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Croatia EU accession talks are called off

THE European Union has called off a round of accession talks with Croatia scheduled for tomorrow after the failure of mediation to solve a border row with EU member Slovenia, the Czech EU presidency said.

The move is the latest blow to Croatia's hopes of concluding accession talks with the 27-nation bloc by the end of the year, with a target joining date of 2010 or 2011.

"The Czech EU presidency has decided to cancel the intergovernmental accession conference with Croatia planned for June 26," it said in a statement yesterday.

"The presidency deeply regrets the fact that despite numerous attempts by the presidency and the European Commission to help find a way forward the negotiations have not progressed."

It stressed that the row was a bilateral issue only Slovenia and Croatia could resolve.

The move was expected after a six-month European Commission mediation bid to resolve the land and sea border dispute collapsed last week.

Vesna Pusic, who heads the Croatian national committee for monitoring EU talks, said that completion of the talks this year was practically beyond reach.

"The second half of the next year is a more realistic target. Croatia should now intensify diplomatic activity in seeking a solution with Slovenia and remain firmly focused on the remaining EU-bound reforms," she said.

Slovenia, an EU member, has blocked Croatia's entry talks, arguing they are prejudicial to the outcome of the dispute.

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader yesterday demanded the border row be dealt with separately from accession talks.

"We insist that Slovenia lifts its veto on our accession talks and thus implement the same principles on which Slovenia's own EU accession was based," he was quoted by the state news agency Hina as saying.

Sweden, which takes over the EU presidency in July, said this week it plans no fresh attempt to help settle the row. It said it was time for a "period of reflection."

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said on Tuesday it was still possible for Croatia to reach the final phase of negotiations by the end of the year, if the talks were unblocked soon, and Croatia delivers on remaining necessary reforms.

"The gravest danger for Croatia's ambitions now is that the reforms could slow down. This stalemate could send a bad signal to the whole Balkan region," Pusic said.

Croatia's key tasks are restructuring of ailing industries like shipbuilding, reform of a slow and inefficient judiciary, fighting corruption and organized crime, and reform of a bloated public administration.


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