Ireland helps Croatia to join to EU

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern on Tuesday pledged to helpMinister Bertie Ahern in its drive for membership in the European Union with the kind of know-how that elevated Ireland among the wealthiest countries in Europe. Croatia was given the green light to start accession negotiations with the EU on Oct. 3 after lengthy delays due to its patchy record of cooperation with the U.N war crimes tribunal.

However, the Balkan country is now keen to swiftly align itself with Western standards, particularly economically.

"We have been a strong and consistent supporter of Croatia's objective of EU membership," Ahern told reporters in the capital Zagreb after a meeting with his Croatian counterpart, Ivo Sanader. "Wherever we can help in the process of enlargement, wherever we can give our experiences, our use of structural funds and the kind of changes that we have had to make in our reform efforts, we are prepared to do that," Ahern added.

Ireland chaired the EU presidency when Croatia was granted candidacy status and the Irish premier lauded the bloc's decision to officially open entry talks with the former Yugoslav republic, saying it had "also led to positive developments in other countries in the region and their aspirations of eventual EU membership."

While accepting that a small country often has to cede some of its sovereignty and submit to tough competition, Ahern said the positive aspects of membership far outweigh the negative.

"At the end of the day, if you look at Ireland ... our position was high unemployment, high inflation, no investment. Overall, it was a hugely positive experience," he said. Croatia hopes to complete negotiations with the EU within two years and join the bloc by 2009, reports the AP. N.U.

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