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Croatia's claims rebuffed by EU

The European Union has rebuffed Croatia by deciding it will receive no future privileges in its dealings with the EU but will be treated the same as other "successor states" to the former Yugoslavia under new "Balkan agreements" with Brussels.

It is a sign that Croatia's human rights violations and authoritarianism have ruined its aspirations to advance towards EU membership ahead of any rival Balkans states. It will cast a shadow over the campaign by President Franjo Tudjman's "free-market" HDZ party for elections on 29 October.

EU-Croatia talks on a trade and co-operation deal were frozen after the Croatian August offensive against Serb rebels, which boosted Mr Tudjman's popularity. The conquest was followed by accounts of looting and murders of Serb civilians. International efforts are now under way to persuade the Croatian leadership to desist from an attack on the Serb redoubt of Eastern Slavonia.

The new policy, formulated in the expectation of an overall peace settlement, is a decisive rejection of Mr Tudjman's assertion that Croatia has a greater claim than its neighbours to represent the values of west European civilisation. It is not clear whether Germany and Austria, Croatia's closest friends in the EU, will continue to argue that Zagreb should receive better treatment than Belgrade or Sarajevo. That argument has already met high-level opposition from negotiators who believe that, unless the EU takes a collective approach, each Balkan state will try to advance itself and block its rivals, creating new tensions.

European Union leaders have therefore been urged to evolve a common set of framework agreements with all the states south of Slovenia and north of Greece. They are: Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia (in its Muslim- Croat and Serb constituents), Albania and Macedonia. The aim is to avoid any impression the old Yugoslavia is being recreated.