Croatia took a big step towards joining the European Union on Wednesday as the two sides opened the final chapter in the former communist country's membership negotiations. Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Jandrokovic said his country could sign the EU accession treaty in the first quarter of 2011, and Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor said Croatia could then become the bloc's 28th member by 2012.
"Croatia is running its final 100 metres towards EU membership," Jandrokovic told reporters in Brussels after talks with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele.
The two sides have reached agreement on 20 of the 35 chapters that must be negotiated for EU membership. Thirteen chapters are still under discussion, while two others are mere formalities that will automatically close at the end of the accession negotiations.
In Zagreb Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor warned that the last phase of EU talks would be "really difficult and demanding" but stressed she believed they would be concluded by the end of the year.
In that scenario Zagreb could be ready to become join the EU by 2012. Read the full AFP newsflash here.