UK
01/07/2013 10:54 BST

Croatia Joins European Union, Becomes 28th Member

Just 20 years after a bloody civil war, Croatia is celebrating becoming the 28th member of the European Union to the sound of Beethoven's Ode To Joy, crackling fireworks and noisy street parties, but joining at one of the most torrid times in the institution's history.

The central European country, which has a population of just 4.2m, is the latest to join the EU after Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. It will be the EU's third poorest nation.

European council president Herman Van Rompuy told crowds in the capital, Zagreb: "As midnight struck, your country crossed an important threshold. It will change the life of this nation for good."

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Croatians wave an EU flag as they celebrate the accession of Croatia to the European Union at Ban Jelesic Square in Zagreb

Croatian president Ivo Josipovic said: "In the history of a nation, there are a few events such as this one. The accession of Croatia to the EU is confirmation that each one of us belongs to the European democratic and cultural set of values."

The small Balkan nation suffered years of bloodshed and bitterness after declaring independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, in a war that killed over 120,000 people, 20,000 of them in Croatia.

But now, the country is one of Europe's most popular holiday destinations. The coastal city of Dubrovnik was decimated in the war of the 1990s, but is now enjoying a renaissance as a tourist and cultural hotspot and a destination for Game Of Thrones fans touring the historic sites used as locations in the HBO series.

"Croatia’s accession to the European Union is largely symbolic: given the length of the accession process and numerous transformations over the years, Croatians will not see any spectacular changes," Sasa Pekec, associate professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business told HuffPost UK.

"In fact, a prevailing sentiment is that Croatia has always been part of Europe, so July 1 is just a rubber-stamping of an obvious fact.

|However, the impact of July 1 is not just pragmatic. Croatia joining the EU at this particular moment reminds all Europeans why the idea of the European Union is still very appealing: we share common civilisational values and a desire for peace and understanding across our nations and cultures."

The UK's Foreign Minister William Hague tweeted his congratulations.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is travelling to Zagreb Monday evening to attend a dinner celebrating the accession.

Clegg said: "On behalf of the UK, I offer sincere congratulations to the people of the Republic of Croatia on the historic occasion of their accession to the European Union as its 28th Member State.

"The UK looks forward to working together with Croatia as partners in the EU, as we already do through our partnership in Nato.

"Croatia's EU membership offers both countries an unparalleled opportunity to forge stronger links. We look forward to expanding further our commercial and political relationship, both at the EU level and bilaterally.

"Croatia's accession demonstrates clearly for her neighbours the transformative power of EU enlargement which, when matched with the political will and perseverance that the Croatian people have shown, can deliver impressive change and benefits.

"We look forward to working together with Croatia to help support the European perspectives of all of the countries of the western Balkans and for Turkey."

To celebrate the newest member of the European Union, here are ten obscure facts about Croatia.