From: Reuters
Published March 10, 2008 08:19 AM

Croatia could suspend fisheries zone to save EU bid

By Zoran Radosavljevic

ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said on Monday his ruling HDZ party was in favor of suspending full enforcement of a fisheries zone in the Adriatic, which threatens to sink its European Union membership talks.

Sanader has called a meeting of all parliamentary parties for Tuesday to discuss if Croatia should give up applying its ecological and fisheries zone to EU countries, a key requirement to advance its stalled EU bid.

Asked if the HDZ -- which rules in a centrist coalition -- backed EU talks over the zone's full enforcement, Sanader said: "Yes."

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"We in the ruling coalition have a more or less common stand, which we want to fine tune some more until tomorrow," he told reporters after a session of the National Council for monitoring EU accession talks. He declined to elaborate.

Sanader said Croatia was facing "a crisis, which we cannot deny. A crisis which could translate as 'the EU or the zone."'

Vesna Pusic, an opposition leader who chairs the Council, said Sanader would ask parliament to approve a suspension of the zone's enforcement on EU members until Zagreb joins the bloc.

At the start of the year, Croatia added EU countries to the list of those it has barred from fishing in the zone, which reaches into the middle of the Adriatic and is aimed at preserving fish stocks and limiting pollution.

Italy and Slovenia complained the move breached Zagreb's earlier pledge not to apply the zone to EU states. The European Commission made clear Croatia's accession talks would hit a brick wall unless the issue was urgently resolved.

Analyst believe most parliamentary parties will back Sanader's drive to suspend the zone's full enforcement and salvage the EU talks, which the former Yugoslav republic hopes to conclude in mid-2009.

The main problem remains the conservative Peasant Party, the most vocal advocate of the zone, which is his main coalition partner.

However, a Peasant Party source told Reuters the party just might be mollified.

"We don't want to abolish the zone completely, but the enforcement could be discussed. What really matters is that everyone knows this is our sea, our heritage."

Croatia, which declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, has made joining NATO and the EU its top strategic goal, which should boost its economic prosperity and ensure political stability after the turbulence of its Yugoslav past.

(Editing by Matthew Jones)

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