ECONOMY

Croatia expected to join EU in 2009, Serbia not before 2012

LONDON – Bulgaria and Romania have a good chance of joining the European Union in 2007 and Croatia should join two years later, but Serbia’s membership of the wealthy bloc is still some way off, a Reuters poll shows. The midrange forecast from 34 analysts in the February 9-11 survey showed Bulgaria has a 75 percent chance of becoming an EU member in 2007, unchanged from the last poll in November. Neighbor Romania has a 63 percent chance of also joining in 2007, compared with 70 percent in the previous poll. Croatia, which applied for membership last February, was seen joining the bloc in 2009, compared with 2008 in the last poll, and the midrange forecast showed Serbia and Montenegro will begin EU negotiations in 2008 and will become a member in 2012. «Bulgaria and Romania have made good progress and Croatia is on the fast track,» said Hans Hercksen at Bayerische Landesbank in Munich. But he added, «Serbia’s political future doesn’t look very bright at the moment.» Ten mostly ex-communist states will join the existing 15 EU member states in May. Bulgaria has been praised for making good progress toward membership in 2007, but Romania has been slower to move forward with vital reforms. The European Parliament has warned that it risks missing its target date for entry if it does not work harder to reform its justice system and produce concrete results against corruption. «The reform process and the improvement… in fundamentals is going better in Bulgaria… although there is quite an obvious ambition from the EU side to have them both joining at the same time,» said Mats Olausson at SEB Merchant Banking in Stockholm. Croatia, which has said it wants to join the EU at the same time as Bulgaria and Romania, is expecting an answer on its candidacy in the spring. Still, member states have raised concerns about how far Croatia is willing to cooperate with the UN tribunal on war crimes in former Yugoslavia. Tim Ash at Bear Stearns in London said Croatia’s EU bid may be linked to when other former Yugoslav states are ready to sign up. «The concern for Croatia is, will it be forced to join alongside Serbia in a wider Balkan wave of enlargement, possibly including Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and (the Former Yugoslav Republic of) Macedonia (FYROM),» he said. FYROM, like Croatia, has already signed association agreements with the EU, but Bosnia, Albania and Serbia and Montenegro need to undertake further reforms before they are invited to sign the framework. Svetozar Marovic, president of Serbia and Montenegro, has said the country is determined to catch up with its Balkan neighbors in boosting ties with the European Union. But political instability in Serbia, which has had four elections in the past 18 months, means EU membership won’t happen in this decade, analysts said. «It is a long way from being a democracy and a functioning market economy,» said Trevor Williams at Lloyds TSB in London.