ECONOMY

No to free trade idea

ZAGREB (Reuters) – A European Union proposal to form a free trade zone in the Balkans is opposed by most Croats, wary of associations reminiscent of Yugoslavia from which it seceded in bloodshed in 1991, according to a poll published yesterday. The survey in the newspaper Vecernji List showed that about 56 percent of those polled were against the idea, believing Croatia should instead insist on broadening the Central European Free Trade Association (CEFTA) to include the Balkans. Croatia’s constitution explicitly bans joining any kind of Balkan union. Some 45 percent of the 500 people surveyed by the newspaper said the new trade zone was nothing short of an attempt at recreating Yugoslavia. Only 14.4 percent of Croats supported the idea of forming a Balkan free trade zone presented by European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn in Brussels last week. Rehn said this would help the countries of the Western Balkans – Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) – better prepare for joining the bloc. In his strongest remarks on the issue to date, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said yesterday that «any formation resembling Yugoslavia is out of the question.» Instead, Croatia proposed expanding CEFTA to include the Balkans, Moldova and Ukraine. «We want this in the CEFTA framework,» Sanader told state news agency Hina. Croatia opened EU membership talks last October, the only one among the Western Balkans to have done so. It is also the most advanced economically and its companies have started expanding into the region. President Stjepan Mesic and some leading businessmen say Croatia’s cooperation with its neighbors is inevitable. «If we want to join NATO and the EU, we have to cooperate with neighbors and it’s just a matter of what form this cooperation will take,» Mesic told reporters.