ECONOMY

Graft in Croatia ‘not as bad as imagined’

By David Ljunggren – Reuters OTTAWA – The level of corruption in Croatia, a problem that the European Union insists Zagreb tackle before it can be allowed to join the 25-member bloc, is not as bad as imagined, the country’s foreign minister said. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic also told Reuters that she is confident a majority of Croatians would vote «yes» in a coming referendum on whether the country should join the EU. Croatia hopes to become a member by the end of 2010. Earlier this month, the EU’s executive Commission told Croatia it had to fight corruption harder, reform its courts and administration and speed up economic reforms. «I think the impression of corruption is far greater than the actual corruption because it’s such a prominent topic and everyone’s been talking about it, which is good, because you cannot sweep it under the carpet but must talk about it in order to be able to resolve it,» she said. «Corruption is being dealt with right now – prevention, sanctioning, everything,» she told Reuters in an interview during an official visit to Canada. Croatian President Stjepan Mesic last month said Croatia had finally mustered the political will to end «the octopus» of endemic corruption, which he said was «rooted in state institutions and public firms.» Public prosecutors and a special anti-graft squad have stepped up their work this year, arresting some doctors and local officials accused of soliciting bribes. Grabar-Kitarovic said a public relations campaign was targeting «certain modes of corruption which have been accepted in our country as types of social behavior, such as bringing gifts to doctors.» «The support for EU membership is around 53 to 55 percent… we haven’t started actually with a pre-referendum campaign and I believe that once we get to the referendum, we’ll have a solid ‘pro’ vote,» Grabar-Kitarovic said. She noted that this year’s report by the European Commission on the progress Croatia had made ran to 66 pages, compared with 111 pages in the 2005 report, which she said was a sign of fewer EU complaints. «I do believe we will become members by the end of the decade. A few months earlier or later really doesn’t make any difference,» she said.