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Croatia: Prime Minister Sanader Optimistic About EU Bid --> Prime Minister Sanader at RFE/RL's Prague broadcasting center on July 28 (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, July 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader made a brief stop at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague today. The leader of the Croatian Democratic Union party is in his third year as prime minister, and has made membership in the European Union and NATO a top priority. He spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher.

RFE/RL: The European Commission’s decision to delay a final decision on whether Bulgaria and Romania can join the EU in 2007 seems like another sign that the EU’s enthusiasm for adding new members is declining. Are you at all concerned that Croatia’s accession might be in jeopardy because of what some have called, enlargement exhaustion?

Ivo Sanader: I'm sure that Croatia will not become a victim of this enlargement fatigue, which is real in the European Union. We know that and we don't deny this fact. But take into account the fact that, according to [polling agency] Eurobarometer, the citizens of the member states of the European Union are supporting Croatia's membership more than 50 percent. In some countries, like in the Czech Republic -- about 70 percent. This is very much encouraging, so Croatia is not affected by this enlargement fatigue.

RFE/RL: Earlier this week, four Croats attacked the homes of some Serbian refugees who had returned to their village of Biljani Donji. President Stipe Mesic says the attackers were not nationalist, just drunk. But the head of the European Commission in Croatia said the crime goes against “EU values of rule of law and tolerance” and urged your government to pass laws that severely punish such crimes. Some say that’s a subtle criticism of Croatia’s judiciary, which is seen as being lenient in crimes against ethnic Serbs. What is your reaction to the crime, and that critique?

Prime Minister Sanader (right) with EU envoy for the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe Erhard Busek in Bucharest in April (epa)

Sanader: I think this is fully unacceptable, what happened earlier this week in this part of Croatia. But this is rather one incident [that] I think could not influence our politics. It happened in a place which I visited two years ago and to a family which I visited [among] the Serbian returnees. I give full support for all who would like [to return] and are returning, so there [are] no changes. But, you know, never in your life do you have 100 percent support, by anyone.

So I believe that even this is very much important. It happened after my visit to Belgrade, and we will, nevertheless, we will continue with this policy. Because the full normalization of the relationship between Croatia and Serbia, between Croats and Serbs -- either in Croatia or in Serbia, because we have also a Croatian minority in Serbia -- is the precondition for the stable future for this part of Europe.

RFE/RL: Do you see Croatia as a role model for other Balkan states, like Serbia, which is still sorting out its issues with the Hague and fugitive war crimes suspects?

Sanader: I think that Croatia has shown that full cooperation with the ICTY [the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague] has no alternative. This is belonging to what we call the rule of law. This is simply about the rule of law. So I think that Serbia, with the presentation of its action plan in the case of [former Bosnian Serb General Ratko] Mladic and then also [former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan] Karadzic, [that says they] should also be transferred to the Hague, is the best way to solve this problem. And I cross my fingers for Serbia to solve it.

EU Expands Eastward

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