ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatia formally becomes the 28th member of the European Union on Monday, the bloc’s first addition since Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007. Croatia is becoming a member after a decade of negotiation, and marks a historic turning point for the country which went through a civil war after declaring independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
WHAT DOES CROATIA HOPE TO GAIN WITH EU ENTRY?
— Some 11.7 billion euros ($15.2 billion) in EU investment funds promised over the next seven years, if the Croats can devise acceptable programs for their use. Access to the much larger EU markets. Possibility of finding jobs in some EU states, although many have already established restrictions for Croatian citizens. Less expensive study opportunities for Croatian students in EU schools and universities.
WHAT IS THE EU GETTING FROM CROATIA’S ENTRY?
— More stability in the Balkans. A slightly larger market for EU goods. Less hassle at the borders for EU citizens traveling to Croatia. Easier and less bureaucratic purchase of property by EU citizens in Croatia.
FACTS ABOUT CROATIA
— The horseshoe-shaped country is in the Balkan peninsula, along the Adriatic coast. The country has 4.2 million people, mostly Roman Catholics, and is considered one of the most Catholic nations in Europe. It borders Bosnia, Serbia, Hungary Slovenia, Italy and Montenegro. Serbs, who are Orthodox Christians, are the biggest minority.
— Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia 22 years ago. It was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, before joining a union with Serbia and Slovenia in 1918, under the rule of a Serbian royal family. This country broke up in World War II with German occupation, when Croatia became a Nazi puppet state; tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs and anti-fascist Croats were killed in concentration camps. After the war Croatia became part of communist-led Yugoslavia, which broke up in the early 1990s’ in a civil war.
— Croatia declared independence in 1991, triggering a rebellion by minority Croatian Serbs and an onslaught by the Serb-led Yugoslav army. About a third of the country’s territory was occupied by the Serbs, and many areas were reduced to rubble before a U.N. peacekeeping force moved in. The war ended in 1995, when Croatia retook territories in an offensive.
— Croatia is known mostly for its stunning Adriatic coast. The island of Hvar became a fashionable destination which has welcomed international stars like Beyonce or Tom Cruise. The walled city of Dubrovnik is protected as a UNESCO heritage site and a favorite destination for cruise ships. North toward Italy is the Istria peninsula, well known for its wine, cheese and leisurely lifestyle.
— Croatia has been in recession for the past five years and unemployment is around 20 percent. One of the biggest problems is corruption: Transparency International ranked Croatia below Rwanda, Jordan and Cuba in its graft index for 2012. But Croatia’s economy is not big enough to seriously jeopardize the EU, as was the case with Greece or Spain.
ANYTHING TO LOSE WITH THE EU ENTRY?
— Many in Croatia fear that EU’s market will be too competitive for Croatian companies and that many will not survive. Opening the EU market will lead to customs restrictions on trade with other Balkan states which have been Croatia’s main markets. Croatian fishermen are afraid they will lose the battle against better-equipped Italians or Slovenes who now have free access to the Croatian part of the Adriatic sea. People fear prices will go up once Croatia adopts the euro, which is several years away.
WHAT IS CROATIA KNOWN FOR?
Croats claim they invented the bow tie. They say it originated during the Prussian wars of the 17th century among Croatian mercenaries who wore scarves around their necks.
Associated Press reporter Jovana Gec contributed.