Eurovision 2016 – Semi-Final 1 Results

semiqualifiersLast night the first Semi-Final of the 61st Eurovision Song Contest took place at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden. The show was opened with a performance of last’s years winning entry “Hero’s” by Måns Zelmerlöw who is also one of the hosts this year. He was joined in hosting duties by Petra Mede who also hosted the contest in Malmö in 2013. They did a great job of hosting the show. They kept it funny and moving along.

After 18 great entries, a thoughtful interval act, called the “Grey People” choreographed by Benke Rydman on the Migrant Crisis in the Middle East, The Mediterranean and around the world was perfromed and it is worth a viewing if you missed it. It will make you stop and think

After the interval act, we did get to see shots of the rehearsals for the three other countries voting tonight, France, Spain and Sweden. An interesting change to just seeing music videos.

The results were then announced. It is worth noting that the vote of one Russian Juror was disqualified after she periscoped part of the Jury Semi-Final

The qualifiers who join hosts Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom are

  • Azerbaijan
  • Russia
  • The Netherlands
  • Hungary
  • Croatia
  • Austria
  • Armenia
  • Czech Republic
  • Cyprus
  • Malta

The eagle eyed among you will notice I got 9/10 in terms of my predictions with Estonia the only one missing, Cyprus qualifying instead.

So we say goodbye to Finland, Greece, Moldova, San Marino, Estonia, Montenegro, Iceland and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is the first year that Greece has failed to qualify for the final since the introduction of the Semi-Finals in 2004.

After the show at the winners press conference as draw took place to determine which half of the show the performers would appear on Saturday. The grand final is shaping up like this:

First Half

  • Sweden (who perform 9th)
  • Azerbaijan
  • Czech Republic
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hungary
  • Italy
  • Netherlands

Second Half

  • Armenia
  • Austria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Malta
  • Russia
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom

It looks like a great show on Saturday night.

Don’t forget the Second Semi-Final will be on Thursday night at 8pm on RTÉ and BBC 4. Ireland’s Nicky Bryne will be flying the flag for Ireland and we get to vote! I’ll be on the UCC Express twitter account @UCCExpress again so do join me!


Eurovision 2016 – Semi Final 1 Preview

Its that time of year again. Eurovision is less then a month away. Its been some time since I have done a Eurovision Preview so it’s time to get back into it, especially since I got the 2016 Album on Friday and have been listening to it since!

Now I posted about the new voting system already and this will also apply to the Semi Finals, but we wont know the actual result until after the Grand Final. We will only find out the names of the 10 qualifiers who will join Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom in the Grand Final on May 14th.

So on with the show

Semi Final One takes place on Tuesday May 10th in the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm. 18 Countries will be hoping for one of the 10 qualification places for the Grand Final. Voting AND performing in this Semi will be France, Spain and Sweden. So lets look at the participants. Continue reading “Eurovision 2016 – Semi Final 1 Preview”

Eurovision 2013: Semi Final One Preview

Its that time of year again, and it nearly slipped by without me posting about it which would have been a first! The 58th Eurovision Song Contest gets underway in Malmö, Sweden. Of course the reason Sweden are hosting is thanks to the wonderful win by Loreen with that amazing song “Euphoria”, which has been the most successful commercial Eurovision entry ever! This year 39 countries are competing to win the greatest show on earth. Armenia returns to the contest after skipping Azerbaijan (for political reasons) and Bosnia & Herzegovina, Portugal, Slovakia and Turkey all take a break from the contest.

As usual the Contest is split over 3 nights. Semi-Final One takes place on Tuesday May 14th, Semi-Final Two takes place on Thursday May 16th and the Final takes place on Saturday May 18th. All the shows will be broadcast by RTÉ and the BBC, as well as the various broadcasters in Europe and further afield who broadcast the show.

There are 26 places in the final. 10 contestants from each semi-final will join the “big five” (Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom) and the host (Sweden) in the final. Ireland has been drawn to perform in the first Semi-Final.

Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom have been drawn to vote in Semi-Final 1. Lets see what we are up against. (All odds as of 06/05/2013 from

1. AustriaNatália Kelly with “Shine” Odds: 100/1

Austria open up the show with this entry. It is the first ballad of the night, but very much on the pop side of things. It is a massive improvement on last year’s entry from Trackshittaz… With her surname Kelly, Natália may pick up a few votes from Ireland (Her Grandfather is Irish), but with there being plenty of ballads in this semi-final it may be difficult for this entry to shine out and get into the final.

Prediction: Will do as most Austrian entry’s do and fail to get out of the Semi-Final, but they wont come last like they did last year.

2. Estonia: Birgit with”Et Uus Saaks Alguse” Odds: 125/1

The curse of number 2. Statically at Eurovision this is the worst position to perform at. Which is a pity. Estonia have decided to follow what worked for them and enter a ballad in Estonian. Their entry last year “Kuula” by Ott Lepland came in 6th. This song is good, but as it following a ballad and followed by an up-tempo entry it may find it hard to be remembered.

Prediction: While it won’t win the contest, it will probably qualify and as long as it avoids the “curse of number 2” at the final it should finish in the top 10.

3. Slovenia: Hannah with “Straight into Love” Odds: 100/1

Slovenia bring us the first uptempo entry of the night with this song. Definitely a song that you would not be surprised to hear on the radio and in the charts these days. I must admit I do like it, buts it isnt very memorable in comparison to what we normally hear, so it may not pick up votes.

Prediction: I think this one has a 50/50 chance of qualifying. If this gets through and Estonia does not, it will be a clear case of “curse of number 2” on Estonia!

4. Croatia: Klapa s mora with “Mižerja” Odds: 100/1

Croatia brings us back to the ballads. This is a lovely entry and the vocals are magnificent. One you can definitely close your eyes and listen to. Reminds me a little of Il Divo!

Prediction: This entry may find it hard to get out of the Semi. But I would not be surprised if it did!

5. DenmarkEmmelie de Forest with “Only Teardrops” Odds: 7/5

I know I always love the Danish entry, but this year they deserve my love, and the fans and bookies also love them as they are the pre-contest favourite. This is fantastic entry. An excellent singer, powerful song and an excellent presentation. The tin whistle and drums just really make it for me.

Prediction: This could go all the way. Definitely a contender for the top spot.

6. Russia: Dina Garipova with “What If” Odds:14/1

Russia after sending the grannies last year (who did come 2nd!) have decided this year to send a more conventional act. Dina has fantastic voice and this song (another ballad) really shows it off. While it is a ballad in a semi chock a block with them, it is one of the more memorable ones.

Prediction: Its Russia, of course they will qualify. It will probably finish in the top 10.

7. Ukraine: Zlata Ognevich with “Gravity” Odds: 4/1

Following on from last years disappointing 15th place finish, the Ukraine have decided to tone it down this year. This is a nice pop ballad. Certainly not the uptempo style we are used to from the Ukraine in recent years, but this definitely works and should see it through to the final.

Prediction: Will qualify easily and may even end up in the top 5.

8. The NetherlandsAnouk with “Birds” Odds: 20/1

The Netherlands always try to get into the final, and nearly always fails (along with Belgium), but it nevers gives up. Bless. This year may see a change in  fortunes for The Netherlands. This is one of the ballads that actually stand out (and the mother likes it). Being at the half point won’t hurt it chances either.

Prediction: It will qualify but prob end up mid-table in the final.

9. Montenegro: Who See with “Igranka” Odds: 200/1

Montenegro continue to educate on the type of music that is in the Balkans. But I think like last year this won’t get very far. It is not a novelty act but it is certainly the point where I will be going to put the kettle on….

Prediction: If this qualifies there is something strange going on!

10. Lithuania: Andrius Pojavis with “Something” Odds: 100/1

Be careful with this one. Andrius can hypnotise you with his eyebrows! Seriously watch the video… But back to the song, its a fairly lacklustre effort that really does not go anywhere.

Prediction: Won’t qualify unless most of Europe is hypnotised by those eyebrows!

11. Belarus: Alyona Lanskaya with “Solayoh” Odds: 50/1

Now this sounds like a number of Eurovision Winners mashed together! This seems to have a Mediterranean feel to it, despite Belarus being no where near it! It certainly is different from its recent entries. Belarus failed to qualify last year, and it normally does, so I think that may be a blip in its record and this will bring it back to form.

Prediction: With Russia in this Semi Belarus is assured of qualification and if in the final will has a respectable finish.

12. Moldova: Aliona Moon with “O Mie” Odds: 80/1

And we are back to the Ballads. Moldova has this entry in English and Romanian. And while there is no denying Aliona is a good singer, I dont see this one going far.

Prediction: It will Qualify. Just. Finish near the end of the table

13. Ireland: Ryan Dolan with “Only Love Survives” Odds: 25/1

After inflicting Jedward on Europe for the past two years, we decided to give them a pass and this and decided to send Ryan Dolan (Son of Joe). This is one of the catchier entries we have sent and is stronger then the two songs we sent Jedward off with. I like it and as it is one of the more uptempo tunes, sandwiched between two ballads it will do well.

Prediction: Ryan will qualify and will possible finish in the top 10.

14. Cyprus: Despina Olympiou with “An Me Thimasai” Odds: 150/1

Yet another Ballad! There is a point when you can’t listen to them anymore (no matter how much you love Eurovision!). This is a nice entry from the Cypriots but they have done better in the past (like last year!)

Prediction: No Greece, so no Qualification.

15. Belgium: Roberto Bellarosa with “Love Kills” Odds: 200/1

Belgium really does try, it does. But like its neighbour The Netherlands it never really gets there. This is another good entry from the Belgians, but its middle of the road Pop, which could have been sung by Take That back in the day.

Prediction: With the Netherlands having a stronger entry, this won’t qualify.

16. Serbia: Moje 3 with “Ljubav Je Svuda” Odds: 66/1

Serbia ends Semi-Final One with this uptempo entry. Serbia always manage to find a song that will qualify and this year is no different. It will definitely retain its title as one of the most successful new entries to Eurovision.

Prediction: Serbia will Qualify, come on, do you even watch Eurovision? But this will finish mid-table.

So that is Estonia, Slovenia, Croatia Denmark, Russia, Ukraine, The Netherlands, Belarus, Ireland and Serbia to qualify.

Semi-Final one gets under way Tuesday 14th May at 8pm on RTÉ 2 and BBC 3.


The 2013 Eurovision Handbook

Adrian Kavanagh and Johnny Fallon have published the “The 2013 Eurovision Handbook” for Kindle available on Amazon.

We all have opinions as to what we like and don’t like from a Eurovision song, but it becomes absolutely fascinating to watch and predict voting patterns and the cultural shifts and preferences across different regions. It always adds to any Eurovision party if you can throw some history and light on an entry, it shows it to be much more than just a song looking for votes. Doing well at the contest is no mean feat.
This book aims to arm you with all you need to know about the 2013 contestants, what’s hot, what’s not, what’s mad and just why statistics play such a vital supporting role for any nations prospects. Adrian Kavanagh is one of the greatest minds there is for calculating statistics and assessing vote patterns, this material is drawn from his vast array of research. So please, with our help, feel free to amaze your friends with your Eurovision knowledge. I will always love the Eurovision Song Contest, it places politics, geography, society and voting against a background of all types of music. It is fun, but as you will see in the following pages it has lessons to offer if you know where to look.

All the proceeds from the sales go to the Irish Cancer Society. So do go buy it!

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Eurovision 2012: Semi-Final Two Preview

Welcome to the Preview for the Second Semi-Final of the Eurovision Song Contest, if you missed Semi 1 it’s here! I will of course be making a prediction, which will most likely be wrong!

This year the 57th Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Baku, Azerbaijan. 42 countries will be taking part. Montenegro returns this year to the competition while Poland and Armenia wont be taking part.

10 countries from each of the Semi-finals will proceed to the Final and join the five automatic qualifiers, the Big Four (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom) and last years winners and this year’s host Azerbaijan.

The voting will be again be by a combination of Televoting and Professional Jury.

The First Semi Final will take place on the 22nd of May, followed by the Second Semi Final on the 24th of May and the final taking place on May 26th. All shows start at 8:00pm GMT (9:00pm CET)

Ireland has been drawn in the First Semi-Final. France, Germany and United Kingdom will also be voting in this Semi-Final.

All the betting odds are from and are correct as of April 30th.

So on with the show!

01 Serbia: Željko Joksimović with “Nije ljubav stvar” (Love is not an object)

This is Željko 2nd attempt at Eurovision, having represented Serbia and Montenegro (as it was then known) where he came 2nd in 2004 with “Lane Moje“. This is a powerful song and definitely has the chance of doing well. It will be a top ten finisher, but will it win? I dont think so. Odds: 12/1

02 F.Y.R. Macedonia: Kaliopi with “Crno i belo” (Black and white)

We stay in the Balkans for the next entry, this starts off slow, but then really gets going. Lots of musical influences at play here with Kaliopi who is well known around the Balkans and could bode well for the voting, but can’t see her picking up too many votes outside of the Balkans. Odds:125/1

03 Netherlands: Joan Franka with “You and Me”

This is a happy, feel good song of Eurovision of old. The Netherlands hasn’t havent had the best results of late at Eurovision and I don’t think this year will be different with Joan. It is a nice song, but will the televoters like it? This could be rescued by the Jurors. Odds 50/1

04 Malta: Kurt Calleja with “This Is the Night”

Malta keeps up its tradition of sending modern songs. This is a better entry then some of the previous entries, but it isn’t as good as some of the entries,but it is catchy (ye eh eh eh eh). Kurt has a chance of qualifying I think. Odds: 150/1

05 Belarus: Litesound with “We Are the Heroes”

Litesound, whos members hail from Belarus, Russia and Italy, finally managed to win the right to represent Belarus this year. They have entered a bit of a pop/rock tune. Its not that great (needs autotune!) or memorable, could struggle to get out of the Semi. Odds: 100/1

06 Portugal: Filipa Sousa with “Vida minha” (Life of mine)

Portugal again attempts to do something different and this year has entered a ballad in the Portuguese “Fado” style. While there is no doubt that Filipa is an amazing singer, but it will have to depend a lot on stage presentation to get through. Odds 150/1

07 Ukraine: Gaitana with “Be My Guest”

The Ukraine likes to send strong women to Eurovision and this year is no different with Gaitana. This is a upbeat catchy song which will definately be heard in clubs! This will go down well in the hall, if the stage presentation is as upbeat and powerful as the song. One to watch. Odds: 66/1

08 Bulgaria: Sofi Marinova with “Love Unlimited”

A number of countries tried out dance songs last year and this year Bulgaria is trying out one. Love Unlimited is certainly a song you can dance too, but is it what Eurovision audiences want? Odds: 100/1

09 Slovenia: Eva Boto with “Verjamem” (I believe)

At the half way point is Slovenia, who have entered a Ballad. Eva has a beautiful voice and it perfectly suits this haunting song. This could be one to surprise us if it gets to the final. Odds: 50/1

10 Croatia: Nina Badrić with “Nebo” (Heaven)

Croatia this year sent one of the top performers in Croatia to Baku, and it has paid off. Nina has a wonderful song which will win people over. This is a song you should listen to ahead of the show! Odds: 80/1

11 Sweden: Loreen with “Euphoria”

Sweden, who were pipped at the post last year, are back with a vengeance! It is this year’s pre-contest favourite, which can be the kiss of death! But I think Loreen could pull it off. It is a song that ticks all the boxes and is definitely a possible winner! (Yes im typing while bopping around to it!) Odds: 9/4

12 Georgia: Anri Jokhadze with “I’m a Joker”

This is, erm, different. But it is a bit of fun at the end of the day. It wouldn’t be Eurovision without it! Interestingly Anri is the first male performer to represent Georgia! Im looking forward to see what he will do on stage with this! Odds: 125/1

13 Turkey: Can Bonomo with “Love Me Back”

There is no doubt of the Mediterranean influence on this song! Turkey have remember why they have done well in the past and sent Can Bonomo, a DJ, Producer and musician. This is a song that will be remembered and will certainly qualify! Odds 20/1

14 Estonia: Ott Lepland with “Kuula” (Listen)

Ott who won Estonian Idol in 2009; the lead role in High School Musical in 2010; the show Laulupealinn (Singing Capital) in 2011 and of course Eesti Laul, the Estonian national selection. He is hoping to add the Eurovision Song Contest to this list with this very powerful ballad. It stands out as being the only male ballad so far. He also wrote this song himself. He will do well! Odds: 50/1

15 Slovakia: Max Jason Mai with “Don’t Close Your Eyes”

Max is a bit of hotty, in the rocky kinda way! Max who is also a guitarist brings proper rock music to Eurovision this year. He reminds me a bit of Jon Bon Jovi! Its a good song and better then some of the other rock offerings we have had this year. Odds 100/1

16 Norway: Tooji with “Stay”

Tooji is Norway’s answer to Eric Saade, but with Iranian roots! (Read total ride) This is a good song, which Norway has managed to do over the past few years. But this is one of their best entries in a number of years. Odds: 25/1

17 Bosnia & Herzegovina: Maya Sar with “Korake ti znam” (I know your steps)

And Bosnia sends another ballad. It is a lovely song and it is better then some of the other ballads this year. Maya is a fantastic singer, and will most likely own the stage in Baku. Odds 80/1

18 Lithuania: Donny Montell with “Love Is Blind”

I wonder will he wear the blind fold in Baku, it does work and he is very cute! But the song is only so-so. But it may still get through!  Odds 100/1

So that is all the entries for the Second Semi-Final.


So who will get through to the final? Some of it easy to guess, some of it not! So in no particular order,

  1. Sweden
  2. Norway
  3. Ukraine
  4. Turkey
  5. Serbia
  6. Slovenia
  7. Estonia
  8. Croatia
  9. Lithuania
  10. The Netherlands.

What do you think?

Croatia to be the 28th EU Memeber State?

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A meeting of the EU-Croatia Joint Parliamentary Committee has concluded that,

“Croatian Accession negotiations can be concluded in the first half of 2011 provided that Croatia meets all the outstanding closing benchmarks in the remaining chapters.”

Swedish EPP MEP, who co-chairs the EU-Croatia Joint Parliamentary Committee stressed the importance to the Balkans of Croatia joining the EU.

“Both for the EU and for the region, it is important that the conditionality linked to a credible EU enlargement process remains a strong incentive for reform. In this sense, the Croatian case is very important for regional dynamics because it can swing the doors wide open for the rest of the region. The goal is to have mutually cooperating countries of the Western Balkans inside the EU. We also expect that Croatia, as a Member State, will be actively contributing to EU policy in the region.”

“A credible enlargement also means Croatia has to be fully prepared for membership. Since our last meeting, the country has substantially advanced in EU negotiations and the end is in sight. It is now very important that Croatia engages all its reform potential in order to make sure that there are no hesitations left in anybody’s mind when the time comes to say yes to EU accession.”

Currently 34 (out of 35) accession chapters have been opened for negotiations between the EU and Croatia, and 25 chapters have been provisionally closed. So Croatia is making good speed on implementing the acquis communautaire of the EU.

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Montenegro now a Candidate Country for EU Membership

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The European Commission has decided to add Montenegro to the list of Candidate Countries. In an opinion issued on the 9th of November the Commission stated:

On Montenegro, the Commission concluded that Montenegro is ready to become a candidate country to EU membership, while further reforms are needed in a number of key areas, as set out in the opinion, before the country is ready to start accession negotiations.

Montenegro still has criteria to meet under a few headings, Political Criteria, Economic Criteria and EU Legislation.

Political Criteria

Montenegro needs to address the following:

  • The effectiveness of anti-discrimination policies,
  • Freedom of expression,
  • Government relations with civil society
  • The situation of displaced persons from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Economic Criteria

In this area Montenegro needs to

needs to further address internal and external unbalances, as well as weaknesses, notably in the financial sector and the functioning of labour markets. To be able to cope in the medium term with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union, Montenegro needs to continue implementing reforms and reducing structural weaknesses.

EU Legislation

In this area Montenegro needs to work on the following areas to align them with EU Legislation and Rules,

  • freedom of movement for workers, services and capital,
  • public procurement,
  • competition,
  • services,
  • information society and media,
  • transport policy,
  • energy,
  • economic and monetary policy,
  • consumer and Health Protection.

With this, Montenegro joins Croatia, Iceland, FYR Macedonia and Turkey as Candidate Countries.

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Member of the European Commission, responsible for Enlargement

Member of the European Commission, responsible for Enlargement Challenges and opportunities on the path to the European Union Lecture at the University of Osijek, Croatia. Faculty of Economy, Osijek, 1 December 2006

Lecture at the University of Osijek, Croatia. Faculty of Economy
Osijek, 1 December 2006

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As a former scholar and university lecturer, it is a particular honour for me to address this audience of the Economic Faculty of the University of Osijek. I am delighted to have the opportunity to discuss the challenges and opportunities Croatia will face on its path to the European Union. I would like to extend warm thanks to the Dean of the University, Professor Kralik, and the Faculty of Economy for hosting this event.

Being among so many young Croatians it strikes me that you, I am convinced, will be the first generation from Croatia who will live the great majority of your lives as citizens of the European Union. Most of you were born before the war which affected this region deeply. You were born in a peaceful country but grew up in a country in war. Therefore, unlike many students in the EU who take peace for granted, you know the price and value of peace and stability.

This is first and foremost what the EU is about. The EU is based on common values and a common purpose, a future of peace and prosperity. The EU is a way of working whereby confrontation is replaced by dialogue and conflicts by compromise.

This is also why reconciliation, at the heart of the European project, is so important. And it must start at schools and university, with respect and promotion of all minority rights, for all citizens, irrespective of their origin.

Against this background, it is clear that the European unification process cannot be complete without Croatia and its regional neighbours as members. Croatia is the front runner in our enlargement agenda.

EU enlargement sealed the peaceful reunification of Western and Central Europe. The accession to the EU of 10 new Member states in 2004 has been a great success. In the new Member States, there were numerous fears and worries before 1 May 2004 (farmers would not be able to adjust, SMEs would not be able to compete, national identity would be diluted, traditions lost).

But there have been no major difficulties and overall strong support to EU integration has been reaffirmed. Economies are growing faster, farmers are benefiting from significant EU support and rather than having lost cultural identity, there is the clear perception of an increase in self-esteem.

The internal market has liberalised European economies and created the biggest economic area in the world, reaching 500 million once Bulgaria and Romania have joined our European family in January 2007. Economically enlargement has been a win-win process for both old and new Member States alike, boosting growth and creating new jobs in the European economy.

Nevertheless, in the EU voices have been raised calling for a pause to enlargement. There are those who have concerns about issues such as the effect on the labour market or the costs for the present Member Sates.

It is in this context that the Commission President José Manuel Barroso clarified recently that a new institutional settlement should have been born by the time the next member is going to join the Union.

That is why the EU will address the question of integration capacity while pursuing the enlargement process. The Commission tabled its views recently. We need to reform EU institutions and policies, while taking account of the budgetary dimension, and to ensure good preparation of candidates (hence the application of strict conditionality). While we are cautious about any new commitments, we stick to our existing commitments – keeping one’s word is a fundamental European principle.

Therefore, we need to build a new consensus on enlargement, which recognises the strategic added value of enlargement while ensuring the Union’s capacity to function. The challenge for the EU is to improve the functioning capacity of the current EU now, not only the more abstract absorption capacity in distant future. That’s why the EU needs to work for economic and political revival, and not make enlargement the scapegoat for domestic failures.

While we prepare internally for a new institutional settlement, the gradual and carefully managed accession process with Croatia moves on. With negotiations underway, as things stand, Croatia should become the 28th Member State of the EU. The preparations ahead will be tough, but the efforts to be made are not only for the sake of joining the Union, but for the good of the country as a whole.

Negotiations have got off to a good start. Technical preparations are proceeding according to plan. In October 2006 the first stage of negotiations, the so-called screening process, was completed.

So far, one negotiating “chapter” has been opened and provisionally closed (science and research). For six chapters the EU has set ‘opening benchmarks’, conditions which have to be met before negotiations on these chapters can begin. Croatia is working towards fulfilling them (competition, public procurement, social policy, justice freedom and security, free movement of capital, free movement of goods).

The EU has requested and received from Croatia negotiating positions on six other chapters, and the EU’s positions are being prepared. In fact, the Commission yesterday submitted its proposal on 2 of these to the Member States. Decisions on whether to propose the opening of negotiations on other chapters will also be taken soon.

Negotiations will proceed on the basis of Croatia’s own merits and its ability to meet all the requirements for membership.

The membership conditions are well known. Alignment with EU rules needs to continue. The capacity to implement and enforce rules has to be reinforced. These are not arbitrary requirements. They reflect sound principles that any country, determined to face the future with confidence, would want to display. They reflect sensible policies that any country, determined to deliver prosperity and stability to its citizens, would want to adopt.

Take competition policy and state aid for example, where there is extensive Community competence and where the EU has set certain benchmarks Croatia has to meet before negotiations on this chapter can open. I was surprised to discover that Croatia spends a greater percentage of its national wealth on state aid to companies than any EU country!

Under its competition rules, the Commission does not ban state aid, but it does provide a framework for a more efficient and impartial allocation of taxpayers’ money. It creates a level playing field which encourages healthy and fair competition.

After all, taxpayers do not want their money used to give one company an unfair advantage over another. They want resources efficiently targeted to maximise the creation of more wealth and jobs. This is what competition rules are for.

Another chapter of the negotiations on which Croatia needs to meet opening benchmarks concerns public procurement. Here too, we have a framework that allows for more efficient allocation of resources. Good public procurement rules are essential if citizens are to get value for money. The current rules in Croatia do not guarantee this.

There are a number of other chapters of the negotiations which will pose particular challenges, whether in the field of environment, justice and home affairs, food safety, or agriculture to name but a few.

But nobody said accession would be easy. It is a process which all acceding Member States, have had to go through. And they do it because it is in their long-term interest.

I should recall that negotiations are not about whether a candidate country will adopt the EU legislation. The rules of the club have indeed to be accepted. Negotiations are about determining how and when this will happen. This will also be the case for Croatia.

Only with constant, intensive work by the Croatian authorities on legislative alignment, the building up of administrative capacity and correct enforcement, will the negotiations be able to proceed at a good pace.

With negotiations underway, the focus in Croatia increasingly turns to sectoral issues under the acquis chapters.

However, it is crucial not to neglect the key outstanding issues under the political criteria such as: the rights of minorities, refugee return, impartial prosecution of war crimes trials, as well as regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations.

The progress you make in these areas will make Croatia a leading example for the whole region. It will also smooth the ratification of the future Accession Treaty by EU parliaments and citizens.

There are three cross-cutting issues I would like to mention which present particular challenges for Croatia. There are judicial reform, public administration reform and fighting corruption and organised crime. I had the opportunity to address these issues yesterday in Zagreb at a conference organised together with the Croatian Supreme Court. These are issues of critical importance which need to be tackled early in the process.

The EU can only function properly when the rule of law applies. That is why more progress in Croatia on these cross-cutting issues is essential. This is first and foremost in order to improve the everyday lives of all Croatian citizens by guaranteeing their rights, and ensuring that justice prevails.

But these reforms are also necessary if Croatia is to fully benefit from EU policies as a Member State and adequately apply EU law. Deficiencies in these areas can have a knock-on effect on economic issues, as they hamper the development of the private sector, foreign investment, and enforcement of property and creditor rights.

On the economy, Croatia needs to consolidate its market economy status. It has to prepare itself to cope with the competitive pressures of the Union. It has to attract more foreign investment. Croatia has already achieved a lot. Its macroeconomic policies have contributed to relatively low inflation and a stable exchange rate, and significant budget and current account deficits have been reduced. So there are solid foundations to build on.

The challenges are nevertheless many. But tackling the shortcomings is an investment for the future. The whole accession process galvanises reform efforts which in turn generate new opportunities.

The EU also helps in this process through one of its most important policies: its regional policy. Already Croatia benefits from millions of Euros of pre-accession funds.

After accession, poorer regions stand to benefit far more from the structural and regional funds. These funds make up more than 40% of the total EU budget and are targeted at the Union’s less prosperous regions. Regions such as Eastern Slavonia should be generously supported from the EU’s regional policy. Infrastructure projects and investments in human capital will promote economic activity creating jobs and improving quality of life.

Let me take advantage of being in the premises of the University, with an audience of young people, students, who are the future of this country, to stress other important multiple opportunities that enlargement will represent for you and your future. This will not only enable you to live in a peaceful and stable environment, but will also contribute to the widening of your cultural horizons, language skills and professional prospects. Many of you will go on to work for companies making their living from the EU’s huge single market.

Many young people would like to go abroad at some stage during their time of study. A year studying abroad gives the opportunity to achieve knowledge not only in your area of academic interest, but also knowledge about the way of living in another country.

Many Croatian students have participated in the Tempus programme that supports projects between the EU and Croatian higher education institutions. After accession, these opportunities, will multiply, with the successors to Community programmes such as Erasmus, Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci or Youth. These aim to promote the European dimension for education encouraging trans-national co-operation between universities, preparing labour for the rapid technological changes and so on.

If the accession process is to succeed, access to information about the facts, the challenges as well as the opportunities is crucial. The public is a key actor, not just an observer. When the time comes for the Croatian people to make the fundamental choice about their future, they should be fully informed about the implications of EU membership.

Students and other young people have a special role here. You have a thirst for knowledge. Play your part by discussing and debating the challenges and opportunities the accession process presents. Work for your country, promote your country abroad, help the development of its enterprises in the internal market. This would be my message to the young generation. Your educational institutions and civil society actors also have their role to play.

Our common objective remains clear: Croatia as a full member of the European Union, fully sharing our values, enriching the Union with its culture and traditions, and enjoying the mutual benefits of closer integration.

A lot has been achieved already. Croatia has come a long way in a short period of time. And you can be proud of your achievements. But difficult challenges and a lot of hard work still lie ahead. I can assure you that the Commission for its part will continue to assist Croatia in this process.

And when this process ends, and Croatia takes its rightful place at the heart of the European family, then not just Croatians, but all Europe’s citizens will have reason to celebrate.