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The President of the Council of the EU, Jean Asselborn, on accession negotiations with Croatia

Interviewee : Jean Asselborn

Interviewer : Vecernji List (International edition)

Date of Interview : 05-02-2005

Policy area : General Affairs and External Relations

Vecernji List: Do you share the view of EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn that Ante Gotovina is within the reach of the Croatian authorities?

Jean Asselborn: We expect the Croatian government to track down the last fugitive and deliver him to The Hague. It is not up to the Luxembourg presidency to investigate the whereabouts of a particular person. Instead, we will provide our good offices over the next few weeks and gather all relevant information on Croatia's cooperation with ICTY, which we will share with the EU Council of Ministers.

Vecernji List: You said that the Luxembourg Presidency will prepare a fully documented report on Croatian cooperation with ICTY for the March GAERC and ministers will then take a political decision. What aspects should that decision take into account?

Jean Asselborn: One of the most important criteria will of course be Croatia's respect of its international obligations, above all the country's full cooperation with ICTY. This should not come as a surprise, since the EU has repeatedly stated its position on this issue in the past.

Croatia has undertaken a lot of efforts in the past, which have been welcomed by both ICTY and the EU. There remains however one open case, namely the case of the fugitive general Gotovina. I do not want to prejudge our decision in March, but I’m confident that by that time the Croatian government will have undertaken all the necessary measures that prove to all that Croatia is indeed fully cooperating with ICTY. The best thing that could happen between now and mid-March is the transfer of General Gotovina to The Hague.

Vecernji List: The European Commission was supposed to present the negotiation framework for Croatia to the GAERC on 21 February. Are there any indications that the process could be delayed until after 16 March? 

Jean Asselborn: The Commission has already proposed a negotiating framework, which is now being studied by the competent bodies. A decision on the Commission's proposal will need be taken by unanimity by all 25 Member States and is expected by 17 March.

Vecernji List: If the negotiations with Croatia are postponed, what repercussion would such a decision have on Croatia and on the region?

Jean Asselborn: The EU policy is clear. The countries of the Western Balkans are all potential candidates for membership in the EU. This position was confirmed at the highest level at the EU-Western Balkans meeting of Head of State and Government in Thessalonica in June 2003. One should not underestimate our commitment to your region. However, the speed at which individual countries progress towards the EU will depend on the merits of each application in meeting the Copenhagen criteria and the conditions set out in the stabilization and association process. We have made clear that the European integration will not be complete until the Western Balkan countries are part of the EU.

Vecernji List: Your presidency will try to find an agreement on the next Financial Perspectives. What can Croatia expect from the next financial framework?  

Jean Asselborn: Croatia will be fully eligible as a candidate country for the new instruments of pre-accession aid. The financial means provided for Croatia will support the implementation of the "acquis communautaire" and the preparation of the country for the common agriculture and cohesion policies.

Vecernji List: How do you assess President Barroso's five-year programme? Do you agree with those who warn that it might harm the European social model?

Jean Asselborn: The five-year programme of the European Commission is a balanced programme, designed to take care of the major challenges that the EU is going to face during the next years.  It takes into account the prosperity of Europe, its solidarity, its security and addresses the role of Europe as an international player. The Commission is also emphasising the social dimension of the EU, which is very important. I don't think that the European social model is going to be put into danger by this programme, as some have suggested. However, there are many challenges that need to be addressed if we want to maintain the level of social standards to which we are accustomed. In improving the general competitiveness of Europe we can achieve that goal.

This page was last modified on : 11-02-2005

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