The European Commission (EC) has recently approved Croatia’s entry into the Schengen zone. The decision means that the Balkan state could soon be the newest member of the EU’s border-free travel area.
In a press release published on October 25th, 2019, the EC outlined its decision, explaining that “based on the results of the Schengen evaluation process initiated in 2016, Croatia has taken the measures needed to ensure that the necessary conditions for the full application of the Schengen rules and standards are met.”
However, there are still a number of steps for the country to take in order to gain full Schengen membership. This article explains the actions the country has to take to fully join the travel area and the implications that joining Schengen will have on Croatia and the EU.
Croatia’s continued commitment to border security
The approval of the EC is just one of the many steps on the path to becoming a full member of the travel zone. Whilst this is a major breakthrough in Croatia’s ambitions to become a member of Schengen there are still a number of important phases the country will need to pass through before it joins the zone.
Since joining the EU in 2013 and applying to join Schengen in 2015 Croatia has made steady progress in implementing and applying the correct border procedures and security measures to be a part of the block.
However, in the interim between now and the final accession to Schengen, Croatia must continue, and must even increase, its commitment to having all the right formalities in place. This is going to be especially important once non-EU citizens are required to apply for an ETIAS visa waiver for Schengen from 2022 onwards.
Border security and integrity are the biggest responsibilities of Schengen membership and the EU will be monitoring carefully to see that Croatia has the staff and infrastructure to safeguard this. With the 2015 migrant crisis fresh in many nations’ minds and the implementation of ETIAS coming soon, this will be an especially critical consideration.
Additionally, the approval of Croatia into Schengen must be ratified and unanimously agreed upon by all 27 EU member states. This is likely to be contentious amongst countries like Romania and Bulgaria who have been in the EU for longer than Croatia but have not yet been granted approval to join Schengen.
Additionally, MEPs from neighbouring Slovenia have criticised the approval of Croatia into Schengen in light of an ongoing border dispute with the country and the decision being made so soon before the end of the EC’s current term. There are therefore many negotiations that will need to be had before Croatia can gain the unanimous support it needs to join Schengen.
Schengen’s newest member?
Once Croatia has been fully ratified and elevated to membership it will become the 27th member of the Schengen zone. It will then be possible for visitors travelling from fellow EU Schengen member states to enter the country without having to pass through national immigration or showing a passport.
This is also likely to have big implications for the implementation of ETIAS in 2022. As part of the Schengen Area, passport holders from visa-exempt third-nations will require an ETIAS travel authorisation to visit Croatia. The same travel authorisation can be used to visit each of the Schengen member states.
Additionally, one of the requirements of ETIAS is that applicants will need to specify their point of entry into the Schengen zone. They may also need to specify Croatia as their point of arrival into Schengen if it is their first destination in the travel area.
If Croatia is approved to join Schengen it will be the first country to do so since Lichtenstein joined the zone in 2011. The Schengen area currently comprises 26 countries. 22 of these are full EU members, whilst the other 4 are EFTA member countries which include Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland.
Croatia joining the Schengen area could have a big effect on the way people travel to the Balkans and is likely to boost the already booming tourist economy in the country. As the Schengen area grows and ETIAS programme is launched, Croatia’s entry into the free-travel area will need to be a smooth one once all the criteria are met.