The signing of the Accession Treaty is a historic moment for Croatia and for the European Union. It is also a timely reminder of the basic rationale of EU integration: that together, in an integrated Europe, we are better able to face the challenges of the 21st century.
On this occasion, I would like to congratulate the Croatian citizens and all those that have made this success possible. I would like to pay a particular tribute to the work accomplished by the Croatian governments, supported by a strong cross-party consensus on the goal of EU integration. Croatia is now a different country to the one that applied for EU membership nearly a decade ago. It is a Croatia where the transformative power of the enlargement process can be clearly seen: from strengthened democracy and rule of law, to more competitive economy and EU-aligned standards in many areas. These changes are of direct benefit to Croatian citizens.
During a rigorous and thorough negotiating process, Croatia has demonstrated that it is able to meet the criteria for EU membership and that it will be ready to become an EU Member State on 1st July 2013. I look forward to continued close cooperation with Croatia on this last stretch before joining the Union. This will be an important period to complete the remaining preparations.
But the enlargement process is not just about aligning legislation to the EU laws and regulations. Above all it is about changing society, about accepting the values on which our Union is based. The accession of Croatia proves the credibility of this policy and shows the way to the other countries of the region. It shows that with hard work and concrete achievements the benefits of European integration are within their reach. I count on Croatia as a future EU member to give new impetus to the enlargement process in the region and to assist the countries there to advance towards EU integration.
This will complete the great achievement we are celebrating today.