Croatia has received the green light from the European Commission to join the bloc's passport-free Schengen area.
The European Commission made announced the decision on Tuesday, however, it is only a technical assessment of Croatia’s readiness to join the Schengen area and the European Council still needs to sign off on Croatia's accession.
“The European Commission considers 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," the European Commission said in a statement.
It further said that, "Croatia will need to continue working on the implementation of all ongoing actions, in particular its management of the external borders, to ensure that these conditions continue to be met."
Speaking at a press briefing, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said Schengen was one of the greatest and most tangible achievements of European integration.
"We consider that Croatia has taken the measures needed to ensure that the necessary conditions are met. It is now for the Council to decide unanimously on Croatia’s accession to the Schengen area of free movement," Avramopolous said.
He further stated Croatia will needed to continue working on the implementation of all ongoing actions, in particular its management of the external borders, to ensure that these conditions continue to be met.
The Commission's evaluation is important but the decision is still a political one left up to the member states. Bulgaria and Romania received the green light in 2011, but still do not have the support of all member states necessary to enter the club. Croatia faces the added obstacle of Slovenia's threat to block its accession over the two countries’ border dispute. Avramopoulos was asked about this during today's briefing.
"As I said before, I understand concerns exist. But our message and our assessment today is very clear and it is based on a very long and objective process of monitoring and evaluating the whole case. Let me also say, that the technical criteria for joining Shchengen are the same for all countries. It is now up to the council to take forward our assessment,” he said.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, speaking at a press conference in Strasburg, said Croatia had achieved a major goal, but would not speculate on an accession date.
"I don't want to speculate about a precise date, because we've done a good job in achieving the goal we set for ourselves. We did it well, thoroughly, and successfully. Had we not, all the people who make this assessment with such extreme attention to detail and microscopic precision would not have given us such positive marks. As far as the pace this will take from here on, we will talk to all the member states. We will be taking over the presidency of the Council of the European Union in two months. The practice has been that such major decisions that affect the presiding member state are not usually made during that period, so that is unrealistic, and given that Bulgaria and Romania are already in the waiting room, I would not speculate on a date. However, we will work on doing what we believe we are prepared to do."
In the statement issued by the Commission, its outgoing President Jean Claude Juncker was quoted as saying, "I commend Croatia for its efforts and perseverance to meet all the necessary conditions to join Schengen. It is only through being united and standing together that we can ensure a stronger Schengen area. Sharing the achievement of Schengen must be our common objective. This is why I trust that Member States will take the right steps for Croatia to become a full Schengen member soon."
In order to join the Schengen area, a member state must prove that it is capable of taking on responsibility for control of the bloc's external border on behalf of the other member states within the area. It must be capable of issuing short-term visas to visitors, effectively cooperating with other Schengen member states, and applying the Schengen rules related to control of the border on land, at sea, and in airports. Schengen member states are subject to regular controls to monitor their compliance with these rules and standards.