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Cablegate: Croatia Dumps Fishing Zone Overboard in Hopes Of

VZCZCXRO7623
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHVB #0256 0780625
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 180625Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8759
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS ZAGREB 000256

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EFIS PGOV PREL SENV HR
SUBJECT: CROATIA DUMPS FISHING ZONE OVERBOARD IN HOPES OF
ACCELERATING EU ACCESSION

REF: A. ZAGREB 84
B. 2007 ZAGREB 1065

1. (U) SUMMARY: On March 13, the Croatian parliament voted to
suspend application of its Ecological and Fisheries
Protection Zone (ZERP) to EU member states until Croatia,
Italy, and Slovenia can reach a joint agreement on the issue.
The one-vote margin by which the suspension passed belies
broader support for the suspension, as most of the opposition
members abstained to avoid voting with the government. The
European Commission rewarded the parliament's decision with
an announcement that its autumn Enlargement Package will
include a timetable for the technical conclusion of Croatia's
negotiations in 2009. End Summary.

2. (U) After debating the issue until midnight on March 12th,
the Croatian parliament voted to suspend application of the
Ecological and Fisheries Protection Zone (ZERP) to EU member
states until Croatia, Italy, and Slovenia can reach a joint
agreement on the issue. The suspension bill passed with the
minimum necessary votes: 77 ayes. The nine nays included the
6 representatives of the Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS), a
member party of the governing coalition. Although the HSS
pushed ZERP application as one of its top goals during the
coalition-building negotiations in January, party leaders
have indicated publicly they will not leave the coalition
over the ZERP's suspension. Also among the nays were two
representatives of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the
primary opposition party. The remaining SDP members, as well
as the Croatian People's Party (HNS) members, abstained from
the vote. While the SDP overall supported ZERP suspension as
a necessary step, members did not want to cast "aye" votes
and thereby help the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) out of a
difficult situation, according to comments by SDP leaders.

3. (U) Croatia began applying ZERP regulations to EU member
states on January 1, 2008, despite objections from Slovenia
and Italy and warnings from the European Commission that the
move could hamper accession negotiations (reftels). Through
January and into February, Croatia and Slovenia escalated
their rhetoric to an apparent standoff, with Croatian PM
Sanader insisting he would not yield on ZERP implementation.
In recent weeks, however, Sanader's comments have aimed to
create the political space to yield. Acknowledging that
Croatia was under an "informal blockade" in accession
negotiations, Sanader told the public Croatia faced an
unavoidable choice between ZERP and the EU, and that he and
his HDZ party were choosing the EU. HSS leaders continued to
voice their opposition to suspension, and a few fishermen's
guilds and environmental groups also spoke out against
suspension. However, overall public response was muted.

4. (U) The European Commission immediately rewarded Croatia
for the decision to suspend ZERP: on March 13, following a
meeting with Sanader in Brussels, Commission President Jose
Barroso announced that the Commission's autumn Enlargement
Package will include a timetable for the technical conclusion
of Croatia's negotiations in 2009, provided Croatia meets a
number of conditions. He said he considered one of those
conditions--suspending all aspects of ZERP with respect to EU
vessels--now done. Both he and Sanader said they were
confident Croatia could meet the remaining conditions and
conclude negotiations by the end of the Commission's mandate
in October 2009. Slovene PM Jansa also said the ZERP decision
was a positive step in removing the obstacles to faster
accession negotiations. While Sanader played up the EU
statements, other local politicians have been more skeptical.
SDP MP and former Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said
Barroso's announcement was just a courtesy gesture. HSS
President Josip Friscic, still a member of the ruling
coalition, warned that Slovenia and the EU would probably
just come up with some other obstacle to slow down Croatia's
EU accession.

5. (SBU) COMMENT: Although Sanader appears to have suffered
little political damage for conceding on ZERP, it remains to
be seen whether his government can turn the optimism of the
March 13 announcements into real progress in the accession
negotiations. Martin Mayer, political advisor at the European
Commission Delegation to Croatia, told us that, although
events of recent days are "encouraging political signals,"
there is no formal procedure linking ZERP suspension to
acceleration of the negotiations. The fact that Croatia has
yet to meet a single accession benchmark and did not manage
to close any negotiating chapters in 2007 does not bode well
for the GoC's chances of accelerating its progress
sufficiently to complete negotiations in the next year and a
half.
Bradtke

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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