On 9 December, Croatia signed its EU accession treaty at the EU summit in Brussels. The country will thus become the Union's 28th member state, on 1 July 2013. Croatia, with its 4.5 million inhabitants and representing only 1% of the EU's territory and population, will be the second country from the former Yugoslav Federation to join the EU after Slovenia, which joined in May 2004. Accession to the EU carries significant implications for Croatia, where the memory of the 1991-1995 war that followed its declaration of independence in 1991 is still vividly alive.
The war opposed Croatian forces to the Serbian Yugoslav People's Army (JNA). The Serbian forces' intention was to take control of the whole of Croatia and thereby create a unified Serbian state'. A ceasefire was signed in January 1992, but the two countries remained in conflict until 1995, despite the presence on the ground of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR).
Croatia was gravely affected by the war and at least 20% of its economy was destroyed. The damages to infrastructures were estimated at 40 billion. The warring sides suffered at least 20,000 casualties and half a million people were displaced.
Less than ten years later, Croatia submitted its official application for EU membership, on 21 February 2003, and accession talks were opened in October 2005, leading to the successful conclusion of the negotiations in 2011.
After six years of negotiations, Zagreb has finally obtained what it has been working hard for: the end of the negotiations and the signature of its accession treaty. But there is still work to be done, according to the European Commission's recent progress report. On 12 October, the EU executive called on the country to continue to "fully develop" its progress in fighting corruption and to make public procurement and political financing more transparent. The Commission also urged Zagreb to reinforce its business environment and its labour market and to strengthen its welfare system. The country also has to rapidly privatise its shipyards, which are still heavily subsidised by the state, in order to comply with EU competition rules. The Commission also intends to monitor closely Croatia's judiciary reforms and its fight against corruption up until its full membership in 2013. "The Commission will closely monitor the fulfilment of all remaining commitments made by Croatia during negotiations and will present fair monitoring reports next May," Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said in October. The Commission will be presenting monitoring reports on Croatia every six months until membership. Unlike Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania joined the Union under a cooperation and verification mechanism, in January 2007, which continued to monitor the two countries' law enforcement systems after accession. Croatia will be under EU monitoring only until 2013, as it has already been subjected to a strict procedure and has implemented a full range of reforms in a number of areas.
In the midst of the European sovereign debt crisis, Croatia is struggling to climb out of the recession that began over two years ago. The country can be thankful to its strong tourism revenue, which helped support economic growth in the third quarter of 2011. However, the deepening eurozone crisis might just worsen the country's economic situation. Croatia already has a 2.3 billion public spending deficit. According to preliminary figures that were released at the end of November by the National Bureau of Statistics, the country's gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 0.6% in the third quarter of 2011 compared to last year. Detailed data will be released by the bureau on 20 December. It is the second quarterly rise in the country's GDP this year, but the economy went down 1. …