Lib Dem Euro MP Phil Bennion has welcomed Croatia becoming the 28th member state of the European Union this week as a victory for the British vision of a wider Europe.

Croatia mapPhil Bennion spoke out as the first Croatian MEPs took their seats in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, after the country's formal accession on July 1st, after many years of negotiations.

Phil said: "It is great news that Croatia has finally joined the European Union, a project which Liberals across Europe and in Croatia have long been working for.

"Joining the EU will cement a democratic future for this beautiful country, which over one million Brits visited last year.

"We must not forget that this new nation was still at war with Serbia just 18 years ago. This is good news for trade and tourism but most importantly for peace and democracy.

"It is also important to remember that expanding the European Union from a small Western European club has long been a cross-party British objective.

"Margaret Thatcher went out of her way to encourage former communist countries to join the EU in the 1980s and she was right.

"Today is a victory for democrats in Croatia but also for British foreign policy and our vision of a wider Europe.

"I hope that Serbia and the other former Yugoslavian countries will join the EU soon as well โ€“ after meeting the requirements for democracy and human rights that all member states must pass. In this continuing Balkan peace process, Croatia has a vital bridge-building role."

ENDS

Note: Croatia formally became the 28th member state of the European Union on Monday July 1st.

The Alliance of Liberal Democrats (ALDE) group which includes the UK Lib Dems has three member parties in Croatia. The Croatian People's Party (HNS) and the Istrian Democrat Assembly (IDS) are both members in Croatia's coalition government while the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) is in the opposition.