Croatia 'should join EU in 2013'
Croatia should join the EU in July 2013, the European Commission has said.
Brussels is recommending existing EU leaders to sign off on the last details of lengthy membership talks and usher the country into the club in two years.
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso declared on Friday: "Today is a historic day for Croatia and for the European Union.
"The commission has just proposed to the EU Council of Ministers to close the last four chapters in the accession negotiations with Croatia. This paves the way for Croatia to join the EU as the 28th member state as of July 1 2013, if this indicative date proposed by the commission were to be retained by the council."
He went on: "At this significant moment, I would like to applaud the Croatian authorities, in particular the current government, for their hard work over the last years. Even more importantly, I would like to congratulate the people of Croatia: joining the EU family of nations is first and foremost your success.
"The commission has negotiated hard but fair over the last years, applying strict conditionality and making sure that all EU criteria and benchmarks are fulfilled. This firm commitment has paid off: Croatia is now ready to move ahead.
"EU enlargement is about credibility: credibility from candidate countries in respecting the criteria and enforcing the required reforms, and credibility on the EU side in moving forward once the agreed conditions have been met."
Mr Barroso said Croatia's progress was "a signal to the rest of south-eastern Europe", adding: "It shows that enlargement works, that the EU is serious about its commitment, and that structural European reforms in the countries pay off. I therefore hope that Croatia's progress is an inspiration to our other partners to reinvigorate their reform efforts and to deliver to the benefit of their people.
"This is also in the EU's self-interest: a credible enlargement policy remains our most important tool for strengthening mutual stability and prosperity in south-eastern Europe."
Croatia applied for EU membership in 2003, and formal negations began in late 2005.