War crime row hits Croatia's EU ambitions

Croatia's talks on joining the EU have been suspended, splitting the 25 member states and jeopardising Turkey's ambitions to join the union.

A majority of countries, led by Britain and the Netherlands, argued that Zagreb should not be allowed to start negotiations on membership because of its failure to help track down a former general wanted on war crimes charges.

But a group of countries including Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia - most of whom were part of the old Habsburg Empire - supported the immediate start of talks. They kept open the possibility that membership negotiations with Ankara, which are due to start in October, could be frozen too if Croatia is not at the negotiating table by then.

The division has deep historic echoes, with the central European nations more sympathetic to Croatia than the northern nations. The dispute also poses a potentially explosive problem for Britain which takes over the presidency of the EU in the second half of this year.

Asked directly if Austria would be willing to block Turkey's accession talks in October, Austria's Foreign Minister, Ursula Plassnik, replied: "I won't answer on that. The topic is Croatia right now." Slovenia's Foreign Minister, Dimitrij Rupel, said the precedent set by yesterday's decision was that "conditions for EU enlargement are getting tougher". That implies that there will be little leniency if Turkey fails to meet any of the conditions asked of it if it does start talks in October.

Croatia's hopes of starting membership talks immediately foundered on the decision of the EU to make full co-operation with the UN tribunal investigating war crimes in the former Yugoslavia a precondition of negotiations.

British, Dutch, and German diplomats have argued that, if Croatia is allowed to open EU membership talks without the surrender of General Ante Gotovina, that could make it impossible to secure the handover of the two most wanted war criminals in the Balkans. They are the former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic. "If we want Serbia to come into line, then our position towards Croatia has to be very clear, otherwise we also lose our leverage vis-a-vis Serbia," said the Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht.

But the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, took a conciliatory tone and suggested that a compromise may be possible in June. Mr Straw argued, for the first time, that, while more cooperation with the UN tribunal was essential, "none of us are making [the surrender of General Gotovina] a precondition".

He added that, were full co-operation given but "that co-operation was unsuccessful in the arrest of the fugitive, the government concerned should not be penalised for matters beyond its control".

Carla Del Ponte, the UN's chief war crimes prosecutor, is due to deliver another assessment of Croatia's co-operation in June to the UN Security Council, Mr Straw pointed out. That gives Zagreb more than two months to prove it is doing everything possible to track down the former general who is accused of responsibility for massacres of Serbs in Krajina in the 1990s.

The Croatian premier, Ivo Sanader, said his country had met obligations to co-operate with The Hague.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Life and Style
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: EWI / IWI Installer

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of design...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Management Accountant

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Manag...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'