Croatia is again on track to join the EU after Prime Minister Ivo Sanader announced the country will not implement its protected fishery and ecological zone (ZERP) until Croatia joins the Union. Officials in Brussels welcomed the decision.
By Natasa Radic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb - 13/03/08
Croatia placed restrictions on foreign boats in its protected fishing zone. [Getty Images]
Croatia has decided to postpone the implementation of its protected Adriatic fishing and ecological zone (ZERP) in the Adriatic Sea. The zone faced strong opposition from the EU and jeopardised Zagreb's chances of joining the Union.
Parliament adopted amendments to the ZERP on Wednesday (March 12th) that state the zone will not be applied to EU members beginning March 15th. This is what the European Commission asked for in order to eliminate a looming conflict with Slovenia and Italy.
As expected, the amendments were supported only by the votes of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the Social Liberal Party (HSLS) and the Serb Democratic Party (SDSS). The Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), a ruling coalition partner, voted against them. The HSS announced that its position was a matter of principle, but the ZERP's future was not part of the ruling coalition agreement. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Croatian People's Party (HNS) abstained from voting with some exceptions.
On January 1st, Croatia announced implementation of the ZERP, which would primarily affect EU members Slovenia and Italy. Slovenia, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, and Italy adamantly opposed the implementation and lobbied against it in Brussels, saying that Croatia was not respecting EU rules.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said the ruling coalition had agreed that EU membership was more important than the implementation of ZERP at this time.
Adding he is aware of the possible consequences of this decision, he said that EU goals must not be threatened by narrow political interests.
"We have been facing a dilemma about whether we should continue with EU negotiations and at the same time postpone implementing ZERP or implement ZERP and face the fact that the negotiations have been blocked. We think it is better for Croatia to finish with the negotiation process as soon as possible," Sanader said.
Upon hearing Croatia's decision, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn announced that now the negotiations with Croatia can accelerate.
Italian and Slovenian officials have also expressed satisfaction with this sudden shift. Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, however, said Croatia must adhere to what it has signed.