EU to warn Croatia on fisheries zone

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union will step up pressure on Croatia on Monday not to apply a protected fisheries zone to its EU neighbors, diplomats said on Friday.

The ecological and fisheries zone came into force on January 1, excluding fishing vessels from Slovenia, which holds the EU presidency, and Italy from Croatian waters. So far Croatia has done nothing to enforce the zone, aimed at preserving fish stocks and limiting pollution.

EU foreign ministers will stop short of suspending part of Zagreb’s accession negotiations but make clear they are keeping the issue under close review and ask the European Commission to report back to them at a forthcoming meeting.

“The Council recalls its conclusions of December 2007 calling on Croatia to fully respect the agreement of June 4, 2004, and not apply any aspect of the ecological and fisheries zone to European Union member states until a common agreement in the EU spirit is found,” a presidency source quoted the statement as saying.

“The Council calls again on Croatia to live up to its commitments,” ministers will say, asking the Commission to hold further talks with Zagreb and report back.

Croatian President Stjepan Mesic this week challenged the government of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader to choose between the fisheries zone and the country’s European future.

“It is high time we chose -- ZERP (the zone) or the EU,” Mesic said. “We can say we’ll enforce the zone and we are not interested in the EU. But if that’s what we want, someone needs to come out and say so openly.”

The Croatian government has called for talks with Slovenia, Italy and the EU but set no date for a meeting.

reporting by Paul Taylor and David Brunnstrom, editing by Matthew Jones