CROATIA became the 28th member of the European Union at midnight last night, a milestone tinged with anxiety over its economy and the state of the bloc it joins.
Croatia joins the bloc just over two decades after declaring independence from federal Yugoslavia, the trigger for four years of war in which some 20,000 people died.
Facing a fifth year of recession and unemployment of 21 per cent, few Croatians are in the mood to party.
The EU is also troubled by its own economic woes, which have created internal divisions and undermined public support for the union.
President Ivo Josipovic told Croatia’s Nova TV on Saturday journalists from EU countries had repeatedly asked him why Zagreb wanted to join the bloc.
“My counter question was: ‘You come from the EU. Is your country preparing to leave the bloc?’ They would invariably reply: ‘Of course not.’ Well, there you go, that’s why we are joining, because we also believe the EU has a future,” he said.
The country of 4.4m people, blessed with a coastline that attracts 10m tourists each year, is one of seven that emerged from the ashes of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
To get to this point, Croatia has gone through seven years of often unpopular EU-guided reform.
It has handed over more than a dozen Croatian and Bosnian Croat military and political leaders charged with war crimes to the United Nations tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
It has sold deeply-indebted historic shipyards and launched a fight against corruption that saw former prime minister Ivo Sanader jailed.
The spirit of the occasion took another knock when German Chancellor Angela Merkel pulled out of the accession ceremony, saying she was too busy.
City A.M. Reporter