European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker said he wanted the Commission to give Croatia the green light to join Europe's passport free zone by the end of its mandate.
Speaking during a visit to Zagreb where he met with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, Commision President Jean Claude Juncker said he was impressed how much progress Croatia has made since joining the bloc in 2013 and added he would support Croatia joining the euro zone.
"This will be decided by the European Central Bank, but the Commission will support Croatia and offer it technical assistance. I think Croatia is ready and I also want that Croatia receives backing to join Schengen during this Commission's term," Junker said.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenković says Croatia is ready to start moving closer to introducing the European single currency.
“It is important for us to continue a close dialogue with the Commission with respect to carrying out our strategy to introduce the euro. This goal isn't going to be achieved tomorrow. It will take a few years to get there. We meet most of the criteria already, but also our public debt is declining very quickly, which signals that we will be able to meet all of the criteria,” Plenković said.
Prime Minister Plenković also added that Croatia was very close to meeting all of the criteria for joining the Schengen Area.
"Immediately after joining the EU we used the first 120 million euro, and after that an additional 120 million euro. Croatia is strengthening its external border and improving police cooperation with neighboring countries and we are confident that we will meet the final requirement so that the EC can make a positive assessment and forward a motion to the Council," he said.
Juncker said that he was sorry to be leaving before Croatia takes its turn presiding over the European Council, but pledged that the Commission would to everything in its power to ensure Croatia's presidency is successful. He also agreed with the Prime Minister on further enlargement, that the bloc would welcome the countries of the Western Balkans once they meet the criteria for accession.
The issue of Croatia's declining population numbers was also addressed.
"I know that Croatia has a serious demographic problem and I do believe EU funds should be mobilized to assist your county with this issue. I believe that the EU's different programs can improve the lives of all Croatians, and can give you an advantage in solving the demographic problem," Junker said.
An issue that was unavoidable during their talks was the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia. Prime Minister Plenković said Croatia was prepared to discuss the issue with its neighbor, while Junker said the Commission supported a resolution, but would maintain a neutral stance.