PARIS, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- France said this week it still backs Croatia's bid for a 2013 accession to the European Union despite misgivings from leaders of the German Parliament.
A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said Monday Paris remains committed to Croatia becoming the EU's 28th member next year even as some German political leaders warned against the bloc's expansion at a time of economic turmoil.
"France's position regarding Croatia's accession is well known: It supports the principle of an accession that should take effect on July 1, 2013," the spokesman said, stressing that France also generally supports the EU integration of the economically weak western Balkans nations.
But, he added, France understands German concerns over wanting to stabilize the finances of current EU members such as Spain and Greece, which are facing debt crises, before allowing more financially strapped Eastern European countries to join.
"France is keen to ensure that the accession of new members will not have a negative impact on the stabilization and strengthening of the (EU)," he said, asserting Paris is more concerned with making sure new members meet the strict requirements laid down by Brussels rather than adhering to "a political calendar."
Norbert Lammert, president of the Bundestag -- Germany's lower house of Parliament -- caused a controversy last week when he told the daily newspaper Saarbrueckener Zeitung Croatia's accession should be put on hold, saying, "At the moment Croatia is not ready for EU entry."
Zagreb shouldn't count on the July 1, 2013, accession date, he warned.
Bundestag European Affairs Committee Chairman Gunther Krichbaum -- like Lammert a member of the ruling center-right Christian Democratic Union Party -- also expressed skepticism about the planned date.
"At present, the country is not ready for accession," he told the newspaper. "Unless significant efforts and progress are made, there will be difficulties in the process of ratification in national parliaments, and not only in Germany."
More than half of the EU member nations have already ratified Croatia's accession.
The comments came shortly after the European Commission released a mixed report on the social and economic reforms being instituted by Croatia to meet the EU's standards, citing steady but slow progress on improving the rule of law and fighting organized crime and corruption.
The French Foreign Ministry spokesman pointed out a final monitoring report will come out in spring.
"France will make sure that Croatia fulfills, by July 1, 2013, all the conditions required to become a member state of the EU," he said.
Josip Leko, speaker of the Croatian Parliament, wouldn't comment directly on the German lawmakers' doubts, but told the Croatian news agency Hina his country is fulfilling its EU obligations.
He said had been assured by EU Ambassador to Croatia Paul Vandoren the country will have a chance to meet the last set of requirements before the final monitoring report is issued.
"It is our duty to work committedly and meet the remaining obligations," Leko said.
Opposition German political parties, meanwhile, were vocal in their disapproval of the idea of delaying Croatia's EU accession.
Hans-Peter Friedrich, the Socialist minister for European affairs of the federal state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, told Spiegel Online the CDU leaders were off-base in their reservations.
"Whoever calls Croatia's entry into question believes that the European Union is incapable of making peace in Europe in the future," he said. "This is the most mistaken understanding of the award of the Nobel Prize for Peace to the European Union."
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