Croatia celebrates on joining EU

 

Most Croatians have supported accession to the EU

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Croatia has become the 28th member of the European Union, with crowds joining celebrations in the capital Zagreb.

Fireworks lit the sky as membership became effective at midnight (22:00 GMT), with President Ivo Josipovic describing the event as historic.

It comes almost two decades after Croatia's brutal war of independence.

But correspondents say enthusiasm for the EU in the country has been dampened by the eurozone crisis, and Croatia's own economic problems.

Analysis

Thousands of people were in Zagreb's main square for the accession ceremony.

They enjoyed performances ranging from traditional dance to hip hop - culminating in a stirring rendition of the EU anthem Ode To Joy at midnight, as Croatia officially became the 28th member state.

But the square was not as packed as it might have been, had accession taken place a few years ago. Economic crises at home and within the EU have made many Croatians ambivalent about membership.

Some said the plight of their fellow Balkan country - and now fellow EU member - Bulgaria made them worried about what might happen to Croatia. Others said the accession process had taken so long - almost a decade - that they no longer cared.

But other Croatians were more enthusiastic - especially those whose lives or businesses involve crossing borders. For them, EU membership should reduce paperwork and hassle - reason enough to celebrate.

'New chapter'

Celebrations took place in the central square of Zagreb, with fireworks and music including Beethoven's Ode to Joy, the European anthem.

"Welcome to the European Union!" European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in Croatian to the cheering crowd.

President Josipovic said it was "a great and joyful day for our homeland".

"This the day when we open a new chapter in the thick book of our history," he added.

Earlier he told a meeting of EU and regional leaders: "The accession of Croatia to the European Union is confirmation that each one of us belongs to the European democratic and cultural set of values."

Croatian officials then unveiled EU signs and removed customs posts at the borders with Slovenia, the first former Yugoslav republic to have joined the bloc, and with Hungary.

Croatia is the first new EU member since Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007. It is 10 years since it applied.

Croatia's split from Yugoslavia triggered a 1991-1995 war to secure its independence.

But with one in five unemployed and Croatia's national debt officially classed as junk, some Croatians feel joining an economic bloc with its own serious troubles will do little to improve their prospects.

"Just look what's happening in Greece and Spain! Is this where we're headed?" asked pensioner Pavao Brkanovic in a market in the capital.

"You need illusions to be joyful, but the illusions have long gone," he told Reuters news agency.

Long-term view

Concerns about Croatian corruption and organised crime remain among some EU leaders, and Croatia will not yet join the single currency or the free-movement Schengen zone, where most EU citizens are not subject to passport checks.

Croatia in figures

  • Population: 4.4 million (UN, 2012)
  • Capital: Zagreb
  • Main language: Croatian
  • Main religion: Christianity
  • Area: 56,594 sq km (21,851 sq miles)
  • GNI per capita: €10,389 (World Bank, 2011)

But advocates of EU membership say despite this, their case remains a persuasive one.

Two-thirds of Croatians voted in favour of accession last year.

"It's important for us primarily for the long term guarantees of political stability and then everything else - the single market too," Croatia's First Deputy Prime Minister, Vesna Pusic, told the BBC.

The EU itself has given Croatia a clean bill of health - and praised reforms which improve the rule of law and tackle corruption.

It hopes the other countries of the former Yugoslavia will be encouraged to join - and secure long-term peace for an historically turbulent region, reports the BBC's regional correspondent Guy De Launey.

 

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  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 532.

    I was just in Croatia last week. I have spent a lot of time in Croatia on and off since 92 and yes, it is a nice place to visit, particularly the coast. However, there are still a lot of places that suffer from the war due to the government concentrating its spending on Zagreb and the coast. So it dos have a lot of unemployment and I can see a lot of Croats coming to the UK to take advantage of us

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 440.

    Well I wish them luck but looking round Europe, it seems there is a growing movement in a number of people from different countries of dissatisfaction with being part of the EU.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 370.

    Good news all round.
    Greater diversification of job applicants - and workforce - most from northern europe at the moment and a widening of where you can spend EUs on holiday and Croatia is a good destination

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 297.

    Blaming the EU is incorrect. The guilty ones in the ongoing economic troubles are our own societies - we are guilty - and until we realise that we should change ourselves first instead of accusing politicians who are products of our own societies, then nothing will ever improve.

    Croatia will most certainly benefit from joining the EU, but only if it manages to change its own mentality.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 251.

    I think the EU are treading a dangerous line, The further eastwards and southwards they go the more they seem to be putting potential markets before political / social stability. Am generally pro European, or at least not anti, but do they really know who they are dealing with in these countries, are the governments strong enough and separate from other elements with their own agendas?

 

Comments 5 of 9

 

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