Croatia set to make EU leap

BRUSSELS – Croatia is set to take a leap forward in its negotiations to join the European Union this month while the 27-nation bloc continues to agonize over how fast to move forward with fellow candidate Turkey. An official of the German EU presidency said Zagreb was expected to expand its accession talks on June 26 into six new policy areas of the 35 into which EU law is divided. The new ones are the right to establish business, company law, financial services, information society and media, statistics and financial control. Croatia has opened six other chapters in the talks and hopes to be negotiating on 20 policy areas by the end of this year with a view to wrapping up talks by the end of 2008 or in early 2009, its EU ambassador Branko Baricevic told Reuters. The former Yugoslav republic was only allowed to start talks in October 2005 after it finally cooperated with the UN war crimes tribunal, leading to the arrest of indicted ex-general Ante Gotovina. EU officials say it is now advancing fast toward becoming the 28th member, although several member states say further enlargement can only occur once the bloc has reformed its institutions to ease decision making, replacing the defunct EU Constitution. Croatia is also likely to be the next country to join the 26-nation NATO defense alliance, with an invitation expected next year. By contrast, it is not yet clear how many new chapters Turkey, which began negotiations at the same time as Croatia, will be able to open on June 26, due to political reluctance in Cyprus and France. Germany has said it hopes to start negotiations with Ankara on three additional areas – statistics, financial control and economic and monetary policy – on top of the two covered so far – science and research, and industry and enterprise. But Cyprus, seeking to press Turkey to recognize the Nicosia government, has reservations about the financial control chapter, while France is hesitating over the economic and monetary policy area, diplomats said.

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