations.

I would like to return to some points that I feel are vital, which provided the substance of some amendments that I tabled and that were adopted in the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Croatia has made significant progress on judicial reform. However it must address the remaining challenges in this area, especially with the aim of making the administration of justice more effective and of implementing the provisions on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. Croatia’s determination to tackle corruption is to be commended. However, we must also encourage the authorities to continue their efforts to improve the rate for solving cases involving organised crime and corruption. Finally, Croatia can play an important role in promoting European values (peace, freedom, rule of law and democracy) in the region. This is why I welcome the declaration made by the Croatian Government to this effect in July 2011.

 
  
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  Franck Proust (PPE), in writing.(FR) Like the vast majority of my fellow Members, I am a committed European, a pro-European as we often say. That is why I will endorse Croatia’s accession to the European Union, which is set to take place in early 2013. We are on course to welcome other neighbouring countries, such as Iceland, in the near future. However, we must ensure that our quest to enlarge the EU does not turn into an all-or-nothing strategy. We must deepen European integration. We must create even more ‘de facto solidarity’, to use the expression of one of the founding fathers. A weak Europe will be nothing more than an association of States linked by a common market. That is not my idea of Europe. The crisis is showing us the direction we must continue to go in, particularly with regard to economic and budgetary governance. Let us use this time to think about the solutions we want to implement in order to save Europe.

 
  
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  György Schöpflin (PPE), in writing. – (HU) The European Parliament giving its approval for the Accession Treaty is a success for Croatia. The Hungarian Presidency made serious efforts for the successful conclusion of the accession negotiations with Croatia, and it is especially important for Hungary that with this vote Croatia has reached the home straight of a long accession process. The European Parliament decision also proves that the enlargement process has not come to an end, the promise the EU made in Thessaloniki in 2003 to South East Europe continues to exist, and all this conveys a positive message to the other states in the region. Moreover, from 1 July 2013 we may see the pre-1918 situation again, with both Croatian and Hungarian Members being able to sit in the same Parliament.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D), in writing. – (HU) Twenty years after independence Croatia has arrived at a historic milestone and will accede to the European Union next year as the 28th Member State. Croatia went through fundamental social and economic changes during the accession negotiations. It made its public administration and justice systems more effective and improved the fight against corruption. It made its economy more competitive and put the Croatia-Slovenia border dispute onto the path to a settlement. However, there are still some problems that remain unresolved. Relations between the Croatian Government and MOL Hungarian Oil and Gas Company (MOL) are exceedingly tense. In the spirit of nationalist economic policy the rightwing Croatian Government is preventing the independent operation of MOL’s Croatian subsidiaries, preventing MOL from exercising its ownership rights, and it is holding a witch-hunt against Zsolt Hernádi, the company’s CEO. We hope that in the case of election victory the new leftwing government will cease this nationalist economic policy. Until the satisfactory resolution of MOL’s situation in Croatia, it is worth the Hungarian Government treating the ratification of Croatia’s Accession Treaty with reservations.

 
  
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  Valdemar Tomaševski (ECR), in writing.(PL) Eight years after applying for membership of the European Union and twenty years after declaring independence, Croatia has crossed the European Rubicon. After years of difficult experiences, this beautiful country stands before a historical moment – integration with the EU and a return to the European family. The accession negotiations have closed and Croatia’s achievements in this respect are worthy of note.

Croatia brings to European culture the heritage of the Balkan Slavs. The country is a good example of how obligations which are accepted and scrupulously fulfilled can lead to the achievement of important European objectives. After many years of negotiations and preparations Croatia has altered its socio-political, cultural and economic landscape. It has introduced a series of reforms to bring the country up to European standards.

To be welcomed in particular is the fact that support and effective assistance are being given to help the return of refugees and persons displaced during the Balkan wars. The pursuit of an open policy towards Serbian returnees can be given as an example of how stereotypes and prejudices are being overcome.

I hope Croatia will continue to strive to improve its good relations with neighbouring countries and will be an important and active leader in regional cooperation at political and economic level. Today many new opportunities offered by membership are opening up to Croatia. I will be delighted to welcome my Croatian brothers to an enlarged Union on 1 July 2013.

 
  
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  Jarosław Leszek Wałęsa (PPE), in writing.(PL) At a time of global economic crisis, it is important to maintain the stability of the European Union. For this reason, I would like all the more to express my sincere pleasure at the fact that another country is soon to join the Union. Croatia, a country which is attractive to tourists but which is also important economically, particularly in view of its well-developed manufacturing industry, will be an important partner for the EU’s Member States. In addition, Croatia has been a member of NATO since 2009. Croatia’s accession will seal joint efforts to build peace, both in military and economic terms, and will allow maximum synergy to be created. Despite the adverse economic situation, the European Union is not shutting itself off from new potential partners, and this shows the Union’s real strength – strongly rooted ideas of permanent growth and EU enlargement. The decisions made on monitoring Croatia until her accession are justified, but should fulfil a standard monitoring and advisory role. They should not foster political strife. Therefore the proposals to treat the interim reports as progress assessments, with the possibility of making political and not substantive comments, are in my opinion unnecessary and even disadvantageous for both sides.

 
  
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  Iuliu Winkler (PPE), in writing.(RO) During this period when the European Union has been going through numerous upheavals caused by economic problems, I think that the news concerning the conclusion of the negotiation process and the prospect of Croatia’s accession to the EU in July 2013 provide a sense of satisfaction, not only for the Croatian people, involved in this lengthy process launched in 2004, but also for the European Parliament, the unwavering champion of Croatia’s accession. I hope that the Accession Treaty will be adopted by a hefty majority tomorrow in the European Parliament as the accession of this state should help build a stronger and more prosperous European Union and maintain the credibility of the accession process.

Croatia’s entry into the EU will have European and regional implications and will give a positive impetus to the European integration process. At the same time, Croatia’s accession proves the EU’s commitment to the Western Balkans. This commitment will be demonstrated according to the political will and reform efforts of the candidate countries in the region. Today, with the moment when my country, Romania, joined the EU still fresh in the memory, I feel that it is important to remind our Croatian friends from this Chamber of the European Parliament that this moment is only the start of the difficult process of European integration. I can confirm that you can count on our solidarity.

 
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