European Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a news conference at the government offices in Zagreb on Wednesday that with Croatia as a member of the Schengen Area, the EU could face migration and security challenges better.
The accession of Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania is even more relevant today, taking into consideration the migration and security challenges were are faced with, Avramopoulos said after talks with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Minister of the Interior Davor Boziovic and Justice Minister Drazen Bosnjakovic.
With Croatia's accession to the Schengen Area, we would be even more prepared to face those challenges, Avramopoulos said, adding that Croatia met all responsibilities it had assumed when joining the EU that were relevant for accession to the EU's passport-free area of travel.
Croatia in Schengen Area in interest of neighbouring countries
The assessment of the EU on Croatia's technical preparedness to join the Schengen Area, made on Tuesday, is on its own insufficient but it is a precondition for member-countries to make a joint decision on admitting a new member. Bulgaria and Romania have had a positive assessment by the European Commission since 2011 but are still not members of the Schengen Area because not all EU members are agreed on it.
Also, Slovenia has more or less been openly announcing that it will block Croatia's accession, linking that issue with the unresolved border dispute between the two countries.
Avramopoulos said he hoped member-states would make the right steps to enable Croatia to join the Schengen Area soon.
Croatia's accession is in the interest of Croatia, all neighbouring countries and the EU, the European commissioner said, adding that he hoped this would happen soon.
Bozinovic: Our border is secure
Avramopoulos stressed that Croatia must continue all current activities designed to protect the border, which, he said, included a high level of border control, particularly on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Minister of the Interior Davor Bozinovic said that Croatian authorities continued to work on "strengthening their capacity because the issue of meeting criteria for the management of the external border is today evidently a never-ending story."
Bozinovic stressed that the EU should focus more on the Balkan route, noting that the problem with the large number of migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina was also due to the fact that "according to Bosnia and Herzegovina officials, migrants enter the country across its eastern border more or less without any control."
"Strengthening the border service of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the only way to reduce that pressure," he said, adding that Croatia would give its contribution so that the EU could restore the normal functioning of the Schengen Area as soon as possible.
Avramopoulos called for a reform of the Dublin asylum system under which migrants must seek asylum in the first EU country they enter, and that the EU needed a more just and more balanced Dublin Regulation.
Italy and Greece have criticised that regulation the most because they are the first EU countries that migrants enter so the question is whether the Schengen Area can be reformed without a reform of the system for the reception of asylum-seekers.