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Procedure : 2009/2767(RSP)
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Document selected : B7-0067/2010

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PV 10/02/2010 - 8
CRE 10/02/2010 - 8

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PV 10/02/2010 - 9.13
CRE 10/02/2010 - 9.13
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Wednesday, 10 February 2010 - Strasbourg
2009 progress report on Croatia

European Parliament resolution of 10 February 2010 on the 2009 progress report on Croatia

The European Parliament,

–   having regard to the decision adopted by the Council on 3 October 2005 to open accession negotiations with Croatia,

–   having regard to its resolution of 12 March 2009 on the Croatia 2008 progress report(1),

–   having regard to the Croatia 2009 Progress Report, published by the Commission on 14 October 2009 (SEC(2009)1333),

–   having regard to the recommendations of the 10th EU-Croatia Joint Parliamentary Committee, adopted on 26 November 2009 in Strasbourg,

–   having regard to Rule 110(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.   whereas the newly elected European Parliament is committed to promoting Croatia's accession to the European Union,

B.   whereas Croatia's successful accession would give positive impetus to the process of European integration in the rest of the Western Balkans region and whereas the prospect of EU membership is a powerful incentive for political and economic reforms and strengthening peace and stability,

C.   whereas Croatia has continued to make progress in nearly all areas despite the nine-month stalemate in the accession negotiations and in the face of the global economic crisis,

D.   whereas the accession negotiations fell behind schedule due to the border dispute with Slovenia and the Commission's indicative roadmap for concluding the technical negotiations by the end of 2009 could not be met,

E.   whereas the agreement reached on 11 September 2009 between the Prime Ministers of Slovenia and Croatia on the modalities for resolving their bilateral border dispute created the momentum to open all the remaining chapters and move rapidly ahead in the accession negotiations,

F.   whereas the Slovenian-Croatian arbitration agreement, which was signed in the presence of the EU Presidency on 4 November 2009, laid the foundations for fully resolving their border dispute in an atmosphere of mutual trust once the ratification procedure is completed,

G.   whereas the negotiations with Croatia can be concluded in 2010 provided that Croatia ensures engagement as to efforts by, inter alia, strengthening public administration, pursuing reform of the judiciary more resolutely, vigorously combating corruption and organised crime, ensuring the sustainability of refugee return and fully cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to allow it to have access to documents requested for use in war crimes trials,

H.   whereas a new Prime Minister was appointed on 7 July 2009 who is determined to maintain Croatia's commitment to EU accession and its reform agenda, including economic reform and the fight against organised crime and corruption; whereas the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of economic policy has resigned; whereas, also, the immunity of the former Minister of Defence has been lifted as a sign of the government's political commitment to dealing with all accusations of corruption in a transparent way,

General remarks

1.  Commends Croatia for its continued progress in meeting the criteria governing accession to the Union as well as the obligations of membership; notes the concerted efforts made by Croatia in adopting the necessary legislation, transposing the acquis and carrying out reforms;

2.  Welcomes the resumption of EU-Croatia negotiations on 2 October 2009, after more than nine months of blockage; considers that the negotiations must proceed smoothly, with a view to their being completed in 2010, provided that Croatia meets all the opening and closing benchmarks;

3.  Is confident that Croatia will meet and overcome the considerable challenges remaining as regards the benchmarks set out in the negotiating chapters; points out that the country continues to pursue its reform efforts, in particular as regards the judiciary and public administration, the fight against corruption and organised crime, the promotion of minority rights including refugee return, the pursuit of war crimes trials and allowing the ICTY access to documents; considers that Croatia must also make substantial further efforts in completing the restructuring of shipyards;

4.  Is concerned that, despite the broad support for EU accession existing among political parties, public support for EU membership is diminishing; notes that opinion polls suggest that the Croatian public remains less than enthusiastic about the EU, indicating that only one-third of the population consider EU accession to be beneficial; encourages the Croatian authorities and civil society to initiate more public discussions on EU membership and the consequences of accession to the Union; invites the Government and civil society to join forces to improve social reforms and speed up the implementation of reforms in the fields of the judiciary, public administration, the environment and economic policy;

5.  Takes note of the work of the outgoing President, Stjepan Mesić, and of the election of the new President, Ivo Josipović;

Political criteria

6.  Welcomes the progress achieved in implementing the programme of public administration reform for the period 2008-2011 and in pursuing efforts with a clear government commitment;

7.  Welcomes Croatia's participation in European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) operations and missions as well as its alignment with Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) declarations, common positions and statements whenever it is invited to join them;

8.  Underlines, however, that major weaknesses remain in administrative procedures as well as in the management and administrative capacities of relevant institutions; considers that more overall political attention should be paid to the strengthening of the civil service; notes that the process of depoliticising the public administration is still at an early stage and that the legal framework for establishing a professional and efficient civil service is not yet completed; points out that a new salary system is required and that there needs to be more delegation of decision-making responsibilities from managerial to civil servant level;

9.  Notes that, whilst the political will exists to combat corruption on all levels, and whilst the legal framework for fighting corruption is in place, corruption remains widespread and the administrative capacities of state bodies, including the police and law enforcement authorities, continue to be insufficient; urges the relevant authorities to tackle corruption cases since these involve nearly all segments of society, economy and government, including a nexus of institutions operating primarily in the areas of health care, the judiciary, local government, the urban planning and construction sector and business; is in particular concerned about cases of undue political influence over the judiciary; is pleased to note that the efforts of the Prime Minister and the government have been enhanced to combat corruption in state-owned companies, but considers that more has to be done to foster a culture of political accountability as regards corruption involving politicians;

10.  Welcomes the significant legislative and institutional changes introduced to fight organised crime and is pleased with the new anti-mafia measures, which boost cooperation among authorities responsible for security; is particularly satisfied with the very good cooperation with the Bosnian and Serbian law enforcement authorities;

11.  Is pleased with the legislative and institution-building actions taken in the crucial area of judicial reform and notes with satisfaction the improving efficiency and transparency within the judiciary as well as the diminishing backlog of cases;

12.  Points out, however, that despite the progress made more resolute steps are required to reform the judiciary, which continues to labour under, inter alia, the heavy backlog of cases and the excessive length of court proceedings; points out that significant work remains to be done concerning the strengthening of judicial independence, the creation of a more transparent selection procedure for judges and prosecutors and more efficient enforcement of court rulings; considers that further efforts are needed to meet these challenges, in order also to avoid undermining citizens' confidence in the functioning of the judiciary and the rule of law; supports the legislative initiatives of the Ministry of Justice aimed at improving the nomination, selection and promotion of judges according to qualification and merit;

13.  Takes note of the statement made by the Prosecutor of the ICTY before the United Nations Security Council on 3 December 2009 and encourages Croatia to fully cooperate with the ICTY; stresses that in his statement the Prosecutor, while acknowledging that Croatia continued to adequately respond to the majority of requests for assistance from the ICTY, reiterated that one concern has remained unresolved, notably the progress in finding the missing key military documents related to Operation Storm in 1995, which are to be used in the trials of some Generals; wishes all success to the newly created Inter-Agency Task Force, which is composed of representatives of various state institutions and agencies, to carry out these investigations; is of the view that a third party, if needed, may give further impetus to the investigations; invites the Council to decide as soon as possible on the opening of Chapter 23 on Judiciary and Fundamental Rights; encourages Croatia to address the issue of impunity of the perpetrators of war crimes and to make further progress in establishing impartiality in the conduct of domestic war crimes trials;

14.  Is pleased to note that Croatia continues to improve its record as regards the balanced and fair prosecution of war crimes, and that several indictments and trials of Croatians accused of war crimes occurred during the year; welcomes the instructions concerning war crimes issued by the Chief State Prosecutor to all offices, designed to ensure uniform practices regardless of the national origin of the suspect; notes, however, that many of the defendants tried during the year for war crimes were tried in absentia and that concerns remain, including as regards the conduct of proceedings in individual cases; highlights a case in which a high-profile convicted war criminal, also a member of the Croatian Parliament, was able to escape and take refuge in a neighbouring country;

15.  Notes that restitution of property seized during World War II and under the Communist regime has remained an issue, while acknowledging that progress has been made towards returning occupied private properties to their rightful owners, particularly as regards occupied agricultural land;

16.  Is satisfied with the situation regarding press freedom but also notes that some political and commercial influence continues to be exerted over the media; urges the Croatian authorities to take resolute action against threats to reporters covering war crimes, corruption and organised crime cases, given that there have been instances of intimidation of journalists;

17.  Is pleased that the frequency and gravity of violent incidents against ethnic Serbs have diminished, police investigations have improved and the process of reconciliation between ethnic Croats and ethnic Serbs is proving to be successful; welcomes the fact that proposed changes to the Constitution are expected to recognise all minority groups in Croatia and that minority rights in the area of education have improved; is especially pleased to note the progress achieved in the inclusive education of Roma; calls on the Croatian authorities, however, to continue their efforts to combat discrimination against Roma and ethnic Serbs, primarily in the justice system, access to employment and housing; further encourages Croatia to continue to act in a spirit of tolerance and take appropriate measures to protect those who may still be subject to threats or acts of intimidation;

18.  Encourages Croatia to continue its efforts to promote cultural diversity;

19.  Welcomes the overall progress achieved in the field of refugee return and stresses the utmost importance of the return and reintegration of refugees, including the reconstruction and repossession of housing, the challenging implementation of housing programmes for former holders of tenancy rights and the steps to be taken to resolve the issue of validation of pension rights; takes note of the fact that Croatia's implementation of its 2009 housing programme is still at an early stage owing to the effects of the global economic crisis and to budget restrictions, and that the programme will need to continue in 2010 and perhaps beyond, requiring a sustained commitment on the part of the competent authorities; stresses that it is of the utmost importance to create conditions for sustainability in the areas of return; invites the Croatian Government to align its immigration and asylum policies with EU standards;

20.  Calls on the Government to provide training for the judiciary on the implementation of the Gender Equality Law (GEL) and the Anti-Discrimination Law; notes that, so far, not one judicial decision has been based on either of those laws; while it welcomes the appointment of a woman as prime minister, it calls for more active promotion of the participation of women in politics, noting that the proportion of women decreased in all local government bodies in this year's local elections (for example, the number of female "zupans" fell from three to one); highlights the need to step up efforts to support victims of family violence; notes the progress made by Croatia in the area of hate crime legislation and encourages the government to make further efforts to ensure that an appropriate legal framework is in place, as well as to address discrimination against sexual minorities, including thorough the investigation of hate crimes and threats;

21.  Expresses its concern at the resentment against the LGBT minority in Croatia, evidenced most recently by homophobic attacks on participants in the Gay Pride parade in Zagreb; urges the Croatian authorities to condemn and prosecute political hatred and violence against any minority; invites the Croatian Government to implement and enforce the Anti-Discrimination Law;

22.  Draws attention to the need to address shortcomings as regards persons with disabilities, in particular by tackling existing gaps in legislation, policy making and service delivery for the disabled, especially those with mental disabilities;

Economic criteria

23.  Is pleased to note that Croatia is gradually recovering from the economic crisis and that its economic outlook is relatively positive despite rising unemployment; notes that macro-economic stability has been preserved, that a smaller current account deficit is now forecast, that external imbalances have narrowed and that the banking sector has remained sound; also notes that the perspective of EU accession has helped investors to retain confidence in the Croatian economy and has provided an anchor for economic policies in the recent turbulent period;

24.  Calls on the Government, however, to address the existing structural weaknesses in the economy, which necessitate deeper and faster structural reforms as a precondition for sustainable economic growth; urges the state to reduce its strong redistributive role and to further limit state intervention in the economy, to stimulate employment by reviving the somewhat rigid labour market, to remove administrative barriers for enterprises and to cut subsidies to loss-making industries;

Assuming the obligations of EU membership

25.  Is pleased to note that Croatia has improved its ability to take on the obligations of EU membership, with a good degree of alignment with the acquis communautaire in most sectors; encourages the Croatian authorities, however, to further reinforce the administrative structures and institutional capacities necessary for the proper implementation of the acquis, so that the country may maximise the benefits of EU membership after accession;

26.  Encourages Croatia to move forward with privatisation, to complete the programme of small-scale privatisation, including in the tourism sector, to proceed with restructuring in sensitive sectors such as agriculture, and to promote private-sector participation in infrastructure at national, regional and local level;

27.  Takes note of the progress achieved with regard to, inter alia, the tendering of the shipyards in difficulty, whilst calling on the Croatian authorities to maintain the efforts required in order to complete the restructuring of the shipyard industry;

28.  Is satisfied that the necessary institutional set-up in the field of public procurement has been established, making the management of public procurement policy more coherent and coordinated; urges the Croatian authorities, however, to further enhance the capacities of procuring entities so as to apply public procurement legislation efficiently and transparently and in order to significantly reduce the risk of irregularities, including fraud, given that public procurement procedures remain a major source of corruption; calls on the Croatian authorities to take steps to improve scrutiny of the preparation and actual execution of contracts;

29.  Notes with satisfaction the good overall progress achieved in financial control, particularly with regard to the legislation governing internal financial control, while pointing to the need to achieve more progress in the area of external audit by strengthening, inter alia, the legal framework for the independence of the State Audit Office; points out that the transparency of public finance is of crucial importance in combating corruption and improving the efficiency of public services, as it facilitates control over public authorities, which again has a positive impact on their responsibility to citizens;

30.  Welcomes the progress made in the implementation of the IPA (Instrument for Pre-Accession) components, which prepare the country to manage the Structural Funds; calls on the Croatian authorities, nevertheless, to substantially increase administrative capacities in existing IPA structures so as to meet the regulatory and operational requirements of the EU's cohesion policy and to guarantee its funds" absorption capacity, notably through the programming of the National Strategic Reference Framework and Operational Programmes for the Structural Funds;

31.  Calls on the Croatian authorities to develop cross-border cooperation projects designed to achieve social, economic and territorial cohesion and to raise the standard of living of people residing in border regions;

32.  Is satisfied with the achievements and progress made in the area of the environment, especially concerning air quality, climate change, industrial pollution control and risk management; urges Croatia to strengthen its administrative capacities at national and local level; calls not only for formal transposition but also for proper application of the EU acquis as regards nature protection and water management;

33.  Points to the need to promote investment in energy infrastructure in order to improve security and diversity of energy supply and energy efficiency; stresses the great potential of the country as regards renewables and, in particular, solar energy, and calls in this respect on the Croatian authorities to introduce legislation to facilitate the development of the market for renewable energy;

Regional cooperation

34.  Encourages Croatia to pursue efforts to achieve and maintain good neighbourly relations, to remain an important and proactive promoter of regional cooperation on all levels and to play a positive role in the region; urges, nevertheless, the Croatian Government and the governments of the neighbouring countries to intensify their dialogue with a view to finding definite solutions to a number of outstanding bilateral issues, in particular as regards border demarcation, missing persons, property restitution and refugees as well as the extradition of citizens in cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity;

35.  Recalls the arbitration agreement reached between the Prime Ministers of Slovenia and Croatia with a view to resolving their border dispute; welcomes the ratification of the agreement by the Croatian Parliament and hopes that the Slovenian Parliament will do likewise in the very near future; in this respect, requests that the Commission establish a list of members of the arbitration tribunal, comprising only highly qualified professionals with a legal background and, as far as possible, experience in arbitration;

36.  Calls on the Croatian Government and on all Croatian political forces to act constructively so as to strengthen Bosnian sovereignty and to facilitate the ongoing constitutional reform process;

37.  Invites the Croatian Government to reconsider its policy on dual citizenship, especially with regard to Croatian citizens with permanent residence in Bosnia and Herzegovina; invites the Croatian Government to find a fair and sustainable solution for these citizens;

38.  Underlines the need, in line with a key priority of the Accession Partnership, to enhance efforts to resolve all of Croatia's pending border issues with neighbouring countries; welcomes in this regard the progress achieved in the negotiations with Montenegro and encourages the governments of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to continue their bilateral talks on border demarcation;

o   o

39.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission and the Government and Parliament of Croatia.

(1) Texts adopted of that date, P6_TA(2009)0133.

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