German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Zagreb on Saturday that it was certain that Croatia would be admitted to the passport-free Schengen Area and the euro area during the term of the next European Commission.
"Croatia's accession to the euro area and the Schengen zone is certain in the next term of the European Commission. There is still some work to be done, however, Croatia is on the right track, and Germany wants to be its partner in those efforts," Merkel said at a news conference with her host, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, at her side.
Plenkovic said that it was important to Croatia that the Schengen zone should be what it used to be, which required a broader agreement inside the European Union as to restore the free movement of people.
A reporter with the German ARD broadcaster asked Plenkovic about reports of the alleged cruel treatment by Croatian police of irregular migrants trying to pass through Croatia on their way to western Europe.
"Croatia has deployed 6,500 police officers to control its border, and in the process of border control, we comply with our national legislation, international conventions and the EU acquis," Plenkovic said.
"We want competent authorities to check who comes to our country, rather than allowing smugglers to make their fortune off the misfortune of migrants and refugees and destabilise processes inside EU member states," he added.
The German chancellor said that Berlin generally supported the EU membership prospects of Western Balkan countries, underscoring that membership criteria must be fulfilled.
Croatia takes over the rotating presidency of the EU in the first half of 2020 and will be succeeded by Germany in the second half of the year.
Strengthening the EU membership prospects of its Western Balkan neighbours is one of the priorities of the Croatian presidency, and to that effect, Plenkovic said that Zagreb would host a summit of EU and Western Balkan leaders in the first half of 2020.
He expressed hope that the next European budget would be adopted during the Croatian presidency of the EU.
He and Merkel also discussed coordination of strategic objectives during the Croatian and German presidencies, with the German chancellor saying that the two countries would be closely cooperating during that time.
Merkel said that the 370,000 Croatian nationals living in Germany and the 2.5 million German tourists visiting Croatia annually constitute a bridge between the two countries.
She said that Germany wanted to ensure that EU membership helped Croatia achieve further growth and prosperity, so that people would have good working conditions and living standards, and that this should be taken into account in the new financial perspective.
She noted that "all key figures indicate that Croatia is going in a good direction."
"We have to keep peace, security and freedom in Europe if we want to send a signal against any kind of populism, and Croatia and Germany are following that path," the chancellor said.
Plenkovic and Merkel recalled that Germany was Croatia's most important trading partner, with an annual trade volume of EUR 5.3 billion, but said that investment could be improved, especially in digital infrastructure.