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Croatia Given 2009 Goal To Finish Accession Negotiations

BRUSSELS (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission has issued an encouraging report on prospects for Croatia's accession to the European Union. But the report also says that the former Yugoslav republic must continue with its preparations if it is to become a member soon.

The European Commission says Croatia should be able to finish all talks on joining the EU by the end of next year. That would pave the way for it to enter the bloc by 2011.

The assessment says Croatia is expected to reach the final phase of accession negotiations by the end of 2009, if it takes the necessary preparatory steps.

This is the first time that the EU's executive has set out a timetable for Croatia to become the EU's 28th member since it became a candidate for membership in 2004.

The report says the positive tone reflects the "overall good progress" being made by Zagreb in bringing its laws into line with EU rules on key areas such as trade, competition, and foreign policy.

However, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn cautioned that the timetable is only an estimate, and will depend on Croatia making further progress in reform, in particular in reforming the judiciary, fighting organized crime and corruption, and restructuring state-owned shipyards and steelworks.

The commission's report said other applicants for EU membership -- Turkey, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro, and Kosovo -- are making only limited progress on required reforms.