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Last Updated: Monday, 3 October 2005, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Analysis: Croatia in EU limbo
Croatian Gen Ante Gotovina
The hunt for Gen Ante Gotovina remains a sticking point
European foreign ministers have delayed a meeting to discuss the start of EU entry talks with Croatia, while they try to sort out problems surrounding Turkey's bid to join.

The BBC's Oana Lungescu in Brussels examines Croatia's troubled bid.

Officially there is no link between Croatia - a small, prosperous, mainly Catholic country, once part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire - and Turkey - a huge, poor, predominantly Muslim country, which in its previous historical incarnation as the Ottoman empire twice laid siege to the Austrian capital Vienna.

Despite their very different past, both countries are candidates for European Union membership.

A year ago, Croatia appeared on track to join the EU by the end of the decade.

But in March, the start of accession negotiations was delayed indefinitely when Carla del Ponte, the UN chief prosecutor at the international war crimes tribunal, accused Zagreb of doing too little to catch General Ante Gotovina.

He is wanted for war crimes committed against ethnic Serbs 10 years ago, but has been on the run since 2001.

Group of friends

The EU claims it treats each candidate on its own merits. But for the Austrian chancellor, the link is clear.

If we trust Turkey to make progress, Wolfgang Schuessel said, we must trust Croatia too.

While Austria is alone in blocking Turkey, it has got quite a few friends in lobbying for Croatia. Informally known as "the friends of Croatia", the group of eight countries also includes Slovenia, Slovakia, Italy and Luxembourg, all ruled by Christian Democrat parties.

EU flag

On Sunday night, Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said he hoped both Turkey and Croatia would get a green light.

Using a football metaphor, he said: "I hope it will be 1 - 1, otherwise it will be 2 - 0 and that would be bad for Europe and us all."

Britain, which strongly advocated starting talks with Turkey and freezing talks with Croatia, now finds itself in a delicate position.

Croatia needs to show full co-operation with the war crimes tribunal but so far, Ms del Ponte's verdict has been ambiguous.

Key report

Last week in Zagreb, she expressed disappointment that General Gotovina was still at large, but she also noted some positive developments.

In the last few months, Croatia has started to dismantle the general's powerful support network and has reformed the intelligence services.

But if, as EU diplomats expect, Ms del Ponte delivers a mixed report in Luxembourg, foreign ministers will face a tough choice: either keep Croatia outside the door or set a new date for the start of talks, while insisting that further progress will depend on finding the fugitive general.

This may be what Austria is expecting to change its mind about Turkey, but not even experienced diplomats are making any bets.


SEE ALSO:
Tense EU drive for Turkish deal
03 Oct 05 |  Europe
MI6 and the Croatian general
30 Apr 05 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Country profile: Croatia
29 Sep 04 |  Country profiles


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