British minister praises Croatia efforts to reform judiciary

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British Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke on Wednesday praised Croatia's efforts to reform its judiciary, key to concluding the country's EU accession talks which have reached the final phase.

"I'm hugely impressed by the programme of reform in the judiciary ... which has been carried out in recent years in Croatia," Clarke told journalists.

"The British government, like the other friends of Croatia, is now going to decide whether (the) stage has been reached that these (reforms) are irreversible and a permanent feature of Croatian life" so that Zagreb could conclude EU talks, he said.

Reform of the judiciary, including the fight against corruption, is crucial for the conclusion of Croatia's talks to join the 27-nation bloc.

Clarke, who spoke after meeting his Croatian counterpart Drazen Bosnjakovic, stressed that the British government was a "strong supporter of the enlargement of the European Union which we hope will eventually include all the democratic countries of the Western Balkans."

Clarke also met with Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor who repeated Zagreb's ambition to conclude EU talks by the end of June. Zagreb hopes to become an EU member by the end of 2012.

"Croatia's success would serve as an example that a demanding path of reforms pays back and it would strengthen reform forces in neighbouring countries," Kosor said in a statement.

European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso, during a recent visit to Zagreb, declined to speculate on the possible date of conclusion of EU talks.

He labelled Zagreb's targeted date as a "very challenging and ambitious."

Of the six former Yugoslav republics -- Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia -- only the latter is an EU member.

© 2011 AFP

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