European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn said on Thursday that an agreement had been reached with Croatia on the opening of Chapter 23 in Serbia's European Union accession negotiations and that this should be confirmed next week at a meeting of Coreper, the committee of the member states' ambassadors.
I invested a lot in phone costs and can say that we reached an agreement last night, and we expect a formal decision next week, he told reporters in Brussels.
Asked if Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovac told him that he would unblock Chapter 23, Hahn said he found a political agreement with Kovac which took into account his objections, while the rest were technicalities.
Croatia had some doubts. We clarified some things two-three weeks ago and found a solution concerning the law on universal jurisdiction that should be acceptable to all, Hahn said.
Shortly before that, the Council of the EU said there was a possibility of Croatia giving up its reservations regarding the opening of Chapter 23 but that it had not been confirmed yet and that it would be discussed by the ambassadors.
Croatia has requested that in order to open Chapter 23, on the judiciary and fundamental rights, the EU should ask Serbia to fully cooperate with the Hague war crimes tribunal, to repeal its law on the prosecution of war crimes committed throughout the former Yugoslavia, and to ensure the rights of its Croatian minority.
A European Commission source has said that the joint negotiating position will say that Serbia's universal jurisdiction law on war crimes must not be applied in a discriminatory manner.
We understand that this is a delicate and legitimate issue for Croatia, but we can't ask Serbia to withdraw that law because a number of EU member states have similar laws, but given the potential to abuse that law, the draft joint position will say that there must be no discrimination in its application, the source says.
The source adds that Croatia can bilaterally resolve those and other issues but that they cannot be formal benchmarks in the negotiating process, and that this also applied to the demand for a better protection of the rights of the Croatian minority in Serbia.
We will quite strongly call on Serbia in the draft joint negotiating position to ensure the protection of those rights and we will closely oversee that, but we can't set that as a formal benchmark either because minority rights in the member states are regulated differently, the source has said.
As for the demand that Serbia fully cooperate with the Hague tribunal, the Commission fully supports Croatia. That was never contentious and we will constantly call on Serbia to fully cooperate and implement all of the tribunal's decisions, the source has said.