Croatia became the 28th member of the EU at midnight on Sunday, as the capital Zagreb burst into celebration. Merkel was not present at the festivities – a move that Croatia's national press described as a “political slap in the face,” Der Spiegel news magazine said.
Citing previous engagements, she instead took to a podcast to address the situation in the Adriatic country. “There are still many more steps to take in the area of constitutionality and in the fight against corruption,” she said.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also welcomed Croatia's new EU membership, but said he had certain expectations from the nation. “Entry is not an end point but more an incentive for further steps in reform,” he told the regional Der Rheinischen Post newspaper.
Croatia has claimed its “lawful place” in the heart of Europe, EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso was quoted as saying at the celebrations. It was well prepared for the change, had already undertaken a number of important reforms and was an example for other countries in the region, he added.
Yet protest group “Occupy Croatia” has slammed the country's membership as “economic genocide” and organized a demonstration for which the turnout was reportedly poor.