Croatia was due on Friday to resume much-delayed European Union membership talks, with crime and corruption as the agenda’s most sensitive issues.

Neighbouring Slovenia last month lifted a long-standing veto on Croatia’s accession negotiations after the two sides agreed to resolve a border dispute via EU-led arbitration.

Croatia’s leaders now expect to aim for entry by 2012. But they must deal with the questions asked by EU officials about Zagreb’s commitment to fighting crime and corruption – and the concerns of a sceptical Croatian public.

In the EU talks, Vladimir Drobnjak, Zagreb’s chief negotiator, hopes to arrive, on paper, roughly to the half-way mark of the 33 negotiating chapters within days. “We hope to have 28 chapters open [up from 22] and 12 closed [up from seven] after October 2.”

Chapter 23, on justice and human rights, is unlikely to be completed before the year-end. Zagreb has met the EU’s opening benchmarks for this wide-ranging chapter, covering judicial reform, the fight against crime and corruption, and rights for the ethnic Serb minority. But individual EU members still raise many concerns and could delay accession even after negotiations are finished.

Ivan Simonovic, justice minister, cites improvements in judicial efficiency and transparency. “In 2000, every fourth criminal case ended because of the statute of limitations. Last year, only 3 per cent of cases died that way.”

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