Accession is also of great symbolic importance to Croatia, bringing to a close its painful post-Communist era, during which it suffered economic collapse, fought a bloody war for independence from Yugoslavia, and became embroiled in the Bosnian conflict.
Croatia is only the second former Yugoslav state to join the EU, after Slovenia, which joined in 2004. Slovenia and Croatia were the two most affluent nations in Yugoslavia, but the former only suffered a brief ten-day war of independence in 1992.
While Croatia prepares to join the EU club of liberal democratic nations, most of its neighbors remain stuck in the slow lane towards membership. In December, EU members voted against starting accession talks with Serbia, which now looks unlikely to join this decade. Bosnia, hopelessly politically divided, is even further from membership, as is Albania. Even tiny Montenegro, a relative success story, is several years from joining.
Given the practical and symbolic benefits of entry to the EU, Croats' lack of enthusiasm for membership – and the existence of a sizable, vocal minority that is vehemently opposed – may seem strange.
One reason is the political and economic malaise afflicting the EU and the euro. Many Croats feel uncertain about the EU’s direction and its future. Accession will put Croatia on track to adopt the troubled euro, although not until 2015 or later.