Croatia has once again received "strong support" for its bid to join the Schengen area, Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said after discussing Croatia's progress in meeting the accession criteria with the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, in Brussels on Thursday.
Although Croatia had joined the European Union in July 2013, it is still not a member of the EU's Schengen passport-free travel area. On the other hand, its eastern borders with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro form the EU's external border.
Bozinovic and Avramopoulos discussed Croatia's progress in meeting the criteria required to join the Schengen area, including the pace at which the Croatian government plans to meet all the technical requirements before the end of this year. They also touched on the topics of migrations, and the financing of equipment needed for border control, the interior ministry said.
Speaking to the press after the meeting, Bozinovic said that Croatia had received support from the European Commission for joining the Schengen area, adding that progress made in controlling the EU's external border was of crucial importance.
"After meeting Mr Avramopoulos, I can say that Croatia's accession to the Schengen area is a shared interest of both Croatia and the European Commission. The importance of what Croatia has been doing for the security of citizens - not only for Croatian citizens, but the EU's as well - and for creating conditions to enable the Schengen area to restore the values that had existed before the migrant crisis, has been recognised," Bozinovic told reporters.
Regarding recent migration trends along the so-called eastern Mediterranean route which involves sea crossings from Turkey into Greece and onwards through the Balkans, and the prevention of illegal border crossings, Commissioner Avramopoulos pledged more funding for the Croatian police.
The Interior Ministry said that along with continuing the procuring of technical equipment to improve the protection of the EU's external border, it was continuing to invest in improving the capacity of the border police and their training.
For that purpose, the ministry used available funds from the EU's Internal Security Fund to finance 22 projects worth in total around €18 million.
In addition, the ministry said that all the Schengen requirements in terms of data protection and firearms regulation have been met, while the implementation of recommendations on police cooperation, readmission of illegal aliens, the Schengen Information System, the common visa policy, and the judicial cooperation in criminal matters, are all well under way.
Croatia hopes its efforts will be recognised and rewarded with an appropriate political decision before it takes over the chairmanship of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2020, the ministry added.
The two officials also discussed the upcoming talks on the EU's multi-annual financial framework for the 2021-27 period, and supported the proposed increase of funding earmarked for migrations and security, as well as the proposal to set up a separate fund for integrated border management.
Bozinovic thanked Avramopoulos for the recent allocation of an additional €10.4 million to be used for technical equipment for Croatia's border police, a €6.4 million envelope for installing the Entry Exit System (EES), as well as for the European Commission's funding for the integration of migrants who have been granted asylum in Croatia.