Monday, June 20, 2005

EU reassures Balkans countries doors will not stay shut

ZAGREB, June 20 (AFP) -

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Monday a commitment by the 25-nation bloc to take in more Balkans countries will remain on the agenda despite a recent crisis if they meet conditions set by Brussels.

After the recent French and Dutch rejection of the proposed EU constitution "it is now even more important that the process of enlargement continues," Rehn said in a letter to Croatian media.

"EU leaders have confirmed during last week's summit that the entire Western Balkans has chances for membership," he added.

The EU summit broke down over budget squabbles, leaving a sense that the 25-member bloc is in deep crisis.

But Rehn stressed that each country aspiring to join the European Union must first fulfill a set of political and economic conditions.

He reiterated that Croatia, the most advanced of the Balkan countries on the path to the EU hoping to become a member by the end of the decade, must track down fugitive general Ante Gotovina who is wanted by the UN war crimes court at The Hague.

"As soon as Croatia proves full cooperation, the EU is ready to immediately open accession negotiations," he stressed.

Brussels refused to open membership talks with Zagreb in March due to its failure to find Gotovina, who has been charged with the killing of ethnic Serbs at the end of the 1991-95 Serbo-Croatian war.

Full cooperation with the UN court is also the main condition for Serbia-Montenegro, while the Macedonian government should focus on economic reforms, Rehn said.

Police and media reforms are the main task set for Bosnia and respect of minority rights for the Serbian province of Kosovo.

Brussels will closely monitor Albanian elections set for July which should be free and fair, Rehn said.

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