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Croatia has nearly finished the process of joining the EU: if all goes according to plan it will become the EU’s 28th Member State on 1 July 2013.

The accession negotiations took just over ten years, encountering problems with a border dispute, corruption, refugee returns and war crimes prosecutions. With Croatia, the European Commission and the Member States were keen to avoid the conditional accession that led to post-accession monitoring of Bulgaria and Romania, and so introduced a detailed new negotiating ‘chapter’ on judiciary and fundamental rights.

The European Parliament approved Croatia’s accession treaty on 1 December 2011. Croatia and all 27 EU Member States will sign it on 9 December. The treaty will then go through each state’s domestic ratification processes: Croatia is likely to hold a referendum at the beginning of 2012, but no other Member State (including the UK) is expected to hold a referendum on Croatia’s accession. The European Commission will continue to monitor Croatia’s progress in certain key areas but the consequences of a negative report are not clear.

The signing of Croatia’s accession treaty comes at a time when Croatia has just voted in a new government. In parliamentary elections on 4 December 2011 a centre-left led coalition defeated the centre-right party that had governed Croatia almost continuously since the country’s 1991 independence. The new government will have to deal with a bleak economic situation and tackle the corruption that is still a major problem for Croatia.

Croatia may well be the last country to join the EU for some years.

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