Pope Benedict supports Croatia's bid to join EU

POPE Benedict XVI gave strong backing to Croatia's desire to join the European Union as he arrived in the Balkan country yesterday, but he said he understands those sceptics who fear the EU's "overly strong centralised bureaucracy".

Benedict spoke to reporters while en route to Croatia, a Roman Catholic country that his predecessor visited three times. Benedict is spending the weekend to mark the Croatian church's national family day.

Croatia is expected to learn this month or next if negotiations to join the 27-member European Union bloc can be concluded.

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Benedict said it was "logical, just and necessary" that Croatia join the EU, and that Croatians should be overjoyed to be taking their rightful place in Europe's political and institutional body, given that Croatia's entire history and culture is so strongly rooted in that of Europe.

"From its earliest days, your nation has formed part of Europe, and has contributed in its unique way to the spiritual and moral values that for centuries have shaped the daily lives and the personal and national identity of Europe's sons and daughters," Benedict said upon arrival at Zagreb's airport.

But Benedict also acknowledged that a fear or scepticism is understandable, given Croatia is a small country entering into a large, already-formed bloc.

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