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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 28,322 22,421 20,300 61
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 5,350 4,640 4,550 70
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 162 - (24/11/10)

Thumbs up for the EU
There is no doubt what the biggest issue is before Croatia - EU membership. Croatia hopes to conclude the negotiation process by the end of 2010 or early 2011 at the latest.

A vital report, issued on Nov 9, is expected to be the last on Croatia as a candidate country. It is meeting the political criteria for EU membership and has made progress in many areas, but still needs to ramp up the fight against organised crime and corruption, intensify judicial and administrative reform, boost protection of minorities and facilitate refugee returns.

Those were the conclusions in the European Commission's latest report on the country's progress. Croatian leaders are hailing its overall positive tone. "This is the best report ever and a very promising one. It clearly recognises the changes and efforts made," Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor said on November 9th after the report was published. "It is clearly noticed in Brussels that we have done a lot of work ourselves and took a heavy burden upon our shoulders. But this is something that first and foremost we did for ourselves and our own future," she told local media.

Croatian President Ivo Josipovic shares her optimism. He met with the head of the EC delegation in Zagreb the day the progress report was published. "Our main challenges ahead, related to our EU future, are fighting the economic crisis and strengthening the rule of law, freedom of expression, national minority rights, reconciliation and regional co-operation. In many of these areas Croatia has made a significant step forward," Josipovic said.

The EC report says that Croatia has advanced significantly in many areas, including rule of law, but that work remains to be done. "The capacity of the parliament to scrutinise the legislative process needs enhancing. Judicial reform has continued but significant challenges remain, especially relating to judicial efficiency, independence and accountability," it reads.

The EC found that public administration still suffers from shortcomings, including complex administrative procedures and weak human resources management.

Zagreb commemorates Vukovar victims
Croatia is looking to its future; but it is not forgetting its past, notably the grim wars which marked the break-up of Yugoslavia. To make sure that there can be no repetition, indeed, is one main reason to enter the EU.

Some two hundred people gathered on November 17 in Croatia’s capital Zagreb to commemorate the war victims from the town of Vukovar. Despite the bad weather, people lit some 6,000 candles, spelling out the city’s name in light. Vukovar is one of Croatia’s cities that was most devastated by the war of the 1990s.

The president of the Club of War Veterans of the 148th Croatian Army Brigade Zagreb –Trnje and the organizer of the memorial event, Tihomir Kordic said that Vukovar has become a symbol for heroism "because of Croatia’s defenders."

The students from the primary school Rapska attended the ceremony and helped light the candles. "Because of everything that the defenders did for us, this is the least we can do for them," said student Ivan Stefanovic.

Entering the EU should help the economy
Another main reason for wanting EU entry is, of course, economic –and at a difficult time.

Croatians will need to dip into their savings over the next five years if they want to maintain the lifestyle they enjoyed prior to the global financial crisis, the government says in a recently released report.

The document, prepared by the finance ministry, is an annual outline of fiscal and monetary policy affecting the Croatian economy. It covers economic trends until 2013, but with lasting impacts until 2015.

"This is the first time the government calls things by their real name, but it is not enough. Not long ago, those who mentioned these prognoses were considered 'catastrophists'", Economics Professor Luka Brkic tells SETimes.

The recovery will depend heavily on the EU economy and its impact on Croatia, the report said. Some analysts sharply disagree with that conclusion, saying that it is shifting the blame for domestic problems that require painful reform.

It is "wrong to rely on the EU and think that the recovery of the Croatian economy will depend on the EU", writes Institute for Public Finance head Katerina Ott on her website. "We should face the fact that Croatia has an uncompetitive economy and a huge public sector."

Croatia was hit hard by the global economic crisis, with the economy shrinking to 5.5% in 2009. Despite a good 2010 yield from tourism, productivity has not yet rebounded. The unemployment rate is 16.4%.

A report by Roubini Global Economics found that despite improved external demand this year, investments continue to decline sharply and consumer spending is weak. However, it sees room for hope.

"Croatia's economy should return to a positive growth rate in 2011 driven by an investment rebound, the approaching EU entry and a moderate improvement in consumer spending," the Roubini report says.

Meanwhile, ordinary citizens are feeling the pinch. "I feel like I cannot afford things easily anymore. Some things that we used to buy before, without even noticing, are more difficult to purchase today -- books, CDs, textiles," says Zeljko Matic, a Zagreb salesman. He may sell his second car to boost the family budget.

"Filling a gas tank is something you must think over. It was not like this before," Matic sighs.

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