Croatia reportedly unblocks Serbia to open EU negotiation Chapter 23

By bne IntelliNews June 1, 2016

Croatia has officially consented to the opening of Chapter 23 in Serbia’s EU accession negotiation process, covering the judiciary and fundamental rights, local media in the two countries reported on June 1 sourcing EU officials.

Croatia has been blocking the opening of the new negotiation chapter since April, delaying Serbia’s accession process. Its latest move paves the way for the opening of both Chapter 23 and Chapter 24 on justice, freedom and security by the end of June, as the opening of negotiating chapters requires the unanimous decision of all EU members.

According to Serbia’s Tanjug, on June 1 ambassadors of EU member states reached a consensus as Croatia coordinated its position with that of the other 27 EU member states. This removed the main obstacle to the continuation of Serbia's EU accession process.

According to Croatian Hina, the EU ambassadors adopted a report on the fulfillment of criteria for Chapter 23 which opens the path to start defining an EU common negotiating position on that chapter, the Council of the European Union has reported.

The report was adopted after Croatia gave the green light to begin defining a common negotiating position for the chapter, but it still does not mean that a decision has been made to open that chapter nor Chapter 24, Justice, Freedom and Security, Hina reported.

“Croatia read the report and withdrew its reservations on the condition that in its negotiating position on Chapter 23 the EU resolves the issues that Croatia had objected to,” the EU Council told Hina.

The Council will now ask Serbia to submit its negotiating position for Chapter 2, while the European Commission will begin preparing a draft common negotiating position for all EU member states. Only when member states agree to the text and unanimously adopt the common negotiating position can the chapter be opened, Hina said.

The Croatian ministry of foreign and European affairs reported that Croatia approved the report on benchmarks after it had ensured that its demands would be incorporated in Serbia's negotiation process.

Croatia's conditions are Serbia's full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, its full compliance with all national and international obligations regarding the protection of minority rights and avoidance of judicial conflicts in war crimes prosecution.

In April, Croatia refused to approve the opening of Chapter 23 at a regular meeting of the Committee on EU Enlargement of the Council of the EU (COELA) working group.

Serbia opened its first two accession negotiation chapters on December 14, a significant milestone on the country's path to EU entry. Brussels decided to to open negotiations on Chapter 32 on financial control and Chapter 35 on the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Chapter 35 makes Serbia’s EU accession process unique as it is the first country whose EU path is conditioned by a non-EU member.

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