On June 30th, five days after Croatia celebrated the 20th anniversary of its independence, the country reached another significant milestone: it successfully concluded the negotiation process for membership in the European Union.
Croatia and the EU entered membership negotiations in October 2005. But over the course of the next six years, the process slowed down due to regional disputes, as well as suspicions on the part of the international community that the Croatian government was dragging its heels on cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, or ICTY, a United Nations body which prosecutes war criminals from the wars in Southeast Europe during the early 1990s.
Once the Croatian government demonstrated its cooperation with ICTY, allowing the negotiations to proceed, Croatia still was not guaranteed membership. Croatia had to implement a number of critical reforms in its legal structure, law enforcement, economy, and public institutions. These changes were needed to bring Croatia in line with the standards of the European Union.
Now the process is nearly complete, though more steps remain. The European Parliament must vote to welcome Croatia into the Union, and Croatia must continue its reform efforts, subject to specific elements of monitoring by EU institutions. Moreover, the Croatian people must vote in a referendum to join the EU while every EU member state has to ratify the Accession Treaty. If Croatians vote in favor of joining, and the ratifications proceed smoothly, Croatia will become the 28th member of the European Union on July 1, 2013.
Croatia will benefit immediately from EU membership. It will have access to European infrastructure and various means of financial support, and will fully participate in the definition and implementation of EU policies. The country and its people will become a part of a larger community with all the associated benefits, including freedom of movement, lower or no tariffs, and a vastly expanded marketplace.
"[This day] marks an important milestone in Croatia’s journey toward membership in the European Union," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "While the work to reform Croatia’s governing institutions will continue, the United States congratulates Croatia on this hard-won success.
"The conclusion of accession talks for Croatia creates a positive momentum which I hope will spread throughout the region. I applaud Croatia’s accomplishment today and look forward to our continued partnership."