Croatia made progress on Monday towards its goal of wrapping up negotiations next year to join the European Union but entry talks were stalled in some areas by neighbouring Slovenia, an EU member.
A dispute over borders between Croatia and Slovenia had kept talks frozen in many policy areas, making it impossible for the former Yugoslav state to finalise them in 2008.
Although that dispute appears to have been resolved, Slovenia has blocked the opening of talks in three other areas.
“Croatia’s accession negotiations are in the final and decisive phase,” Gordan Jandrokovic, Croatian minister for European integration, told a news conference after talks in Brussels.
“We are confident that we can bring negotiations to a successful end in the middle of 2010.”
During Monday’s talks, Zagreb finalised negotiations in the areas, or so-called chapters, of free movement of services and social policy. But no further talks were launched.
“We regret that several chapters in which Croatia is completely ready will not be opened today,” Jandrokovic said.
Croatia’s goal to become the EU’s 28th member in 2012 could be at risk unless accession negotiations finish next year.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt moved to reassure Croatia that its efforts were on track.
“I hope that (Slovenian opposition) can be sorted out fairly soon … I take that for granted,” he said. Sweden holds the EU’s rotating presidency until the end of this year.
Bildt said Slovenia had not made its reservations clear.
The areas in question are fisheries, environment and foreign and security policy. Croatia says it hopes to open talks in the coming months.
Some of the toughest areas have yet to be tackled, notably on judicial reform and competition policy, which concerns the fate of ailing shipyards kept alive by high state subsidies.
Zagreb must also demonstrate progress in fighting corruption and organised crime and on cooperation with a U.N. tribunal on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.